If you want to tone your abs, get a flatter stomach and a strong base, it's time to put your core to the floor. Even if you shun the crop top, working your abs is an important part of your fitness routine. The abs workout usually comes at the end of a sweaty session when you’re relieved to get down on the mat because you’re exhausted, but give it your full focus and you'll see better results, and quicker.
• How to plank: the best plank variations to strengthen your core, back, shoulders and more
The best workout for abs has something for every part of your stomach and also supports your back. So you want to work upper, lower and obliques as well as giving your core some love overall.
We have called this best abs exercises for women because the author is a woman, and we already have one that's more for men, entitled how to get a six pack. Needless to say, however, these abs exercises are just as good for men. And, come to that, the ones in the 'men's' list are suitable for women.
First engage your core
Before you start, engage your core. An easy way to do this is to lie on the floor, tighten your pelvic floor (yes, it’s always good idea before you start your workout) and then imagine someone is about to tickle your stomach and pull everything in.
Good technique is your friend with all these abs exercises, so forget counting and set a timer so you can concentrate on what your middle is doing. If you’re a complete beginner, start with 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds rest, then progress to 40 seconds work and 20 of rest, then try one minute with ten-second rest.
Start with your upper abs
A sit-up and a crunch used to be the traditional way to work those abs – and although they’re good options they do require strength in the first place. Try these alternatives…
If you’re a regular at Pilates, you’ll know that those small movements pack some punch for the abs, engaging the transverse abdominals which are the deepest muscles in the stomach area.
Breathing is very important for the endurance of this move, so don’t short change yourself.
Scoop your belly button in at all times, and bring it in even further as you exhale.
The arm action isn’t a gentle flap – you’re pumping the air away, so keep them straight.
Try it with your head down if you’re feeling the strain in your neck, and with your legs in a table top position rather than out straight if it’s hurting your back.
Get your plank form right and you can progress to this more challenging exercise.
Keep your plank form perfect while you tap your shoulders.
Stack your shoulders and elbows over your wrists.
Your core should be stable, with no sway. If that’s impossible at first, start on your knees. If you have your feet a little wider it will provide more stability.
Ah, the sound of clapping is great motivation – and you’ll need it, because this exercise is a tough one.
Find out what works for you: either do one let at a time or go for left then right.
You shouldn’t be feeling the movement in your back or neck, so if you’re straining, reset your position and engage your abs even more.
Work your lower abs
While the upper abs are the focus of a lot of workouts, you’ll need different moves to target the lower muscles.
Slow and steady wins the race for this great exercise for the lower abs.
Your starting position should be flat on the floor with your head down, then bring your legs into a table top position.
Flatten your back onto the floor so there’s no natural curve and make sure it doesn’t arch as you start to move.
If you find it hard to co-ordinate the opposite arm and leg, start with the legs and then add in your arms once you feel confident with the movement.
Hold a 2 or 3 kg dumbbell in each hand if you want to make the exercise harder.
A simple exercise for the lower abs, but it takes some practice to get right so go slow when you start until you’ve got the technique right and you’re sure your back isn’t arching as you move.
Lie on your back with straight legs and raise and lower your legs, but don’t let them touch the floor – they should hover.
Keep your back flat on the floor – there should be no natural curve.
Call them scissor kicks, flutter kicks or leg flutters: these are a way to work your lower abs as well as your legs.
You can put your hands underneath your bottom to stop your back from straining, but try it without first.
Don’t let your bottom leg touch the floor and don’t arch your back.
Stay slow and controlled or try the faster option.
Don’t forget your obliques
Your obliques run down the side of your rib cage to your hips and they help tighten your core and shape your waist.
This is a small but effective movement, targeting that waist.
Keep your knees bent and your back flat, while your upper back is just off the floor, because this is all about the side bend.
Your legs should be slightly wider than shoulder width.
If your heels are further away, you’ll be working harder so adjust them if it’s too easy.
Crunch and punch
Combine a crunch with a twist to work your abs and obliques.
Go slow until you get the movement right – you should come up smoothly and go into the twist.
If you don’t have the strength for sit-ups yet but want to work your obliques, start with this one instead:
Flat stomach woman sitting
Woman rolling up mat