12 Can't-Miss Ab Workouts
Get ready for the ultimate set of hard, ripped and defined abs. These 12 workouts -- 6 for beginners, 6 for more advanced fitness buffs -- can help anyone carve a killer set of gut ruts.


If you're new to the gym scene, or returning after a long layoff, start here, using any of these six routines 1-3 times per week. They are designed to be challenging, yet not overwhelming, and in 2-3 months should have you ready for some of the hardcore programs presented in the "Advanced Six-Pack" section.


This workout includes an exercise for each of the three key areas of your midsection: The upper abdominals, targeted with the curl-up; the lower abs, engaged with leg raises; and your obliques (muscles found along each side of your abdominal wall), attacked with the alternating sit-up.

Curl-Up 3 15
Leg Raise 3 10
Alternating Sit-Up 2 10


Exercise How-To:

Curl-Up: Lie on the floor with your hands alongside your body, palms flat, knees bent and feet on the floor. Contract your abdominals to slowly curl one vertebra at a time off the floor, bringing your upper body up as high as you can while keeping your lower back in contact with the floor, then lower yourself under control to the start. Your hands will move alongside you as you rise up. Repeat for reps.

Leg Raise: Start with your hands alongside your body, your back flat on the floor, and your legs together and held about two inches off of the floor. Slowly lift both legs upward to a point just before they reach perpendicular to the floor, then lower them back to a point just before they touch down before beginning the next rep.

Alternating Sit-Up: Lying on the floor, knees bent and feet flat, place both of your hands lightly behind your head. Crunch upward as you twist your body, bringing your right elbow toward your left knee. Lower yourself back down, then bring your left elbow toward your right knee and lower yourself to start again. Once to each side equals one rep.


Here we incorporate the most popular movement for abs, the crunch, which hits upper abs, and pair it with the seated knee-up and a side crunch. This full-balanced attack is a middle-burner whether you're a beginner or an old pro.

Crunch 3 15
Seated Knee-Up 3 15
Side Crunch on Back-Extension Bench 2 10

  Exercise How-To:
Crunch: Lie on our back and place your hands lightly behind your head, elbows out. With your feet flat on the floor and knees up, curl your upper body up toward your knees as high as you can without bringing your lower back up off the floor. The movement spans only a few inches, but will cause a strong contraction in your abs.

Seated Knee-Up:
Sit at the end of a flat bench and grasp the sides with both hands. Balance on your glutes as, with your legs together and extended out, you contract your abs to bring your knees in toward your chest, then extend them back out. Repeat for reps.

Side Crunch on Back-Extension Bench
: Lie sideways so you're supported on one hip on a back extension bench. Place your upper hand behind your head and your lower hand either behind your head too or on your abs. Contract at the side of your torso to curl your upper body up a few inches, hold for a second, then return to a body-straight position.

In this workout, you’ll start off on the upright bench — a precursor to the hanging ab moves you’ll experience in our advanced regimens — and finish up with two exercises on the decline bench, always a useful piece of equipment for carving an enviable midsection.

Vertical-Bench Knee-Up 3 20
Decline-Bench Crunch 3 20
Decline-Bench Twisting Crunch 2 10

  Exercise How-To:
Vertical-Bench Knee-Up: Step into a vertical bench, back against the pad, forearms on the pads and hands on the handles. Extend your legs straight below you, then bend your knees and bring them straight up as high as you can toward your chest. Your lower back should curl off the pad as you reach the top. Extend your legs back down and repeat for reps.

Decline-Bench Crunch: Set a decline bench to about a 45-degree angle, get on and hook your legs under the supports. Place both hands loosely behind your head (do not interlace your fingers). Lower yourself until your back is about an inch or less from touching the pad, then curl your body up as high as you can.

Decline-Bench Twisting Crunch: Similar to the decline-bench crunch, except you'll curl up while twisting to your left side to bring your right elbow across your body, then lower yourself to a point just before your back touches down and curl up again, this time twisting to your right. Once to each side equals one rep.


Instead of the typical repetition-focused routine, two of these exercises utilize a time approach -- for both scissor kicks and the plank, you'll attempt to work for 30-60 seconds, which you can try to increase as you get stronger over time.

Scissor Kicks 3 30 second-1 minute duration
Butterfly Crunch 3 20
Plank 3 30 second-1 minute holds

  Exercise How-To:
Scissor Kicks: Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and elevated off the floor about 6-12 inches, your arms and hands alongside your body, palms down for support. From there, rapidly move your legs up and down in alternating fashion, from a point just above touching the floor to a couple of feet above the floor.

Butterfly Crunch: This is performed like the crunch explained in "Starter Pack II," except instead of keeping your feet flat on the floor, open your knees "butterfly style" and keep the bottoms of your feet together.

