Whether you’re just getting started on your fitness journey or if you’re looking to get back to basics, it’s important to incorporate some beginner ab exercises into your regime. (Remember, just because they're beginner moves doesn't mean they're easy or less effective.) Beginner ab exercises allow you to perfect your form and focus on making all the core muscles work.
Working out those core muscles is essential for leveling up your fitness and wellbeing in general. Not only is your core the center point for all movement, but these muscles also support your spine and protect all of your organs. And, rocking a toned tummy is a bonus perk.
Meet the expert: Kira Jones, CPT, is a NASM-certified personal trainer, with a specialty in mat Pilates, and the founder of Cacti Wellness app.
While it’s nice to rock a six pack, it’s even more important to stay injury-free, and targeting all of the muscles that make up your core will help you do just that.“This will give you the base you need to protect yourself from injury with weight and more complex movement,” says Kira Jones, CPT. Plus, strong abs muscles can actually ease back pain.
Major Muscle Groups Of The Core
- rectus abdominis (your six-pack muscles)
- transversus abdominis (the muscles beneath your rectus abdominis)
- internal and external obliques (side abs)
- multifidi (muscles in the back of your core, along your spine)
- erector spinae (muscles along the sides of your spine)
Other muscles also contribute (like your pelvic floor and diaphragm), too, so it really is a team effort. Keeping these muscles in tip-top shape is a must if you want to run, lift, jump, and crush whatever flavor of fitness you love for the long run.
To show your entire core some more love, incorporate the following easy ab workouts into your routine. You can sprinkle them into full-body sessions or dedicate some time to straight-up core TLC.
Beginner Abs Workout
Time: 12 minutes | Equipment: Mat | Good for: Core
Instructions: Select five exercises from the list below. Perform each for 30 seconds, then rest for 15, and continue onto the next. Once you've completed all five moves, start from the top and repeat twice more for a total of three rounds.
Why it rocks: This lying-down move offers your lower back some support as you develop your core strength and fatigues your lower abs quickly as you extend your opposite arm and leg.
- Start lying back with arms extended over chest, legs raised and bent at 90 degrees (knees above hips and shins parallel to floor).
- Keep low back pressed to the floor, brace core, then slowly and simultaneously extend and lower right leg and to hover just above mat.
- Pause, then return to start.
- Repeat on the opposite side. That’s 1 rep.
Modify it: When you’re first starting out, try holding this position with your legs in tabletop and your arms perpendicular to your body. That alone can be effective for tuning into and engaging your core.
Why it rocks: The plank is pretty much the quintessential core move because it challenges all 360 degrees of your midsection, makes your shoulders burn, and even requires your glutes and quads to fire up, too.
- Start kneeling at back of mat with toes tucked and butt resting on heels.
- Walk hands forward to an all-fours position with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders.
- Lean forward, then lift knees to form one straight line from heels to head. Keep hips high and abs engaged.
- Hold for 15, 30, or 45 seconds, then relax. That's 1 rep.
Modify it: If you’re working way up to a plank, you can drop down to your forearms to take pressure off the wrists and make it easier to achieve a flat back, according to Jones. If this is still too challenging, drop down to your knees and pop back on your hands. Hinge forward so that you still feel tension in your core.
Seated Straight-Leg Lift
Why it rocks: Lying leg lifts can be tough on your lower back if you're still improving that core strength, but this seated modification ensures you'll feel sore in all the right places (read: six-pack muscles).
- Start seated with the legs extended out in front of you.
- While sitting tall and engaging core, hinge forward slightly.
- Keep feet flexed while lifting right heel 3 to 5 inches off the ground.
- Pause and lower.
- Repeat with left leg. That's 1 rep.
Modify it: By moving your hands next to your hips, or right behind your hips, makes this move more comfortable and helps improve posture when you're just beginning. You can tent your fingertips so you don't take away from the abdominal work, says Jones.
Why it rocks: Say hello to your side abs with this exercise. Side planks hit your obliques hard (but still get your entire core in on the action).
- Lay on side with right forearm flat on the floor, elbow under shoulder, and both legs extended so body forms a straight line from head to feet. Feet can either be staggered for extra stability or stacked for more of a challenge.
- Engage core and lift hips off the floor.
- Hold for 15, 30, or 45 seconds, then relax.
- Repeat on the other side. That's 1 rep.
Modify it: Bring your bottom leg down to the knee while keeping your top leg straight, says Jones.
Why it rocks: Sick of situps? Toe touches up the ante for your lower abs, so you'll feel the burn a lot quicker.
- Start lying on back with arms extended straight up over chest (optional to hold a dumbbell) and legs raised straight up towards ceiling with toes pointed.
- Keeping lower body still, engage core and lift upper body off mat to tap ankles or feet with fingers.
- Return to start. That’s 1 rep.
Modify it: To make toe touches a little less challenging, you can bring your legs into a tabletop position, but continue reaching up as if they were fully extended, recommends Jones.
Table Top with Knee Tap
Why it rocks: Work up to that bear plank with this slow and controlled move. Extend your hover as you improve.
- Start on all fours with palms flat on floor (fingers facing forward) and wrists and elbows directly beneath shoulders. Knees should be directly below hips with toes tucked and pressed into the mat. Keep neck long and neutral.
- With core tight, lift knees up off the mat until hips are in line with shoulders.
- Hover knees for one to two seconds.
- Release knees to the ground with control. That’s 1 rep.
Pro tip: Make sure to engage your core to feel a lift rather than pushing through your toes and palms.
Why it rocks: This move builds solid stability as your core fires to keep your shoulders and hips square to the floor as your arm and leg extend.
- Start on all fours with wrists directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Keep back flat, abs engaged, and a slight bend in elbows.
- Extend right arm out in front at shoulder height and left leg straight behind at hip height.
- Bend right elbow and left knee and bring together under belly.
- Straight right arm and left. That's 1 rep. Complete all reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Modify it: To simplify this move, extend one leg at a time with both hands planted, and then extend one arm at a time with both knees planted. You can slowly work your way up to extending the opposite leg and arm simultaneously, says Jones.
Why it rocks: If bicycle crunches don't feel quite right yet, this modification is a great move to start with.
- Lie on back with left leg extended straight in air, just above mat, and head and shoulders curled up off floor to hug right knee to chest with arms.
- Keep left leg straight and hover left foot a few inches off floor.
- Slowly and with control, release, straighten, and hover right leg, while bending left leg, pulling knee in towards chest, and wrapping hands around left shin. That’s 1 rep.
Plank with Knee Tap
Why it rocks: Those knee taps might look easy, but they up the challenge for your entire core as it works to keep your hips stable.
- Start in a forearm plank position, with elbows stacked under shoulders, palms flat, core engaged, and legs straight.
- Slowly and with control, lower both knees until they kiss the ground.
- Extend legs to return to a plank position. That's 1 rep.
Pro tip: Think of each tap as one repetition and then return to your forearm plank, focusing on maintaining proper form and not relying on momentum.
Why it rocks: Your obliques work extra hard as you pull your knee to your elbow in this move, which is a staple in many a yoga flow.
- Start in high plank position.
- Lift left foot up off floor and drive toward left elbow while keeping hips level and back flat.
- With control, reverse movement to return to start.
- Repeat on the other side. That's 1 rep.
Modify it: Drop into a tabletop position and complete the movement from there, pulling one knee to the corresponding elbow, says Jones.
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