The best ab workouts and exercises for women
Ladies, don’t forget to include ab workouts in your next exercise session. Whether you’re after a washboard stomach, or just looking to strengthen your core, they’re a great place to start when boosting your strength and stability. Requiring minimal exercise equipment, most ab workouts can be done either at home or in the gym.
Read on for our recommendations for the best ab workouts and exercises for women.
What are abs?
Your abs are actually four different muscle groups:
- Rectus abdominis - the ‘six pack’ runs down the front of the stomach
- External obliques - either side of the upper stomach
- Internal obliques - either side of the lower, outer part of the stomach
- Transverse abdominis - deep below the obliques, wrapped around the spine
Together these muscles help you to bend, twist, turn and flex your torso and upper body.
Should women have muscular abs?
Women, like men, can work on shaping their bodies however they choose to - there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ body shape. If you want a six (or even an eight!) pack, then working out your abs is the best way to achieve that. However, exercising your abs doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have a washboard stomach.
If you’d rather avoid the muscular look, then don’t feel you need to skip the ab exercises - it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to achieve a six pack and, for women, this means getting down to a body fat of around 14-20%. If you carry any weight around your waist then you may not be able to see the abs clearly, but that doesn’t mean they’re not strong - they might just be hidden from view.
Why should I be focusing on my abs?
There are plenty of reasons for exercising your abs, most of which will apply to a range of fitness goals. There’s the flatter stomach or muscular ‘six pack’ look if you’re working on toning or reshape. However, as these are such supportive muscles, you’ll see benefits for your whole body’s strength and fitness ability by focusing on your core and abs. Ab workouts will help to boost your strength, balance, stability and overall performance.
Learn more about why and how to start training your abs over on our beginners ab workout guide.
What women’s exercises will work out my abs?
While there’s not really much of a difference between ‘women’s’ or ‘men’s’ ab exercises, there are a range of movements you can include as part of a women’s abs workout. Many of these involve mostly lower body movements, but you’ll find your upper body will need to do some work as well. Some of our favourite ab workouts, which are perfect for beginners and pros alike, include:
Opposite arm and leg reach
Great for strengthening your abs and your back, this is a key move for improving posture.
Starting on all fours, with your hands below your shoulders and your knees aligned under your hips, slowly stretch your right arm up straight up in front of you, while simultaneously stretching your left leg back straight behind you with your foot flexed. Hold in this position for a few moments, before easing back to the starting position and alternating to the other side. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Prone opposite arm and leg reach (dead bugs)
These are just like the opposite arm and leg reach above, only on your back (which is why they’re often referred to as ‘dead bugs’). Another move that’s great for back pain, these help to stabilise and strengthen your core and back muscles.
Start on your back with your arms straight above you, level with your shoulders and your knees bent at 90 degrees so your knees are in line with your hips. Raise your right arm over your head until it’s almost touching the ground, while simultaneously stretching out your left leg until it’s straight out, also nearly touching the floor. Ideally, you won’t rest these on the floor, but will hold for around three seconds before easing back to start position. Repeat on the other side. Complete around 10 - 15 times.
Perfect for targeting those hard-to-reach obliques, Russian twists are a great way to target your midsection and boost your balance and stability.
Sit on the floor or on a mat with knees bent and ankles and knees pressed together. If you want, you can hold a kettlebell, small dumbbell or plate with both hands. Engage your core and lift your heels off the ground, keeping your shoulders down and back straight. Brace your abs and twist your torso to the right side until your arms are parallel with the floor. Move back to the starting position while breathing out. Then move to the opposite side by twisting your core before returning to the starting position. Complete this as many times as you can in 60 seconds.
Scissor (or flutter) kicks
Great for core strength, and also targeting your lower body and back, scissor kicks are particularly great for your quads as well as your abs.
Lie face up with legs straight and both hands palm down either side of your hips (you can use these for support throughout the exercise). Engaging your core, and focusing on your abs, lift your shoulders slightly off the mat while keeping your eyes to the ceiling. Once steady, lift your legs a few inches off the ground and scissor them, alternating lifting and lowering each leg. Complete around 15 - 20 times before lowering to the ground.
Bicycle (or elbow-to-knee) crunches
A fantastic way to target your deep abs, not only will bicycle crunches help to support your hips, spine and pelvis, but they’ll also help to improve your coordination.
Lie flat on a mat, with your knees bent, making sure not to arch your spine. Hold your hands to either side of your forehead, with your elbows out to the sides and, using your abdominals, gently curl your shoulders up off the floor so you’re slightly raised. Now lift your legs, keeping them bent at around 90 degrees, until your knees are aligned over your hips. Slowly alternate between straightening and bending each leg, keeping them parallel with the ground when lengthened (a kind of ‘pedalling’ action as if you’re riding a bike). As you bend each leg in turn, twist your upper body until the opposing elbow meets the knee - so as your right knee comes in towards your upper body, crunch your left elbow in to meet it. Return to start position between each crunch. Repeat 15 - 20 times each side.
Hip raises (glute bridges)
Great for glutes and amazing for abs, hip raises (also known as glute bridges) really help to fire up your core and lower body.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor - you can keep your arms down by your sides with your palms facing the floor either side of your hips to help steady yourself. Engage your core and start to raise your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes and keeping your shoulders planted on the ground. Your body should form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold for a few seconds before lowering to the ground. Repeat 15 - 20 times.
Planks are an excellent way to work your arms, shoulders, glutes and core. If you struggle with a classic plank, you can start with your knees on the ground for more support.
Face the floor and prop yourself up on your forearms, with your hands flat on the floor and your elbows aligned below your shoulders. You can also clasp your hands together if that’s more comfortable. Raise your feet up until you’re perched on your toes and your body is in a straight line from your feet to your head. Focus on your abs and hold position for as long as you can.
Check out our guide to the different variations of plank for more options.
The reverse crunch is a useful exercise to help strengthen the lower part of the abdominals. It’s a great starting exercise that leads into progressions like leg raises, hanging leg raises and eventually, toes to bar.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides for support. Engage your core and, without lifting your upper body, start to pull your knees up towards your chest, just enough to raise your hips off the floor, making your stomach curl inwards. Try doing 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
A side plank is ideal for targeting your obliques, as well as your shoulders and upper body.
Laying on your side, plant your elbow directly underneath your shoulder with your forearm on the ground in front of you and your legs stacked on top of each other. Lift your body up so it’s in a straight line from your ankles to the top of your head – only your forearm and the side of your lower foot should be touching the ground. Hold for as long as you can before repeating on the other side.
Boost your core, lower body and stability with crunch kicks, although they can be tough on your abs, so consider starting with lower reps and building your way up to more.
Lie on your back, with your hands flat by your sides for support. Engaging your core and keeping your legs straight, raise your legs off the ground to around a 45 degree angle from the floor (or higher if it’s comfortable). This is your starting position. Bend your knees in towards your chest, before ‘kicking’ them back out to starting position. Repeat for 3 sets of around 8-10.
30 Minute Abs Workouts for Women
If you’re interested in a full ab workout, check out this 30 minute women’s workout from PureGym master trainer Hayley Booth. This combines some of the movements mentioned above with a range of other core-boosting exercises for an ab workout fit for champions.
Discover more exercise inspiration on our workouts for women section. You can also download the free PureGym app, where you can create a customised training plan for your weight loss goal or get involved with our on-demand classes and workouts. Also, consider booking a session with a dedicated Personal Trainer at PureGym- they’re able to offer a wealth of advice for both fitness and nutrition.