Best Ab Workouts for Women: Core Strengthening (Must-Try)

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: January 15, 2024
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As a female personal trainer, I've seen firsthand the challenges and triumphs of toning the stomach. It's a journey that demands dedication and strategy.

So, after weeks of research, I've honed in on the most effective ab workouts tailored specifically for women.

These workouts are not just about achieving a flat stomach; they're designed to build a strong core, reduce body fat overall, and bring your abs to the spotlight.

In this article, I'll guide you through each exercise, detailing their correct techniques. By the end, you'll be equipped with a comprehensive plan to transform your abdominal fitness.

Quick Summary

  • The best ab workouts for women include tabletop crunch and reach, crunch heel touches, crunch and reach, bicycle crunch, forearm plank, one-leg plank, mountain climbers, starfish crunch, and more.
  • The best way to keep your progress in strength and hypertrophy is to incorporate the principle of progressive overload, which is increasing the overall training volume and intensity each following workout.
  • A study from PubMed suggests a strong correlation between cortisol and abdominal fat, so practice yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises to alleviate stress.
  • To get visible abs, you must use a proper workout regime, get on the appropriate diet plan, take care of calorie intake, and consume a high-quality fat burner supplement that will help you lose fat quickly.

Best Ab Workouts for Women to Get a Toned Stomach

A woman doing ab workouts at a home gym

As a woman, I've learned that getting flat-toned abs is a lot of work, but it's not impossible with the right exercises.

Here are 10 ab exercises to build core strength and tone your abs.

1. Tabletop Crunch and Reach

From my own training experience and working with clients, I've found the tabletop crunch and reach to be a fundamental and straightforward core exercise.

It follows a trunk flexion movement pattern and effectively targets the rectus abdominis, along with other core muscles, making it a staple in my core strengthening routine.

Here's how you perform it with good form:

  1. Lie on the floor and bend your knees for about 90 degrees to enter the starting crunch position.
  2. Your hips should also be bent 90 degrees so your feet come off the floor and assume the same starting position as in the dead bug (this step entails transitioning from the crunch to the starting lower body dead bug position).
  3. Place your palms behind your head by abducting your shoulders and flexing your elbows.
  4. Ensure your lumbar spine isn’t too off the ground, creating lumbar lordosis during the whole movement.
  5. Start the exercise by performing a crunch and caving your elbows slightly inward.
  6. You should feel the tension in your stomach during the whole movement.
  7. Return to the ground by reversing the motion and repeat 11 more times.
  8. Perform 3–4 sets and rest less than a minute between the sets.

2. Crunch Heel Touches

A person doing crunch heel touches

In my personal training sessions, I've consistently included crunch heel touches as a go-to exercise.

They're ideal for effectively building the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and both internal and external obliques — a combination I've seen yield impressive results in core strength and definition.

 

Here's how to perform this exercise with good form:

  1. Lie on any flat surface with enough width to fit your whole back, hips, and leg muscles.
  2. Bend your knees for about 90 degrees so your hips, knees, and ankles create a starting bent position, such as in the regular crunch exercise.
  3. Keep your arms extended overhead at the beginning of the exercise and ensure your lumbar spine isn’t too far from the floor.
  4. Start the exercise by adducting your arms and simultaneously performing the crunch with your upper body.
  5. Touch your heels with both your hands and return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for 15 heel touches, rest for as little as possible, and perform three more sets.

Related: How To Do Heel Touches

3. Crunch and Reach

Crunch and reach is an excellent lower and upper body core exercise.

It entails lower body isometric contraction from your hip flexors and builds superior concentric and eccentric strength in the upper body flexing motion.

Here's how to do the crunch and reach with good form:

  1. Start in the lying position with your knees fully extended and hips bent for exactly 90 degrees so your feet look directly to the ceiling above you.
  2. Keep your lumbar spine fixed on the ground and avoid rounding or extending your back during any position in the whole movement.
  3. Start the exercise by raising your arms with your torso and touching yours with your fingers.
  4. When you reach the top position, slowly reverse the motion by controlling the lowering portion of the movement with your abdominal muscles.
  5. Repeat for 12 reps, four sets, and rest for 90 seconds between the sets.

