Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
If you were a high school student in the late 1990s to early 2000s, you were likely witness to a short-lived (and ill-advised) fad: the midriff-bearing prom dress. Fast forward to now, and while a tight midsection is still all the rage (and good for your health), we’ve become a little more modest with our wardrobes.
But just because you aren’t showing off your abs at this very moment, it doesn’t mean that their existence (or lack thereof) isn’t on your mind. Fortunately, a few changes to your routine can make all the difference. “When you shock your body with a new exercise regimen, you may start seeing results in as little as one to two weeks,” explains Jari Love, creator of the Get Ripped! DVD workout series. Fresh moves, a flat belly and quick definition — all of these must-have features are built into this 20-minute workout.
The unique benefit of this at-home routine is that you can do it when you’re short on time, and there’s no need to schlep it to the gym. The circuit format will also help keep your heart rate up to burn more calories and fat, and the variety of moves will challenge even the most advanced exerciser.
Perform this routine in a circuit, completing one set of each exercise before moving on to the next, with little to no rest. Catch your breath, then repeat the circuit one or two more times. Since you’ll definitely feel the after-effects the next day, do this workout twice a week, with recovery time in between.
After the windmill, rest for one to two minutes, then repeat the circuit once or twice from the top.
Obliques Bench Crunch
Target Muscles: internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis
Set Up: Lie faceup on the floor and rest your lower legs on a bench or chair. Place your fingertips lightly behind your head for support.
Action: As you exhale, contract your abs to lift your shoulders from the floor and twist one elbow towards your opposite knee. Inhale as you return to the center, lower back down to the floor, then come up and twist to the other side. Continue alternating for your set.
Trainer’s Tip: A couch, ottoman or side table are living-room substitutions if you don’t happen to have a bench at home.
Target Muscles: transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis
Set Up: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down. Lift your feet and bend your knees to 90 degrees.
Action: Exhale as you contract your abs and lift your hips several inches off the floor, directing your knees towards your chest. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Trainer’s Tip: “Reverse crunches help prevent upper-back rounding and also strengthen the lower back to counteract long sessions sitting in front of the computer,” explains Love.
Side Plank with Overhead Raise
Target Muscles: rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques
Set Up: Grab a dumbbell in your left hand and lie on your right side with your legs extended. Prop yourself up on your right forearm, and stack your feet so the inner edges touch. Lift your hips up away from the floor to bring your body into a straight line from your head to your heels.
Action: Move your left arm in an arc until the weight is directly above your shoulder, then lower with control. Complete all reps before switching sides.
Trainer’s Tip: “Beginners, keep your bottom hip on the floor and perform this without weights,” advises Love. Lift your hips when you get stronger, and eventually add the dumbbell.
Target Muscles: transverse abdominis, erector spinae, gluteus maximus
Set Up: Begin on all fours. Place your elbows on the floor directly under your shoulders, then extend your legs behind you and lift up onto your toes.
Action: Raise one leg from the floor and hold for 30 seconds. When finished, return to the starting position and repeat with your opposite leg.
Trainer’s Tip: If you are just starting out, try staying on your knees, says Love. Also, if your lower back begins to arch, bring your raised leg closer to the floor.
Target Muscles: internal and external obliques
Set Up: Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, with toes turned out slightly. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and extend both arms out to the sides at shoulder height.
Action: Inhale as you bend to the right side, reaching your right hand to the outside of your foot and raising your left arm overhead. Exhale as you return to standing. Complete all your reps, then move the dumbbell to your right hand and repeat on the other side.
Trainer’s Tip: “As you complete each rep, initiate the action with your torso, rather than pulling with your top arm,” says Love.