Many women will want to have a good range of intensive ab exercises in their workouts because they are looking for a smooth, strong belly. However, abdominal strength is much more than just a flat belly and an hourglass figure. Your abdominal muscles play an important role in posture, balance, and injury prevention. For women, where spinal deterioration and hip injuries are a risk as we age, maintaining strong abs is critical to keeping long-term fitness, mobility, and safety - and of course, we want to keep that smooth, sleek torso as long as we can!
Let’s take a look at what ab muscles you have and what they do, and the 10 best ab exercises for women to keep those muscles strong and sexy!
The Muscle Groups of Your Abs
Your ‘abs’ comprise several sets of large, powerful muscles, all connected and working together. The exercises we use here are designed to work all of the major muscle groups of your abs, sometimes targeting a single area, sometimes working them in combination.
Your upper abdominals are comprised mainly of the upper half of your rectus abdominis, a segmented muscle that runs down the front of your torso from the base of your pectorals (chest muscles) to your pelvis. The upper abdominals are very important for protecting and stabilizing your rib cage and the delicate internal organs of your upper abdomen, and they support your diaphragm. They also work to help your posture and are part of an intricate network that keeps your spine in good health.
Maintaining upper abdominal strength will help to preserve your posture, something very important especially for women as they age. The upper abdominals are also part of that elusive ‘six pack’, so if that’s something you want to develop, or keep if you are lucky enough to have it already, then upper abdominal exercises will be important to you.
Your lower abdominals are made up of the lower part of the rectus abdominis, and the aponeurosis, a slender, fan-like muscle that stretches on either side over your lower abdomen. In the lower abdominals, the rectus abdominus is the strongest muscle and is essential for stabilizing and supporting your lower back and pelvis.
Developing and maintaining this muscle is important to help prevent pelvic injuries and keep good posture - which can prevent the onset of lower back pain. The aponeurosis helps ‘hold it all together’ in your lower abdomen, and is an often overlooked muscle that is important if a flat belly is your goal!
Your obliques are the muscles that run down either side of your torso. You actually have two sets on either side, external and internal. Your internal obliques are deeper, and help to control lateral stability. Even deeper is your transversus abdominis, a thick, short but powerful muscle that runs down either side under your obliques.
All three are important to protect your hips and spine, and they also provide protection for your internal organs from side impacts and falls. The external obliques are long muscles that help with balance and posture, and control your movement when you twist, lean, or bend to the side. Both sets of obliques are also important in keeping that hourglass figure!
10 Best Ab Exercises for Women
Exercise #1: Basic Crunch
The basic crunch is the foundation to strong abs. It’s simple, you can do crunches anywhere, and if you are short of time they are a great way to fit in a quick ab workout.
- Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent. You can put your hands by your ears, or across your chest, but don’t clasp them behind your neck - you don't want to pull on your neck as you lift.
- Press your lower back into the floor and lift your shoulders up off the floor and toward your knees, keeping your spine as straight as you can and your shoulders back.
Exercise #2: Bicycle Crunch
The bicycle crunch is great in a short workout with the basic crunch, as you can easily switch from one movement to the other and bring in a workout for your obliques and lower abs.
- Obliques, lower abdominals
- Lie on your back with your legs extended and your hands by your ears.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, and raise your left knee in toward your chest, as you lift your right shoulder and twist to try and touch your right elbow to your left knee. Don't worry if you can't actually make them touch, just complete as much of the movement as you can, but try not to overcompensate with either the knee or the elbow - you want both to try and meet in a middle point.
- Relax, and repeat with the opposite knee and elbow.
Exercise #3: Reverse Crunch
The reverse crunch is an intensive workout for your lower abdominals. If you really want that flat belly, this is the movement for you!
- Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the floor.
- Place your hands by your ears, across your chest, or by your side. If you find that you are having trouble balancing, you can start by stretching your arms out to the side to help you stabilize yourself.
- Tighten your lower abdominals, and keeping your legs straight, raise your feet off the floor. Lift your legs as high as you can manage without letting your lower back arch away from the floor.
- Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position. Stop when your feet are just above the floor.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps, without using momentum.
Exercise #4: Flutter Kick
The flutter kick is a dynamic movement that works your lower abdominals. If you have difficulty with the reverse crunch, then accent this movement in your workout instead.
- Start is the same position as the reverse crunch.
- Lift both legs only slightly off the floor, no more than 30 degrees.
- Keeping your legs straight, alternate a kicking motion with each leg. You don't need to exaggerate the movement - you can keep your kicks as shallow as you need to, or kick further as you get stronger.
- Just lie with the reverse crunch, try not to let your lower back arch off the floor.
Exercise #5: Basic Plank
The basic plank is a stationary movement - but don’t think that just because you aren't moving, it’s going to be easy! With the plank, it’s stability that counts, so work to hold your body as still as possible, for as long as possible. It’s the endurance that will make your muscles work!
- Upper and lower abdominals
- Start in a pushup position, with your arms almost straight, your feet about hip width apart, and balancing on your toes. Make sure your body is straight from your head to your feet. Avoid looking up, lifting your bottom, or letting your hips sag. If you are just starting out, you can do this movement resting on our elbows until you get stronger and better balanced.
- All you need to do is hold the position for as long as possible, but it’s not as easy as it sounds!
