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The Best Exercises for a HIIT Abs Workout

Your abdominals include four different muscle groups that cover the front and sides of your stomach area. They're key in many of your everyday movements, helping you to bend, stretch and stay stabilised throughout the day. By strengthening your abs, you can also see improvements to posture, lessen the risk of back pain, reduce slouching, and of course (with a lot of work) even potentially achieve the coveted 'six pack'. So, how can you fit a quick and effective abs workout into your weekly fitness plans? Well, that's where abs HIIT workouts come in. 

HIIT training blends periods of full energy, high intensity movement, with periods of either lower intensity or full rest. Read on for how you can shape your HIIT workouts to target your abs...

Why is HIIT good for abs?

HIIT training stands for High Intensity Interval Training, and is a training method that is well regarded for improving fitness, boosting endurance and burning fat. Countless studies have shown the incredible benefits you can see to your health and wellbeing by alternating between periods of high and low intensity as you work out, which you can read all about in our guide to the benefits of HIIT training

But HIIT isn't all just about improving your VO2 max or burning calories - it can also be an excellent approach to developing strength, building muscle and spot-training key areas. One of the many joys of HIIT training is its flexibility, meaning you can shape almost any kind of workout to fit within the interval training format. 

Therefore, if you're keen to focus your workouts on strengthening your abs, then it's easy to develop a workout that targets this area. Plus, the bursts of high intensity activity mean you can enjoy the benefits of a much longer workout into just 15 or 20 minutes - perfect for seeing great results in a really convenient time frame.

Is HIIT the best approach for an abs workout?

Deciding whether HIIT is the best choice for you depends on your goals. If you're keen to strengthen your abs while burning fat and toning up, then regular HIIT sessions are an excellent choice. However, if you're striving for a visible 'six pack' style abs area, then you might find a focused weight lifting or strength training programme would be a more suitable choice, although you'll see great results from integrating this with HIIT workouts too. Developing a visibly 'sculpted' body composition takes a lot of effort and is most effective if your body fat is already quite low, which is where HIIT is a great companion to strength training.

10 of the best abs exercises for a HIIT workout

Below, we've listed 10 of our favourite abs exercises, all of which we've chosen because they work well in the HIIT format. To create a 15-minute abs HIIT workout using these, we recommend choosing five exercises from the options below. Complete 40 seconds high intensity followed by 20 seconds rest - work through each movement in turn for one set. Repeat all of the movements twice more for a total of three sets. For beginners, if 40 seconds feels a bit tough, feel free to start with 20 seconds of high intensity movement followed by 20 seconds of rest until you feel stronger and ready to progress. 

You can always include more exercises for a longer workout if you'd like - or integrate other exercises for a full body HIIT workout (see our Best HIIT Workout for You guide for more ideas). 

Don't forget, to get the maximum benefit from these movements as part of a HIIT workout, you need to be pushing yourself as much as possible in these high intensity bursts. Keep up the energy and pace, but also make sure that you're performing the moves properly, with a focus on correct form and keeping a tight core throughout. Remind yourself that it's just 40 seconds and then you can rest for 20! 

As always, make sure to warm up first and stretch out afterwards.

1. Bicycle Crunch

A classic ab-strengthening movement, the bicycle crunch can easily be performed at speed for that high intensity burst - just make sure to focus on your core as you move, to prevent too much pressure on your upper or lower back.

  • Lie flat on the floor with your hands behind your head.

  • Engage your core, lift your knees in towards your chest and raise your shoulder blades off the ground. Make sure to lift using your abdominals, not your neck and shoulders.

  • Straighten your right leg out to 45-degrees from the ground whilst twisting your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow towards the left knee.

  • Switch sides and alternate to the other side as quickly as you can

2. High Knees

This movement is a little like running on the spot, only bringing your knees up as high as you can for an extra challenge.

  • Stand tall with feet hip-distance apart, elbows tucked into your sides and hands held flat out in front of you, palms facing the floor.

  • Engage your core and quickly drive your right knee up to meet your right hand, before dropping it back to the ground.

  • Immediately bring the left knee up to meet your left hand. Repeat.

3. Plank Jacks

You may have heard of jumping jacks (which are a firm favourite for many HIIT training routines). Well, these are plank jacks, so you're adding a high intensity cardio element to the classic ab-working plank.

  • Begin in a high plank position - palms on the floor below your shoulders, arms outstretched, core tight and your body forming a straight line from shoulders to toes.