Plank: Get into a modified push-up position, where, instead of being on your hands, you are resting on your forearms. Time yourself as you hold your body in a completely straight "plank" position, supporting yourself with only your forearms and toes in contact with the floor.


Just like the name implies, you'll perform three different types of crunches in this session, each aimed at one of the three key areas of your core.

Reverse Crunch 3 20
Crunch 3 15
Side Double Crunch 3 15 per side
  Exercise How-To:
Reverse Crunch: Lie on the floor, arms alongside your body for support. Lift your legs off the floor, bending about 90 degrees at your knees. From here, curl your glutes and lower back off of the floor by bringing your knees toward your upper body. Lower back to a point about one inch before your glutes touch down and begin the next rep.

See "Starter Pack II" for description of this move.

Side Double Crunch: Lie on one side, upper hand behind your head, legs bent about 90 degrees. Simultaneously bring your upper and lower body together (the actual movement will consist of only a few inches), lower and repeat for reps.


In this workout, you'll superset exercises targeting your upper abs with moves hitting your lower abs. In a superset, you do all the reps for the first exercise, and then immediately, without resting, do all the reps in the second listed movement. Rest about 30-60 seconds, then start your next superset.

Hands-Overhead Crunch -superset with- 3 20
Inverted Bicycle 3 20
Curl-Up -superset with- Vertical-Bench Knee 3 15
  Exercise How-To:
Hands-Overhead Crunch:
Perform this like a standard crunch as described in "Starter Pack II," except instead of holding your hands behind your head, extend them straight overhead. This position is slightly harder than the regular crunch.

Inverted Bicycle: Lie on the floor, placing your hands lightly behind your head while elevating your legs straight up in the air. Twist so your left elbow moves toward your right knee as you simultaneously bring that knee down toward your elbow. Return to the starting position, then repeat with your right elbow and left knee. Do this exercise in a steady, rhythmic fashion. Once to each side equals one rep.

Curl-Up: See description in "Starter Pack I."

Vertical-Bench Knee-Up: See description in "Middle Manager."


Ready for a real test? These six workouts turn up the heat on your abs, but the intense burn should prove to be well worth the new muscle and definition you'll attain.


This workout is designed to be rotated with the lower-ab blast and the oblique blast that follow -- for example, if you work abs thrice weekly, you could do the upper workout Monday, lower Wednesday and oblique Friday, for a complete ab thrashing every seven days.

Swiss-Ball Crunch 4 30
Steep Decline-Bench Crunch 3 30
Rope Crunch 3 20

  Exercise How-To:
Swiss-Ball Crunch: Lie atop a Swiss (a.k.a. exercise) ball, hands behind your head, your lower back aligned along the curve of the ball, feet flat on the floor and spaced apart for firm support. Curl your upper body forward until you achieve a complete abdominal contraction, then lower yourself back to the start and repeat.

Steep Decline-Bench Crunch:
Perform as described in "Middle Manager," except instead of setting the bench at a 45-degree angle, set it as steep as you can handle.

Rope Crunch: Kneel in front of an upper pulley and grasp the ends of a rope attachment, one in each hand. Bring the rope down so your hands are on each side of your head, and your elbows are in tight. Lock your arms into position, and then crunch your abs to bend your body and bring your head down toward the floor. Return to an upright position, feeling a stretch in your abs. Don't let the weight stack touch down between reps.


This lower-ab focused routine is designed to work in concert with the upper-ab and oblique blast workouts, above and below.

Vertical-Bench Medicine-Ball Knee-Raise 4 12-15
Incline-Bench Knee Raise 4 30
Reverse Crunch 4 30 + partials to failure

  Exercise How-To:
Vertical-Bench Medicine-Ball Knee-Raise: Perform the exercise as described in the "Middle Manager" workout while holding a medicine ball between your knees.

Incline-Bench Knee Raise
: Lie on an incline board so your head is higher than your body, and grasp the handles or the sides of the bench above your with both hands. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and lift them up so your feet are in the air. From that position, curl your glutes and lower back off the pad while bringing your knees toward your chest and high up as you can, then lower to the start. Touch very lightly down on the bench before beginning the next rep.

  Reverse Crunch: See description in "Crunch Time."


This oblique-centered workout is the third in the series, as described in the "Upper Ab" and "Lower Ab" regimens above.

Decline-Bench Crunch with Twist at Top 4 30
One-Arm Cable Side Bend 4 20-25
Side Crunch on Back-Extension Bench 4 25-30

  Exercise How-To:
Decline-Bench Crunch with Twist at Top: Perform like the decline crunch explained in "Middle Manager," except pause at the top and twist slowly to one side, bringing your lead elbow all the way across your body, then twist to the other, before returning to a straight-ahead position and lowering your body back down.

