Whether you care about visible abs or not, strengthening the muscles of your midsection is one of the best things you can do for overall fitness. And with these short ab workouts, you can easily fit that task into your regular routine.
Regularly performing a short ab workout has benefits that extend far beyond achieving a six-pack. Your abdominal muscles are often referred to as your core and for good reason. Your core includes all the muscles in your abdomen, lower back and pelvis. That means your core is involved in almost every move you make. A strong core also prevents injury, keeps your internal organs safe, improves posture and helps you move more confidently.
The good news is that ab workouts don’t have to be a long, laborious process. You can strengthen your core muscles in as little as a few minutes a day. Tack one on to the end of a spin session or a run, or sneak one in before your shower on a day when you have a few minutes to spare.
Here are two effective ab workouts that you can perform almost anywhere—at the gym, in your bedroom, at a park— without equipment in less than 10 minutes:
Make sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
6-Minute Ab Workout
Starting your ab workout with a bird dog exercise helps ensure that your midsection is stable before moving into more challenging core work.This somewhat slow and simple movement works both your rectus abdominis, the front ab muscles that create the 6-pack, and your transverse abdominis, which is a muscle that wraps around your waist and helps with overall stability.
How to Bird Dog:
1. Start on hands and knees. Activate your transverse abdominal muscles by picturing a corset being tightened around your waist.
2. Extend your right arm and left leg trying to keep your back flat enough to be able to balance a cup of water.
3. Switch sides.
4. Move through these motions slowly and thoughtfully, keeping an emphasis on your breath throughout the sequence.
Perform 5 bird dogs on each side.
The plank is one of the best exercises that you can do for your abdominal muscles. A plank pose works your inner and outer core as well as muscles throughout your arms, back and legs. Research shows that core stabilization exercises, such as plank and side plank, can also help prevent lower back pain.
How to Plank:
1. Starting on hands and knees, place your forearms on the ground and rise onto your toes. You want your body to be parallel to the ground. Make sure that your bum is not too high (not going to be activating the core properly), nor too low (puts too much strain on your lower back).
2. Feel that you are wrapping your transverse abdominis (inner core muscles) in a corset around your core.
3. If you are recently postpartum or have a back injury or pain, it might not be the right time for a plank, and it would be recommended to stick to inner core exercises until your strength returns.
Perform a plank for 30-60 seconds.
Related: How to Do a Perfect Plank
A side plank is similar to the plank, but it works your oblique muscles, which run along the sides of your trunk from your ribs to your hips. Strong oblique muscles increase stability in your midsection.
How to Side Plank:
1. Start lying on your side with your feet stacked.
2. Place either your hand or your forearm on the ground under your shoulder and lift up your hips so that your body is hovering above the ground making a straight line.
3. If this position is painful or feels too challenging, you can regress the pose by dropping to your knee on the bottom leg.
Hold this pose for up to 60 seconds on each side.
Side Plank with Hip Dip
Amp up your side plank with a small pulse of your hips. This motion adds intensity to your oblique strengthening exercises.
How-to Side Plank with Hip Dip:
1. From a side plank position with the opposite hand on your hip, dip your hips down slightly and then come back to a side plank position.
2. If you feel pain in your back, regress the exercise by either dropping your bottom leg onto your knee or returning to a static plank position.
Perform this up to 10 times.
Finding balance and symmetry is a major part of feeling your strongest. This exercise activates your spinal extensors and internal obliques, which are often overlooked in core work. This position will help you feel strong around your entire core, not just in the muscles in the front.
How to Reverse Plank:
1. Start seated on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you.
2. Press your hands with flat palms into the ground near your hips.
3. Lift your glutes off of the floor and look at the ceiling, keeping your neck aligned with the rest of your body. Your body will be in a plank position diagonal to the floor.
Hold this position for 60 seconds.
Once you’ve completed your ab workout, you can ease the tension in your abdominal muscles by flowing through a few cat-cow poses.
