Abs are often an afterthought, tacked onto the end of your workout in the form of a few basic sit-ups. But like any muscle group, to achieve strength and definition, you’ve got to step things up to avoid the dreaded plateau. If you can plank, crunch, and twist like a champ, start adding some weight to your workouts and watch as your midsection becomes leaner and more visibly toned.
Women who shy away from strength training for fear of “bulking” needn’t worry. Building dense, large muscles is the result of an intense, focused diet and exercise plan designed strictly for what we commonly hear referred to as “gains.” On the contrary, because the abdominals and obliques are thin layers of muscle, the more you strengthen them, the longer and leaner they will look. A “thick” mid-section is more often caused by diet, not dumbbells. This brings us to…
Of course, that tight, toned tummy cannot be revealed if there is a layer of fat on top of it. Abs are made in the kitchen, which means that if you are not eating a diet high in protein, low in sugar, and rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, all the crunches in the world will not yield the results you want. A balanced diet combined with a consistent strength training routine is the secret sauce for abs that pop!
If you’re unsure where to begin, the first step is to make sure that you can perform bodyweight ab exercises with good form. If you are a beginner, or your core strength is still shaky, continue with bodyweight moves until you can perform 12-15 reps with good form. Then slowly add in weights, starting with 3-5 pounds and adjusting accordingly. A good rule of thumb when it comes to strength training is that the last 2-3 reps should be a serious struggle. If you are performing 12-15 weighted reps without breaking a sweat, it’s time to increase the load.
Experiment with dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, stability balls, or weight plates for variation and comfort.
The following are 4 of our favorite weighted ab exercises that are sure to make you feel the burn. Aim for 12-15 reps, moving from one move to the next without a break. Perfect for adding on to the end of your workout, or perform 2-3 sets, resting for 60 seconds in-between, for a completely core-focused workout.
The name is lame, but the burn is insane! This highly effective move not only strengthens and stabilizes the core but if offers some upper body benefits too. In other words, more bang for the bug! To perform, lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Holding a 2-5 pound dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms overhead with your hands directly above your shoulders. Press your lower back to the floor and take a deep breath. Exhale as you simultaneously extend your right arm behind you and your left leg in front of you. Inhale as you return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Tip: If you cannot maintain a neutral spine, lower the amount of weight you are using.
Whittle your waist with this move that can be done using a kettlebell, medicine ball, or dumbbell. Rest on your sit bones, tipping back to a 45-degree angle with your knees bent and heels on the floor. Hold the weight in front of your chest and exhale as you twist to the right. Exhale to return to center and repeat on the left.
Tip: As you become more advanced, lift your feet off the ground while performing this movement.
No, this isn’t a mistake. Abs aren’t just made on the mat. Front-loaded squats are an unsung hero when it comes to engaging your core muscles and creating definition. Why? Because by putting the weight on the front of your body, you are placing more demands on your anterior core (the abs) versus the posterior core (your back). If your core is not strong, the weight will tip you forward. By keeping your body upright, your core is forced to stabilize, which means your abs are working hard! Start by standing upright, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your chest, palms facing you. Keeping head and chest up and shoulders down, lower your hips while keeping heels firmly on the ground. Drive through the heels to return to standing.
Tip: As you advance, try this move with a body bar or barbell-crossing your arms to keep it in front of your chest.
This move may look easy at first, but after a few reps, you’ll see why, when done correctly, this move is a game changer. The key here is to imagine that you are sandwiched between two panes of glass. You cannot move forward or backward, only to the side. Begin with arms by your side and a dumbbell in your right hand. Place your left hand behind your head and lean to the right, letting the dumbbell pull your body toward the floor. Pause at the bottom and slowly return to standing. Complete all reps on the right side before moving to the left.
Tip: Engage your core and imagine that you have two headlights on your hips. Keep them shining straight in front of you as you lean to the side.
Adding weights to your ab workout is a great way to achieve a leaner, more toned physique. Just make sure that you don’t compromise your form. If you experience any lower back pain, lower the weights. Even the smallest weights can deliver some big results!