4. Bicycle Crunch

A person doing a bicycle crunch

The bicycle crunch is more of a dynamic core exercise that is excellent for building a strong core and burning extra calories.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Start by lying with your hands behind your head and your legs slightly bent at your knees and hips.
  2. At the same time, pull your left elbow towards the right leg or knee while rotating the right arm and extending your left foot or leg.
  3. Always switch between the left arm and right arm and change the legs extended.
  4. Perform alternating 30 repetitions before resting for 45 seconds.
  5. Repeat for five sets in total.

5. Forearm Plank

I've found that the forearm plank is a fundamental core strengthening exercise that has many variations and is among the best forearm exercises.

You can always switch between the forearm and arms straight plank. In addition, changing the position of your feet from dorsiflexion to making your feet flat in plantarflexion is also an option.

Here's how to perform this exercise:

  1. Start in the front plank position with elbows placed against the ground and feet in slight dorsal flexion to create better stability.
  2. Keep your abs muscles contracted throughout the movement and don’t sag your buttocks or extend your lumbar spine excessively.
  3. Hold the forearm front plank position for about 45 seconds and repeat for as many sets as you like, but rest for as little as possible between the sets.

Also Read: Best Forearm Dumbbell Exercises

6. One-leg Plank

A person doing one leg plank workouts

The one-leg plank is one of the best ab exercises because it will challenge your stabilizer muscles and core strength.

Here's how to do it with good form:

  1. Start in the regular push-up position and then transition to your elbows, like in the forearm plank exercise.
  2. Keep your upper body flat, legs straight, and knees bent or fully extended according to your preferences (it is better to keep them fully extended).
  3. Start the exercise by lifting your left leg off the floor while keeping your hips fully neutral without shifting to the other side.
  4. Switch the legs on every couple of seconds and repeat on time for 30 seconds straight.
  5. Repeat for a couple of sets and rest for a minute between each set.

7. Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are my go-to calorie-burning exercise at home.

They're an excellent dynamic core exercise that will build a lot of core strength and endurance.

Here's how you can do them:

  1. Start in the push-up position with your knees extended, hips neutral, back flat, and elbows extended under your shoulders.
  2. Start the exercise by lifting your right knee towards the chest and quickly returning it.
  3. When your right knee returns to the starting position, immediately bring your left leg forward with the same principles.
  4. Repeat this alternate knee-raising movement for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and perform 2–3 more sets.

8. Starfish Crunch

A person doing starfish crunch workouts

The starfish crunch is an interesting core exercise that will challenge your obliques and rectus abdominis.

Here's how you can do it:

  1. Start by lying in the “starfish” position with your hands abducted for more than 90 degrees and your legs for about 45 degrees each.
  2. Start the exercise by raising your trunk and connecting your right hand and left leg.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat the same with the left hand and right leg.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps on each side, four sets, and rest for 90 seconds between the sets.

9. Russian Twists

Russian twists are great for building rotational trunk strength and endurance and exercising your obliques.

Here's how to do them correctly:

  1. Pick a medicine ball of appropriate weight to perform at least 15 twists on each side without pausing.
  2. Start in the crunch position by sitting on the floor with your trunk slightly flexed back and your hips and knees bent to have a firm grip on the ground.
  3. Lift the feet from the floor and start with twists on each side.
  4. Ensure the medicine ball almost touches the floor on each rep to maximize the rotation you create and tension in your obliques.
  5. Repeat for 15 reps on each side, three sets, and rest for as little as possible between the sets.

"Many of the conversations surrounding the abs can be oddly polarizing. Some prefer to think of them as wasted training time, others like to overemphasize their core with near obsessive volume. The truth, of course, is that optimal abdominal training lies somewhere in between, but understanding the how and why of effective core training is what ensures a proper return on your investment."

