If having six-pack abs is your goal, the first step should be to lose any excess fat, then use muscle building exercises to help tighten and tone up your midsection. The best ab exercises for women can be completed without any equipment and work your entire core.
When beginning an exercise program for your abs, it’s best to incorporate a variety of different exercises into your routine and change up your workouts often. Choose exercises that work your upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. Try the following ab exercises for women to achieve a slim, trim midsection and six-pack abs.
Ab Exercises for Women That Work the Core
Plank exercises are excellent for building a strong core and tightening up your waist. Try the following variations of the plank:
Basic Planks and Forearm Planks
A plank is a simple exercise, but you’ll feel the burn in your core each time you do it. Complete a basic plank by getting into an extended push-ups position and keeping your arms straight. Place your weight on your hands and toes. Hold the position for 1-2 minutes if you can.
When completing a forearm plank, your upper body is supported by your forearms rather than your hands and your body is closer to the ground. Hold the position for 1-2 minutes if you can or alternate between forearm planks and basic planks to change things up.
Once you’ve mastered basic plank exercises, make plank holds more difficult by trying the RKC plank hold. Because this plank hold is more challenging, you might not be able to hold it as long as a basic or forearm plank.
To complete the exercise, simply get into a forearm plank hold, push your torso away from the floor to create a small round in your back.
During the plank hold you’ll squeeze your quads and glutes as hard as you can. Hold the position as long as you can, which might only be 10-20 seconds, rest, and repeat the RKC plank hold or another plank exercise.
You’ll work your abs and really get your blood pumping by choosing plank jacks as one of your regular ab exercises for women. Begin by getting into a basic or forearm plank hold. Then quickly spread your legs apart and together continuously, kind of like a jumping jack, while holding your upper body firmly in place. Do this exercise for 30-60 seconds or longer if you can.
When completing mountain climbers, you’ll get in a basic plank hold position by supporting your upper body with your hands. Quickly bring one knee in toward your chest and alternate knees continuously. Do this for 30-60 seconds or longer to work your abs, upper body, and even your lower body.
Side planks really engage your oblique abdominal muscles, which tightens and tones up your midsection.
When completing side planks, get one side of your body in a forearm plank position, with the other side of your body facing upward toward the ceiling. Keep your body rigid so that your entire body, from your feet up to your shoulders, forms a straight line.
If you’re more advanced, a variation of this exercise is to bring your top knee toward your elbow kind of like a side crunch, while you remain in the side plank position. Do this continuously and repeat it on the other side.
Plank Leg/Arm Raises
To make a basic or forearm plank hold more difficult, try leg or arm raises while holding your plank position.
Raise one arm (keep it straight) out in front of your body until it’s parallel with the floor, hold the position, raise your other arm out in front of you, hold, and alternate continuously.
If you’re not able to fully extend your arm, simply touch your shoulder with the opposite hand and alternate sides for 30-60 seconds.
Or, lift one leg (keep it straight) up toward the ceiling, hold the position, lift up your other leg and repeat. If you’re ready for even more of a challenge, raise one arm out in front of you and lift the opposite leg at the same time, then repeat with your other arm and opposite leg.
If you’re more advanced, consider adding plank rows into your regular workout routine as it's one of the best ab exercises for women. You’ll need two dumbbells for this exercise or try it without dumbbells until you become stronger.
Get into a basic plank/extended pushups position while holding dumbbells in both hands. Slowly move one dumbbell up toward the ceiling, similar to a bent-over row.
Get back into your starting position (basic plank hold) and complete a row with your other arm and alternate continuously. Aim to complete at least 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps for each arm.
Plank Hip Dips
To complete plank hip dips, get into a basic plank or forearm plank position. Slowly twist your hips from side to side by rotating your right hip toward the ground until it almost touches, then twist until your left hip almost touches the ground.
Repeat dipping your hips continuously for 30-60 seconds or longer if you can.
Upper and Lower Ab Exercises for Women
When you’re ready to really work your ab muscles and feel them burn, try these ab exercises for women for upper AND lower abdominal muscles. You’ll really notice a difference in your midsection after adding these ab exercises into your regular fitness routine.
Ab Wheel Rollout
You’ll need an ab wheel to complete this ab rollout exercise. Kneel on something padded to protect your knees and place your hands on the ab wheel.
Slowly roll it out in front of you as far as you can comfortably go, keeping your core tight. Hold the position for a second or two, and slowly roll the wheel and your upper body back in toward your knees.
Repeat the exercise 10-15 times, take a break, and complete 2-3 sets.
