When you do ab exercises at home or in the gym, do you notice your stomach domes rather than flattening? Do you just keep hearing that you need a stronger core to prevent back pain? Do you think you need stronger abs to improve your posture?
The phrase abs are made in the kitchen is something we are all used to hearing. And yes, a lower body fat percentage will help you show your abs better.
However, abs should not be about how they look, but what they can do for you!
There are 4 main muscles which make up the abdominals; external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis and rectus abdominis.
One of the most important functions of these muscles is to help you with breathing! They relax during your inhale and contract on your exhale. Consequently, they also help you to cough, sneeze and vomit!
These muscles help compress the abdominal contents, flex your body, tip to the sides and rotate.
They work together with the rest of your core to relieve back pain, improve posture, build strength, improve sports performance and enhance balance.
However, they do not do these on their own, so it is really important to make sure you train for balance and work your back muscles as well.
With the gyms opening, adding weight with bars and dumbbells is a really good way of strengthening your abs. Your abs work every time you load your arms and legs so this can make it much more functional than just doing sit ups!
It is really important to remember that not all abs exercises are suitable for everyone! For example, if you have osteoporosis you should avoid resisted flexion. Using weights can be a great way of giving you more options.
However, if you are anything like us, then you are also looking for some great abs exercises to do at home!
In the exercises below we have detailed when you can add resistance and how, and also who these exercises may not be suitable for. If you have any questions about it just get in touch.
We are also looking at speed! Your abs work a lot to give you stability so by slowing it down you can really train this system!
1. Side to side
Side to side is a great way to start any abs workout at home. It brings awareness to your body whilst mobilising your spine and prepares you for activity.
This exercise will activate your obliques and deep abs as well as waking up muscles like your adductors (inner thigh) which are key to achieving core strength.
Start by lying on your back with your feet a comfortable distance away from your sit bones. Bring your feet and knees together and let your hands rest by your side. Find your neutral. When you are rotating, you should always come through this middle ground before moving to the other side.
Inhale and take the legs over to one side. One foot will come off the floor but the other should pivot on it. Let your pelvis roll with you.
On your exhale, come back to the centre by turning from your ribs, then stomach, then hips. The legs should just follow.
Repeat both sides 10-20 times
Bring both legs up into table top and keep them glued together. Repeat the exercise in the same way as before but with your feet off the floor. Try to keep your knee bend the same rather than bringing your heels towards your glutes.
- Try to keep your opposite shoulder on the floor and allow your spine to twist.
- Keep the legs together to activate through your adductors which will give you more support.
- Use your breath to move freely and return to your neutral every time.
This exercise is suitable for pretty much anyone! If you are in late stage pregnancy, prop yourself up so that you are not lying fully flat.
We wouldn’t add weights to this exercise as it should be more about activation.
Using this as an activation exercise to switch on your key muscles can help prevent injury and increase efficiency. By mobilising your spine, you can also open up a bigger range of movement. If you then strengthen, you are more likely to keep the new range!
2. Full chest lift
Chest lift is often seen as a sit up. However, this move is all about getting those abs firing whilst keeping your spine mobile!
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your head and make sure you can see your elbows in your peripheral vision.
On your exhale, turn your ribs and come into a small sit up. Make sure your gaze is on your pubic bone. Throw your hands behind your thighs, pull your elbows wide and come up a little higher. Try to stay up as you take your hands back behind your head. Slowly, roll yourself back down again, keeping your head off the floor.
Repeat the movement 8-12 times
- Let your head rest in your hands to prevent neck pain.
- If you feel like your head is tipped backwards at the start, put a small pillow under it.
- Allow your pelvis to move into a posterior tilt to encourage distributed flexion.
- Keep your stomach falling back towards your spine.
- Have a short pause at the top of the movement and try to keep staying up as you take your hands away.
- Come back to the floor slowly to load your abs eccentrically.
This abs exercise is a great way to feel that deep burn but is really easy to do at home. It requires no equipment and very little space. It also is fantastic for encouraging mobility through your whole spine into flexion!