- Eric Bugera, Certified Personal Trainer

10. Dead Bug

A person doing dead bug workouts

The dead bug is a great exercise for beginners unless you perform it with small dumbbells, which significantly increases the difficulty of this core exercise.

Here's how you do the dead bug:

  1. Start by lying on the floor with your arms near your body and your legs straight.
  2. Place your arms in an extended position towards the ceiling by bending your shoulders and extending your elbows.
  3. Bend your hips 90 degrees and create a 90-degree angle between your hamstrings and calves.
  4. Start the exercise by extending your right hand above your head and lowering the left leg simultaneously.
  5. Reverse the motion by lifting the right hand and leg back to the starting position of the exercise.
  6. Repeat the same motion with the left hand and right leg down and up to complete one rep.
  7. Repeat this for 15 reps, three sets, and rest for 90 seconds between the sets.

How Can I Get the Most From Every Ab Workout?

To get the most from every ab workout, I highly suggest you implement the so-called principle of progressive overload. According to a study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology, this can enhance your strength gains [1].

Progressive overload means raising the external resistance or making the exercise harder in some other way for every next workout to achieve better hypertrophy effects [2].

It is ideal for including a rest time of about 48 hours before two intense training sessions following the same muscle groups [3].

"You might not be a physique athlete chasing a six-pack, but even strength athletes need strong abs. A stable core will help you deadlift, squat, and bench press more weight. Like any other muscle in your body, you need to train your core for it to grow and get stronger. Of course, not all exercises are created equal."

- Mike Dewar, Certified Personal Trainer

Impact of Stress on Abdominal Fat

Managing stress is essential for targeting abdominal fat, a lesson I've learned both personally and professionally.

Elevated stress levels increase cortisol production, a hormone directly linked to fat accumulation in the midsection, as confirmed by numerous studies. For instance, a study I found in PubMed suggests a strong correlation between cortisol and abdominal fat [4].

To combat this, I’ve integrated stress-reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises into my routine and recommended the same to clients.

These practices not only help in lowering cortisol levels but also contribute significantly to reducing belly fat.

Role of Diet in Abdominal Muscle Definition

From my experience, both personally and with clients, a balanced diet is fundamental to revealing those coveted abdominal muscles.

Proper nutrition, particularly a diet abundant in lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables, is critical for fat loss and muscle definition.

This is supported by research, such as a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, which emphasizes the role of protein in body composition in both men and women [5].

Reducing the intake of processed foods and sugars, coupled with ensuring adequate hydration, can markedly boost the impact of your ab workouts.

How Can I Tone and Flatten My Stomach Fast?

You can tone and flatten your stomach fast by consuming a high-quality fat burner strictly made for women.

If you implement enough entire body workouts, ab exercises, and a proper diet, then the only thing left that can further help you tone your stomach is consuming an effective and previously tested fat burner supplement.

Read our guide on the best fat burners for women to pick the one that suits your goals and needs.

FAQs

Which Is the Most Effective Ab Exercise?

The most effective ab exercise is the weighted crunch. All crunch variations will effectively target the majority of your core muscles and increase the hypertrophy of the abdominal muscles.

How Can Women Tone Abs Fast?

A woman can tone her abs fast by performing ab exercises for women specifically programmed to induce hypertrophy effects. Exercise your upper body ab muscles at different angles, intensities, and volumes to get the most benefit.

Can a Girl Get Abs in 30 Days?

Yes, a girl can get abs in 30 days. To get abs in about 30 days, you must regularly perform an ab workout that focuses on targeting the entire core, and you also must correct your calorie intake and diet plan to support fat loss and muscle-building effects.

Do Planks Give You Abs?

Yes, planks give you abs. Even though the plank position will effectively keep your core engaged for a prolonged period, you still need to implement other core exercise variations to support your ab development.

How Many Months Does It Take To Tone Abs?

It takes about a month or a little more to tone your abs. However, you can’t tone your abs by just performing the same old forearm plank position, and you will need to take your diet, supplementation, and calorie intake seriously to see results fast.


References:

  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-010-1735-9
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6950543/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6719818/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21305825/
  5. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0100-0
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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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