Ab Workouts for Women

Sculpt This, Not That: Awe-Inspiring Abs

These two circuits work the rectus abdominis, obliques and transverse abdominis for a 360-degree core.

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The abdominals are more complex than they may seem — and plenty of people are still training them wrong. Who can blame us, though, for the confusion? After all, the misinformation began early, with schools touting old-fashioned sit-ups as a measure of strength, giving generations of kids the best damn hip flexors the world over.

These days, we know better and have learned that to train your core completely, you need to work the rectus abdominis (your “six-pack”) as well as your obliques and transverse abdominis. The following five exercises accomplish just that, especially if you follow our “Sculpt This, Not That” advice to keep the tension where it needs to be. Use the Core-Centric Circuit after a cardio session or on a total-body training day, and use the T-AB-ata as a finisher to any workout.

The Awe-Inspiring Ab Workouts

Core-Centric Circuit 

Complete three to four rounds of the following workout.

Exercise Seconds
Hanging Leg Raise 30
Rest 30
Crunch 30
Rest 30
TRX Lower-Ab Crunch 30
Rest 30
Resistance-Band Low-to-High Chop (right) 30
Rest 30
Resistance-Band Low-to-High Chop (left) 30
Rest 30
Plank 30
Rest 30

T-AB-ata

Complete four rounds of the following workout.

Exercise Seconds
Resistance-Band Low-to-High Chop (right) 20
Rest 10
Resistance-Band Low-to-High Chop (left) 20
Rest 10

Hanging Leg Raise

Take a shoulder-width overhand grasp on a pull-up bar and hang freely with your legs together. Keep your legs straight as you slowly raise them to hip height or a little above, hinging only at your hips. Pause briefly, then slowly lower to the start. 

Sculpt This, Not That: It’s easy to generate unwanted momentum with this move if you go too quickly and are hanging too loosely from the bar, detracting from the focused work in your core. Before doing a rep, actively draw your shoulder blades down and back and brace your core to keep your body tight and steady throughout the move. Also, make sure you come to a complete stop in between reps to prevent swinging. 

Crunch

Lie faceup with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and lower back arching naturally. Place your fingertips just behind your head with your elbows flared. Slowly curl your head, shoulders and upper back off the floor to shorten the distance between your pelvis and lower rib cage. Pause briefly, then slowly lower back to the start. 

Sculpt This, Not That: Some people take a breath and hold it during the contraction/curl portion of the rep, then release it when they return to the floor. But to maximize strength and endurance, you should exhale on the way up and inhale on the way down. A regular breathing pattern such as that allows you to go longer until failure. When you hold your breath, your energy systems tend to deplete more quickly.  

TRX Lower-Ab Crunch

Secure your feet laces down in the TRX cradles, and walk your hands out so you’re in a plank with your head, hips and heels aligned and your hands underneath your shoulders. Keep your upper body and hips steady as you bend your knees and draw them underneath you as far as you can. Pause briefly, then extend your legs back to the start. 

Sculpt This, Not That: To keep your abs under continual tension, make sure your body and hips don’t sag between reps. Before starting a rep, contract your abs isometrically and then pull your knees underneath you. 

Bonus Tip: Engage your obliques as well as your rectus abdominis by doing this sequence: First, draw your knees underneath you and over toward your right arm. Next, bring your knees directly toward your chest, and finally, pull your knees toward your left arm to complete one rep.

Resistance-Band Low-to-High Chop

Secure a resistance band to a stable object at about shin height. Stand with your left side toward the anchor and grasp the band at your left hip with both hands, arms straight. Keeping your arms straight, rotate through your ankles, knees and hips to pull the band across your body and upward so you end at eye level facing right. Slowly uncoil to return to the start. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.  

Sculpt This, Not That: In order to focus the work on your abs, you should be twisting with your hips, not with your arms. Imagine your spine is a metal rod and rotate your body around that axis.

Bonus Tip: This exercise also can be done from high to low: Secure the band at head height and perform in the same manner, pulling the band diagonally from head to hips.

Three women doing a plank

Plank

Place your hands on the floor directly underneath your shoulders, then extend your legs behind you so you’re up on your toes. Raise your hips to align with your head and heels and hold, breathing, for time.  

Sculpt This, Not That: The first signs of fatigue will happen in your hips: They will either sag toward the floor or rise upward into a “V” shape. Maintain your form by actively and isometrically contracting your abs. Breathe slowly and rhythmically, which can help you maintain your strength while giving you something to focus on other than the lactic-acid buildup and burn. Also, engage your glutes to help support your hips, and actively press back with your heels toward the wall behind you to maintain total-body tension.