To make this exercise harder we wouldn’t add weights, but instead lift your feet off the floor so that you are in table top.
This exercise is not suitable if you have acute back pain, or are in your second to third trimester. It is also not appropriate if you have osteoporosis.
3. Slow dead bugs
We love a slow dead bug! Everyone does this exercise differently, but our focus is on the speed.
Start by lying on your back, bring your legs to table top and arms straight up towards the ceiling. Make sure in this position you can find your neutral spine.
On your exhale, slowly take the opposite arm and leg away from each other. Pause when they are straight, then bring them back to the original position.
Repeat 10 times each side.
Then change to the same side arm and leg reaching away. Again, move really slowly out, and slightly quicker in.
Repeat 10x on each side.
- Make sure you are taking at least 3 seconds to take the arm and leg away from the starting position.
- You should not feel this in your back. If you do bring the leg higher.
- Try to keep the spine in neutral and a gentle curve in your lower back. If you are not sure re-visit femur arcs.
- If you feel your head extending backwards, put a pillow underneath it so that it is comfortable.
- Make sure your knee goes completely straight. You should be working your quad!
This exercise is great as it is suitable for anyone! If you do struggle, then you can regress the exercise back to femur arcs and regressed dead bugs.
A slow dead bug is an amazing home ab exercise as again it requires no equipment and not too much space.
You can also use a long resistance band for this. Loop it around one foot and hold onto it with the other arm. This will give it a slightly different bias and help you to fire up the back of your legs and glutes as well!
4. Criss cross
Criss cross is a combination of your chest lift and femur arcs and works your whole core.
Start by lying on your back and bring both legs to table top. Interlace your fingers and bring your elbows into your peripheral vision.
We are going to move slowly to start!
As you exhale, curl yourself up into a chest lift. Pause and on your next exhale rotate your ribs around your spine, to face one side. Reach the opposite leg away from you so that it is straight. Pause.
Inhale as you rotate through the centre and over to the other side. Switch the legs as you do this.
Try to come up as you come into the centre, rather than drop down.
Repeat 10 times each side slowly!
At the end of the 10 and we are going to speed this up for another 10 times each side.
Do exactly the same movement, trying to stay up as high as possible.
- Try and come up a little higher as you move through the centre.
- Make sure your knee goes as straight as possible.
- Try to keep your pelvis level on the floor.
- Let your head rest in your hands so you do not strain the front of your neck.
- Your chin should stay in the centre of your breast bone. This way you know you are not just turning your shoulders!
This exercise is not suitable if you have osteoporosis, are in your mid to late stage pregnancy or have acute back problems.
Criss cross is a great exercise to work through your entire core system and encourage mobility as well.
Ensuring your knees go completely straight also make it a great exercise as a warm up for running or sports. This is because it encourages triple extension which helps with your push off!
Again, this exercise requires no equipment and not much space. Perfect for a home abs exercise!
The hundred is a Pilates classic!
If you have been to a group class, it would be a surprise if you haven’t done this exercise!
Start by lying on your back and bringing your legs into table top. Rest your arms by your side and prop your head on a cushion if you feel like it is falling backwards.
On your exhale, reach your arms away from you and come into a chest lift. Squeeze the legs together and extend them away from you.
Pause and start to pump your arms up and down. Repeat, inhaling for 5 pulses and exhaling for 5 pulses.
Every time you exhale, try to let your abdominals deepen a little more and come up a little higher.
You should do 10 breaths in and 10 out to complete 100 reps!
- Keep your legs active by reaching them away and your knees straight. Squeeze them together for more support.
- Allow your pelvis to gently roll back rather than imprinting your spine. This will help support your legs.
- You should not feel this in your back. If you do lift your legs a little higher.
- Keep your gaze on your upper thigh in order to reduce the tension in the front of your neck.
This is a great exercise to really see if your core is working well! It also forces you to focus on your breath!