How to Cat-Cow Stretch:
1. Start on all fours. Inhale and arch your back gently, lifting your chin to the sky.
2. Exhale and contract tucking your head under.
3. Continue doing these movements for about 30 seconds, placing your focus on loosening tension and breathing.
3-Minute Ab Workouts
This sequence begins slowly with emphasis on finding your foundation before adding intensity. By entering into your ab workout thoughtfully, you can focus on form, which impacts the efficacy of your workout and helps prevent injury.
Pelvic lifts help activate your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are an important component of your inner core. Your pelvic floor muscles help support the weight of your spine so their strength is imperative to daily functioning.
How to Pelvic Tilt:
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
2. Initiating the movement from your pelvic floor, slowly roll your pelvis back. Your glutes will just barely lift off of the floor.
Repeat this movement 10 times, slowly.
This movement is similar to the bird dog exercise. The dead bug helps activate stability by working a variety of abdominal muscles including inner core muscles, such as the transverse abdominis and the pelvic floor.
How to Dead Bug:
1. Start lying on the ground with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle with your shins parallel to the ground.
2. Extend your arms up towards the ceiling. Keeping your lower back pressed gently into the ground, extend your right leg forward so that it is hovering over the ground and your left arm straight behind you.
3. Come back to center and repeat the exercise with the opposite leg and arm.
Perform 5 dead bugs on each side.
Bicycle Crunch Ab Exercise
According to one study, the bicycle ab crunch is one of the most effective exercises for working your rectus abdominis (six-pack) muscles and your oblique muscles (muscles that run along the side of your trunk).
How to Bicycle Crunch:
1. Start lying on your back with your knees bent.
2. Place your hands on the base of your skull. Exhale and lift your chest.
3. Lift your knees off of the floor, pulling them into your chest.
4. On the exhale, touch your right elbow to your left knee, letting your right leg extend in front of you where it will be hovering off of the floor.
5. Switch legs on every exhale. While you may be used to performing this exercise quickly, slower, more methodical movements will allow you better alignment and strengthening.
Perform 20-30 bicycle crunches.
This exercise works your rectus abdominis muscles as well. Hip lifts can help you isolate your abdominal muscles and strengthen them without placing strain on your neck and back, as you might in a traditional crunch.
How to Hip Lift:
1. Start lying on your back with your arms resting by your side.
2. Lift your legs up to the ceiling, so that your toes are pointed up and your body makes a 90-degree angle.
3. Activate your abdominal muscles, lifting your glutes off of the floor and your toes towards the ceiling.
Perform 10-20 of this exercise, slowly.
Leg lifts will help you feel the burn in your rectus abdominis muscles. This can be a challenging exercise and it is perfectly OK to regress until you feel strong enough to perform the full expression with confidence.
How to Leg Lift:
1. Start lying on your back with your arms resting by your side.
2. Lift your legs up to the ceiling, so that your toes are pointed up and your body makes a 90-degree angle.Keep your lower back pressed (but not curved) towards the ground.
3. From this position, lower your straight legs down as far as you can, keeping your lower back on the floor. Hold that position for 10 seconds and slowly lift your legs back up to the sky.
4. If a straight leg lift feels too challenging, you can regress this exercise by bending your knees.
Repeat 3-5 times.
Front Body Stretch
Once you’ve completed your ab workout, you can counterbalance the strengthening movements with a front of body stretch.
How to Front Body Stretch:
1. Start lying on your stomach with your hands near your chest. Inhale.
2. As you exhale, gently lift your chest until you feel a stretch in your abdominal muscles.
3. If you feel pressure in your lower back while performing this stretch, you can regress the movement by lowering back towards the floor.
Stay in this stretch for about 30 seconds.
The Benefits of Short Ab Workouts
Ab workouts help your body in many ways that go beyond looking great in a bikini. Perform these sequences regularly and you will begin to feel stronger throughout your entire core. These workouts will help you stand tall, feel confident and decrease the likelihood that you will experience pain and injury.
Editor’s note: April Dupee contributed to this article, which has been updated from its original version.