Exercise #6: Plank Jack
The plank jack brings some movement into the basic plank exercise. If you are just getting started with ab exercises, you might want to wait until you have the basic plank really solid, and able to hold it for at least 30 seconds, before you add the plank jack into your routine.
- Upper and lower abdominals
- Start in the basic plank position, either on your forearms or with your arms almost straight.
- Keeping your spine straight, hop your feet out to a slightly wider than shoulder width position.
- Hold for a second or two, and hop them back to the starting position. Avoid looking up or down, and try not to compensate for the jack by raising your hips.
Exercise #7: Side Plank Raise
If you find the basic plank tougher than you expected, then get ready for this one. Applying the same principles of the basic plank, where strength and balance work together to work your muscles, this time, the target is your obliques.
- Lie on side with your legs straight.
- Raise yourself either onto your left elbow (if you are just starting out) or raise yourself up on your left arm, straightening out your elbow. Your right arm should rest on along the top of your body. In the start position, your spine should be straight, so don't let your hips sag toward the floor.
- Now, lift your hips toward the ceiling, hold, and return to the start position.
- Repeat for your reps, then alternate to the other side.
Exercise #8: T-Stabilization Plank
The T-Stabilization is another great movement that really targets your obliques, bring balance and control into the workout.
- Start in a pushup position, with your arms straight.
- Raise your left arm off the floor, keeping your arm straight, and rolling your torso until you raise your arm so that your hand is pointing toward the ceiling. Like with the Side Plank, you don't want to let your hips drop.
- Hold for a moment, then lower your arm back to the start position in a smooth controlled movement, keeping your arm straight. Don't worry if this takes a little practice - but you’ll soon see how much balance and control comes into the ab workout!
Exercise #9: Russian Twist
The Russian Twist is a great exercise that really focuses on the obliques, but yet is easy to learn, and you can adapt it as your strength and balance improve.
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Sit upright, with your spine straight and your shoulders back.
- Reach your arms straight out in front of you, with your palms facing down.
- Lean slightly back, to about a 45-degree angle, keeping your back straight.
- Twist to the left, reaching both hands together down to the floor as if you were going to try and touch the floor with both hands.
- Hold for a moment, then reach to the other side.
- Once you get stronger, you can ramp up your Russian twist by raising your feet slightly off the floor.
Exercise #10: V-Tuck
The V-Tuck is a smooth, balanced but dynamic exercise that works upper and lower abdominals together. Once you get the hang of it, chances are it will become one of your favorites, as it’s really effective yet it’s a surprisingly fluid movement.
- Upper and lower abdominals
- Lie flat on your back with your legs extended and your arms stretched out above your head by your side.
- Raise your feet slightly off the floor, then bend your knees to pull your knees toward your chest. At the same time, raise your shoulders and bring your arms toward your feet alongside your knees, lifting your shoulders toward your knees.
- Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Your Ab Workout
None of these exercises need any special equipment, but you might find you want to invest in a good quality yoga mat to protect your spine and tailbone from the floor and to keep your feet and hands from slipping.
When you are first starting out, you might find an intense ab workout with all of these movements leaves you feeling pretty sore the next day. If you are new to ab exercises, we suggest you start simple. Build a circuit with a couple movements for each muscle group, and start with three sets of just 8 to 10 reps (remembering to repeat reps for any movement that has two sides!).
With the plank movements, it’s okay to start with as little as ten seconds of hold, and gradually build up longer and longer as your get fitter. Add in a minute of rest and a few sips of water between each circuit. As you get stronger, add in more exercises until you have all ten, and then you can start adding more reps, or more sets, and of course start stretching out those planks!
It’s also a good idea to mix up the movements so you alternate between muscle groups. This gives one set of ab muscles a chance to recover while you work another. It may seem complicated, but most of these movements are pretty simple, so you’ll soon get the hang of your routine and moving from one movement to the next.
A sample program might look something like this:
- 3 circuits of ten reps for each exercise, done three times a week (you can increase reps, sets, or even weights as your fitness improves).
- Start with a simple warm up, with 20 seconds each of jumping jacks, squats, and shoulder circles to get all your muscles warmed up and ready to go. Repeat three times (for a 3 minute warm up).
Here’s an example ab circuit sequence:
- Basic Crunch (upper abdominals)
- Russian Twist (obliques)
- Reverse Crunch (lower abdominals)
- Side Plank Raise (obliques)
- Basic Plank (upper and lower abdominals)
- T-Stabilization Plank (obliques)
- V-Tuck (upper and lower abdominals)
- Flutter Kick (lower abdominals)
- Plank Jack (upper and lower abdominals)
- Bicycle Crunch (lower abdominals and obliques)
Allow yourself a minute or so between the circuits to take a drink of water, dry your hands, and stretch out if you need to.
Following our circuit program of the 10 best ab exercises for women will help you develop a flat tummy and an hourglass figure, but will also help protect you from injuries and prevent the onset of many common degenerative conditions that affect women as they age. You don't need fancy equipment, so you can do these exercises just about anywhere. If you can get your ab routine in at least three times a week, you’ll quickly see results. You’ll notice you feel stronger, your posture improves, and you’ll love the way your abs look!
Have you got a favorite ab exercise, or have you tried this circuit? We’d love to hear from you!