It is really easy to tell if you are doing it well as should not feel this in your lower back or neck!
Again, this exercise requires no equipment and very little space. Plus, if you are a regular in group Pilates classes you will see this a lot!
However, this exercise is not suitable if you are in your mid to late stage pregnancy, have osteoporosis or have acute back pain.
6. Superman tucks
Superman tucks is a variation on a regular superman and really does target your deep stabilisers!
Start on all fours, making sure the weight is predominantly in your legs (about 60%). Do a few cat cows to find your neutral spine.
On an exhale, reach the opposite leg and arm away from each other until they hover off the floor.
Pause to inhale. As you exhale again, tuck your tailbone under and allow your knee to come through as if it is touching your nose. Bring your opposite elbow to join your shin.
Push into the ground to create as much of a curve as possible. Try to tuck your tailbone under to really feel your deep abdominals.
Unfold and find your neutral.
Use your pelvis to initiate the movement at your leg and delay the knee bend.
Repeat 5 – 10 times on each side but don’t forget to move slowly!
- You should not feel this in your back. If you do, revisit your pelvic clock and regular quadruped.
- Try to get your knee all the way to straight so that you are working the entire front of your body.
- Slow the movement down to make your abdominals stabilise.
- Keep your static thigh vertical to activate your glutes.
We love this exercise because it is weight bearing, it encourages movement in your spine, and it is suitable for pretty much everyone!
This is an unlikely abs exercise but when slowed down you really have to stabilise, an often forgotten about role!
You can add a small ankle weight, but this will make you feel it more in your quads as well! Otherwise, a resistance band is great! Tie it around your foot and hold onto it so you fire up the back of your body!
7. Knee hovers with leg extension
This is a progression of the simple knee hovers exercise and is an amazing home abs exercise!
Start on all fours and find your neutral spine. Your hands should be underneath your shoulders and pelvis over your knees.
Tuck your toes under and press into your hands to lift your knees to hover off the floor. Take a few breaths and then return them to the floor.
On your next exhale, hover the knees again and extend one leg straight out behind you. Inhale to fold your knee back underneath you, putting the foot down.
Repeat on the other side.
Try to repeat 10 times before bringing your knees back to the floor.
Repeat the whole exercise 3 times.
- If your pelvis is over your knees, then your weight will be slightly further back in your legs which will help your wrists.
- Try to avoid shifting side to side.
- Keep pressing into your arms to maintain your shoulder stability.
Again, this exercise is suitable for pretty much anyone! It is also amazing if you have osteoporosis because weight bearing encourages bone density.
If you have wrist or shoulder problems, get in touch and we can help you with modifications.
8. Side planks with hip dips
We all know the benefits of a plank, but a side plank is a great abs exercise, especially if you want to work out at home!
Working on one side will really show up the difference in strength between your sides.
Sit on your side with your hand slightly in front of your shoulder. Put your top leg either in front, or on top, of the other leg. As you exhale push into your hand and feet and lift your hips up until you are in a diagonal line.
Drop your hips down, then press into your hand and feet and lift your hips back up so that they are almost in line with your shoulder.
Repeat for up to 1 minute on each side. Try to do a minimum of 15 repetitions.
- Stay active in your fingers! If you press your fingers into the floor and create a little dome in your palm, you will offload your wrist.
- Try to keep your pelvis vertical rather than tipping forwards or back.
This exercise is suitable for most people. If you have shoulder or wrist problems, we recommend that you do it on your knees.
How can Complete Pilates help you with at home ab strengthening workouts?
Complete Pilates can definitely help you strengthen your abs at home and in the studio!
Our instructors are incredibly knowledgeable and know exactly how the ‘core’ fits into all your movement. With a mixture of medical and non-medical instructors, we can help you progress from injury, through to fitness.
You can take advantage of our online group classes, and online or face to face 1:1 appointments to see how we can help strengthen your core.
If you are not sure which class is right for you or whether a 1:1 would be best, please just ask. Otherwise, sign up today and give it a go!