One-Arm Cable Side Bend: Stand sideways to a cable stack, right side closest to it, holding a D-handle attached to the lower pulley. With your body in a straight-up position, the weight stack should be elevated. From there, bend slowly toward the side opposite the stack, flexing your oblique muscles along the left side of your body. Repeat for reps, never letting the stack touch down, then switch sides and work the right side of your body.

Side Crunch on Back-Extension Bench: See description in "Starter Pack II."


While most abdominal routines focus on higher-rep schemes, the abdominal muscles do respond extremely well to weighted exercises. This routine takes advantage of that fact, with two machine-based exercises and two highly difficult exercises that use your bodyweight maximally to pummel your abs.

Machine Crunch 4 30, 25, 20, 15
Rockys 3 10-20
Oblique Rope Crunch 3 30, 25, 20
V-Up 3 20, 20, to failure

  Exercise How-To:
Machine Crunch: Take a seat in the machine; it should be adjusted so that the pad hits you in the upper pectorals. Place your feet behind the rollers or firmly on the platform, whichever is provided. Forcefully contract your abs to curl your upper body toward your legs, holding the peak-contracted position for a moment before returning to the start. Don't let the weight stack touch down between reps.

Named after an exercise Sylvester Stallone made famous in Rocky IV, this test of strength will put your abs under an intense isometric contraction. Lie on a flat bench and firmly grasp the sides next to each side of your head. With your body flat as a board and straight (your lower legs will extend past the bottom of the bench), flex the muscles of your core and surrounding areas to lift your lower body up in the air, so that only your shoulders and head remain on the bench. Stop just before your body reaches a position perpendicular to the floor, then slowly lower yourself; as you get stronger, you should be able to continue without letting your body touch down to the bench between reps.

Oblique Rope Crunch:
Perform as described in "Upper Ab Blast," except twist your body to the right (left elbow toward right knee) for one rep, then twist to the left (right elbow toward left knee) on the other. Once to each side equals one rep.

Balance on your glutes, with your legs straight and elevated a few inches off the floor and your shoulder blades elevated a few inches off the floor and arms straight. From here, you'll go into a full jackknife position, crunching up to bring your outstretched arms toward your toes overhead; hold the contraction for a second, then return to the start, preferably not touching your legs and upper back down to the floor between reps.


With nothing but a pull-up bar, you can get a thorough midsection workout, thanks to leg raises, knee raises and windshield wipers.

Hanging Leg Raise -superset with- 4 25
Hanging Knee Raise 4 To failure
Windshield Wipers 3 10-15

  Exercise How-To:
Hanging Leg Raise: Hang from a pull-up bar, body straight, and lift your legs (held straight) out in front of you, as high as you can lift them, then return to the start. Control the movement so you don't sway back and forth on each rep. To maintain your grip, consider using wrist straps.

Hanging Knee Raise: This is similar to a hanging leg raise, except you do it with your knees bent instead of legs straight.

Windshield Wipers:
Hang from a pull-up bar, and lift your legs as high as you can, keeping them together. Your body should be in a jackknife position. From here, slowly lower your legs in an arc toward the left as far as you can, then back up and around to the right side as far as you can. Once to each side equals one rep. As on the above two exercises, consider using wrist straps, or even elbow sleeves, as three exercises in a row holding onto a pull-up bar is an extreme workload for even the strongest forearms.


From your upper abs to your right obliques to your lower abs to your left obliques, this giant set circles your midsection for a full-out attack. Do all four exercises below as one giant set, back-to-back-to-back-to-back with no rest in between. If necessary, rest 30 seconds between each giant set. On the very last set of all four, attempt to reach momentary muscular failure.

Giant set: Medicine-Ball Crunch 4 30
Side Crunch (right side only) 4 30
Leg Raise (with partner) 4 30
Side Double Crunch (left side only) 4 30

  Exercise How-To:
Medicine-Ball Crunch: For this, you'll do a crunch as described in "Starter Pack II," except you'll need a training partner. On the up-phase of each rep, you'll throw a medicine ball to your partner who stands a few feet in front of you, pressing it from your chest. On the downward motion, your partner should toss the ball back so you catch it and bring it back to your chest as you slowly lower yourself to the floor. Curl back up, throwing as you do so, and continue in this pattern for reps.

Side Crunch: Perform as described in "Crunch Time." Leg Raise (with partner): Lie on your back with a partner standing directly above your head. Grasp his or her ankles with both hands for support. Keeping your legs together, raise them up, curling your glutes and lower back off the floor a few inches as you do so. At the top, your partner will push your legs back down toward the floor as you resist. Repeat for reps.