The jackknife ab exercise works both upper and lower abdominal muscles and is more of an advanced workout. Lie on your back and keep your arms and legs as straight as you can.
Slowly lift up your upper body (keep your arms straight) and simultaneous raise your legs up toward your arms until they almost touch and are about perpendicular with the floor. Slowly lower your arms and legs back down and repeat the exercise for about 30-60 seconds or as long as you can.
The bicycle ab exercise is an excellent way to make your upper and lower ab muscles burn, and get your blood pumping.
Simply lie on your back and place your hands behind your head. Touch your right knee to your left elbow and your left knee to your right elbow continuously for about 30-60 seconds or longer if you can.
Complete at least three sets of the exercise.
Traditional sit-ups are the most common ab exercise for women. They can be more effective than you think for your upper and lower abs when you use proper form. Lie on the ground and keep your hands on your chest or shoulders.
Slowly lift up your upper body as far as you can, keeping your feet flat on the ground. Do traditional sit-ups for 1-2 minutes, rest, and repeat or move on to another ab exercise.
Leg Raise Holds
When you complete a leg raise hold properly, you’ll work your upper and lower abdominal muscles to achieve the six-pack abs you’re striving for. Lie flat on your back and begin with your legs straight.
Slowly lift your legs (keep them straight) a few inches off the floor and hold. At the same time, reach your arms (keep them straight too) toward your feet and lift your shoulders and upper body several inches off the floor.
Hold this position for 30-60 seconds or as long as you can and repeat.
To complete a c-curve hold, which is an isometric abdominal exercise that works your upper and lower abs, get into a traditional sit-ups position. Instead of completing a full sit-up, go just half way up and hold that position for 30-60 seconds and repeat the exercise.
Lower Ab Workouts
When changing up your ab routine regularly, pick a day to focus on your lower abs with the following ab exercises for women:
To complete leg lifts, lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your hands under you butt. Raise up your legs, keeping them straight, until they are perpendicular with the floor.
Then slowly lower your legs back down until they almost touch the floor and repeat continuously for 30-60 seconds or longer.
You can also complete leg lifts with an exercise ball between your knees to increase the difficulty level of the exercise.
When completing scissor kicks to work your lower abs, lie on the floor with your legs straight and your hands under your butt.
Slowly lift up your legs a few inches from the floor and complete short scissors-like kicks up and down. Keep your legs straight and a few inches from the floor during the exercise, but don't let them touch the floor.
You can also spread your legs apart and together instead of doing scissor kicks, or alternate between the two.
Instead of doing regular crunches that work mainly your upper abdominal muscles, consider reverse crunches instead to strengthen your lower abs.
Place your feet on the floor with your knees bent and your hands near your head. Curl your shoulders up off the floor slightly. Slowly bring your knees in toward your head as far as you can while lifting your butt off the floor a little bit.
Repeat reverse curls for 30-60 seconds or longer if you can.
When completing Russian twists, you’ll need a dumbbell or medicine ball. Sit down with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Lean back slightly to forma a W-shape with your body.
Hold the weight with both hands and twist it from your right hip to your left hip in a continuous motion for 30-60 seconds or longer if you can.
The ab exercises for women above help build your ab muscles to create the six-pack abs you’re striving for. But your ab muscles won’t show if body fat gets in the way. If burning fat is your goal, try these fat-burning workouts that also engage your ab muscles:
- High intensity interval training, or alternating periods of high intensity exercise with lower intensity recovery periods
- Circuit training with weight lifting plus burpees, rope jumping, high knee twists mountain climbers, jumping jacks, etc.
- Continuous cardio that lasts 45 minutes
For best results, combine these fat-burning workouts with various ab strengthening exercise and change up your routine regularly.
Fat-Burning Diet Tips
Diet is just as important as exercise when it comes to shedding fat to produce six-pack abs. When changing up your diet for fat loss, try the following tips and tricks:
- Drink 2-4 cups of water when your first wake up, 2 cups of water before meals, and at least 12 cups of total water daily for women
- Fill half of each plate with non-starchy vegetables, one-fourth of your plate with protein foods, and one-fourth of each plate with fiber-rich starches
- Eliminate (or limit) alcoholic drinks
- Nix sugary drinks, sweets, baked goods, fried foods, processed meats, other processed foods, and refined grains (such as white bread)
- Sign up for a weight loss program designed for women
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Writer, The Fit Father Project
A 15-year freelance writing veteran, Erin is registered dietitian and health educator who is passionate about health, fitness and disease prevention. Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife and mom of two beautiful children.