Best ab workouts for women

Make your stomach the flattest thing this side of a spirit level with these tough but effective abs workouts to tone and define

Woman with defined abs in workout gear
(Image credit: null)

There’s no denying that a toned stomach is high up there on the list of things we would change about our bodies if we could.  It’s also no surprise that getting a flat, washboard stomach, let alone visible abs, is really hard work.

Whether you’re looking for the best ab workouts to help you rival Kayla Itsines, or simply want to say say goodbye to muffin tops, donuts and bagels — the fat, not the food, obviously  — then what you need to do is the same. 

These best ab workouts for women will tone and define your stomach muscles, but how dramatic a result you want is up to you. It’s just how hard you go and how often that makes the difference. But you knew that already, right?

A word on nutrition 

Before we crack on with this core workout, we need to issue a disclaimer. Abdominal exercises on their own won’t help you look slimmer, first you need to burn the belly fat. Then you can do these exercises to start toning your stomach to get defined abs. 

Before muscle toning workouts can build muscle that shows through your body fat, you need a sufficiently low level of body fat. If you’re at this stage and are still looking to shed some pounds before focusing on defined muscles, we have a series of exercise and nutrition tips to help you burn belly fat and lose weight.  

Woman with defined abs in workout gear

The best ab workouts for women at home or in the gym

These best ab workouts for women are designed to be easy to do either at home or in the gym. The only equipment you’ll need is a mat and a medicine ball or even a single dumbbell, although any household item of the appropriate weight will do (a full bottle of water is a good one, just remember to have a separate one you can drink from or the exercises will start to get easier when they should be getting tougher...). 

This routine involves two rounds of three exercises, both of which you’ll do three times. That equates to nine minutes of intense exercise with rests. There’s then a plank exercise at the end because let's face it, the plank is still hands down the best exercise for working the abs. 

Do this quick but tough ab workout two to three times a week and you will notice a difference in the definition of your abdominal muscles. 

The best ab workouts for women: crunches

Woman working her abs by doing crunches

For the first set we're going to do three types of crunches. The key with this is to work as hard as you can for 30 seconds, and then rest for 20 seconds. If you're using a phone timer then you can increase your workout to 40 seconds or your rest to 30 seconds for the ease of the timer. 

• Alternatively, most Fitbits, including the new Fitbit Inspire HR have a handy interval timer function.

Once we've done each exercise we'll repeat the set twice (so that's three exercises, three times). 

To get started with crunches, lie on your back with your shoulders on the floor and feet flat on the floor so your knees are bent (as if you're about to do a sit up). 

Man working his abs by doing crunches

Crunches

Exercise: Crunches

Time: 30 seconds

Places your arms on thighs with your palms facing down. Slowly lift your shoulders off of the floor, sliding your hands up to your knees as you do. Alternatively you can place your hands behind your head but make sure your abs are doing the work and you’re not just using your arms to push you up.

The important thing is that it is a small movement and your upper body doesn't come the whole way off of the floor. It should be at approximately a 30 degree angle, compared to a 90 degree full sit up. It doesn’t look like much, but it works!  

Woman working her abs by doing single knee crunches

Single knee crunches

Exercise: Single knee crunches

Time: 30 seconds

Start in the same position as you did for your regular crunches, but with your hands behind your head. This time as you lift your shoulders off of the ground twist your upper body to one side and raise the opposite knee to meet your elbow (as above). 

This twist movement engages your obliques muscles in addition to your abs.  

Exercise: Side reaches

Time: 30 seconds

Start in the same position as you did for your regular crunches, but with your arms by your sides, palms facing down. Your shoulders should be lifted of off the ground.

Reach your right hand towards your right foot and return, then repeat on the left side. You'll feel the crunch in your oblique (side) muscles. 

To make this ab workout even tougher, you can straighten your legs and lift them off of the ground. Naturally you won't reach your feet anymore, but you'll be working the muscles in the centre of your abs as well as the sides. 

The best ab workouts for women: V Sits

For the second set we're going to do three exercises from a V sit position. Again you should work solidly for 30 - 40 seconds, and then rest for 20 - 30 seconds. 

Once we've done each exercise we'll repeat the set twice (so that's three exercises, three times). 

To get started with V sits, sit on the floor (we recommend using a mat) with your back straight and your legs out in front of you. 

Exercise: V Sits

Time: 30 seconds

Sit upright and lift your legs off of the floor but bring them into your chest. You are going to lean back, extending your legs out in front of you and your arms to the side of you as you do (forming a T shape with your body). Then return to the starting position.

Your feet should not touch the floor and your back does not touch the ground. 

How difficult this exercise is depends on how far you extend your legs (aim to fully extend them) but also the pace at which you work. The faster you go the harder your abs work out. 

Woman doing Russian twists with a medicine ball

Russian twists with a medicine ball

Exercise: Russian Twist V Sits

Time: 30 seconds

Sit in the same V sit position, this time holding a medicine ball in both hands. We recommend starting with 2-3kg, and you can use a dumbbell instead if you don't have a medicine ball. 

Beginners can sit with your knees to your chest, whereas advanced exercisers should have your legs fully extended. Most people will extend their legs approximately as far as in the picture above. 

Lean back slightly and twist from your waist and move the medicine ball to your right, and then to your left. To make this exercise harder increase the weight of your medicine ball.  

Exercise: V Sit Cycles

Time: 30 seconds

Sit in the same position (leaning slightly back) and pick up your weight again. Start moving your legs in a cycling motion, as if you are riding a bike. 

Each time you 'cycle' pass the weight underneath each leg, swapping which hand holds the weight. Again, to make this exercise harder increase the weight of your medicine ball.  

The best ab workouts for women: plank

Woman planking

Plank

To finish off the ab workout get into plank position  shown above. Your forearms should be on the floor and you should be up on your toes. Try to keep a flat back; it shouldn’t dip like in a cow yoga pose, but equally your bottom shouldn’t be elevated like in a downward facing dog yoga pose.

Hold this for as long as you can, but for a minimum of 30 seconds. You will find how long you can hold the position for will increase the more times you do this routine. 

If you feel like you haven't quite given your abs enough of a blasting with these workouts, then here are a few ways to make your plank tougher:

Plank up/down: Whilst maintaining your body position, move your arm from your forearm being flat on the floor to your palm being flat on the floor, using your arms to push up your body weight (one arm at a time). Your abs will be working even harder to keep your core stable and stop you wobbling from side to side and your move up and down. 

Woman doing a side plank

Side plank

Plank with side rotation: Once in the plank position, lift one arm from the ground and over your head, twisting your body so that your chest and stomach turn to face the side of the arm you're moving (and are no longer facing the floor). Replace your arm and then repeat on the other side. 

Walking planks: In a traditional plank position your feet should be roughly hip width  apart. With this exercise walk your feet outwards to a wide stance and then back in. As with the up/down plank your core is working even harder to keep you stable as you move. To increase the cardio output you could jump your feet out and in and do a plank jack instead.