  • Like the motion of a jumping jack, jump your legs out to the sides before quickly jumping them back to starting position.

  • Repeat for 40 seconds.

4. Swiss Ball Knee Tucks

For this move, you'll need a swiss ball, also known as an exercise ball - these are often located in the stretch zones of gyms. You'll be relying on your core for stability here, so focus on form and build speed as you feel comfortable.

  • Start in a high plank position with your hands on the floor below your shoulders, arms outstretched and your shins on a swiss ball behind you.

  • Engage your core and, keeping your back straight and parallel to the floor, pull your knees towards your chest by squeezing your abs as you exhale. This should roll the swiss ball inwards towards you until just the tops of your feet are touching it.

  • Then extend your legs back to the starting position.

  • Repeat for 40 seconds.

5. Scissor Kicks

Although these may look simple, you'll be feeling the burn in your abs in no time. Make sure to keep your back pressed to the floor so you can focus on working your abs rather than your lower back.

  • Lie on the floor with your core tight and your legs straight and together.

  • Either place your hands at your sides with palms into the floor to help keep you steady, or tuck them under your glutes if you’d prefer a little additional support.

  • With an ever so slight bend in your knees, lift your legs off the floor to about 45 degrees.

  • Move your left leg slightly upwards and your right leg slightly downwards, and then move each horizontally inwards towards each other until you have your left foot sitting just above your right foot.

  • Quickly alternate so your left foot is lower and your right foot is above.

  • Repeat as quickly as you can until the 40 seconds is up.

6. Up Down Plank

Another plank variation that will work up more of a sweat than the original static plank, the up down plank is an excellent way to target your core, as well as your upper body.

  • Hold a high plank position with your feet hip-width apart.

  • Keeping your core engaged, lower your right elbow to the mat and then your left, coming into an elbow plank.

  • Place your right hand on the mat and straighten your right elbow. Do the same on the left to return to a full plank. That counts as one rep.

7. Side Plank Dips

Yes, you read that right, another plank variation - they really are the best for working the whole core, including your abdominals. This kind of plank targets your obliques (also known as your 'side abs'), so worth incorporating into your HIIT workout alongside the plank jacks and/or up down planks. As this targets just one side of your body, we recommend working through your high intensity time period (e.g. your 40 seconds of high energy) focusing on one side, then have your rest before alternating to the other side.

  • Lie on your left side with legs stretched out.

  • Place your elbow on the floor directly underneath your shoulder with your palm facing the ground.

  • Stack your feet on top of each other and lift your body up to neutral.

  • Squeeze your core then dip your hips down toward the floor.

  • Rise them back into a side plank. Repeat until the time is up.

8. Reverse Crunch

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. For a traditional crunch, you use your abs to bring your upper body towards your knees - with a reverse crunch you're using your abs to bring your lower body towards your torso. Focus on your abs throughout, using them to power the movement rather than your lower back.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides for support.

  • Engage your core and press your back into the floor.

  • 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.

  • Lower your hips back to the floor.

  • Repeat for 40 seconds.

9. Hollow Hold

This ab exercise will work your entire core. As you may be able to tell from the name, this is a static movement that you literally 'hold' for the allocated time. So, while it's not as high energy as the other ab exercises we've listed here, the intensity comes from holding the position for the full 40 seconds, keeping your core strong and your body steady.

  • Lie on your back with arms stretched overhead and your upper arms pressed towards your ears.

  • Draw your belly button to the floor and press your lower back flat into the ground - don’t let it lift throughout the whole hold.

  • Keeping your arms and legs straight, engage your core and focus on your abs as you lift your arms and shoulder blades off the ground.

  • At the same time, raise your legs until they’re at around a 45 degree angle from the floor.

  • Hold in this position for the full 40 seconds, before lowering to the ground.

10. Overhead Weighted Sit Up

A classic sit up with a twist, weighted plate sit ups will target your upper abdominals. There's no need to rush this movement - just keep repeating while focusing on good form.

  • Lie on the mat with your knees slightly bent and feet on the floor.

  • Holding a weighted plate or dumbbell in both hands stretch your arms straight so that the weight is positioned above your chest.

  • Keeping your arms in this position and the weight held above you, squeeze your abs to perform a sit up.

  • Slowly lower down back to the starting position.

  • Repeat.

Check out our abs workouts section for plenty more inspiration for working and strengthening your core, or download the free PureGym app for more exercise ideas. 

Other posts you may find useful for abs-inspiration include: 

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