The best abdominal exercise routines for women focus on the upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. Those exercises go far past just the average crunches and sit-ups. Though those are still important components to many ab routines, they won't get you the flatter tummy you desire on their own.
Stability Ball Exercises
Contrary to the name, a stability ball adds an element of instability. Any time your body must stabilize itself, your core muscles are recruited, including the abs. A stability ball elevates the intensity of the exercise.
A crunch on a stability ball is more difficult than crunches on a stable surface like the floor.
- Lie across the stability ball so that your shoulders, tailbone, and back are touching the ball and your feet are flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90 degree angle.
- Keep your feet hip-width apart and make sure that your upper back is on the top of the ball, not the side.
- Keep your back straight, hands behind your head, and contract your abs to bring you into a crunch position.
- Once your upper back is no longer touching the ball, you can begin to lower back down slowly. Inhale as you lower down and exhale as you crunch up.
Transferring the stability ball from your ankles to your hands can prove challenging.
- Lie on the floor with your legs straight and position the exercise ball so that you're gripping it with your ankles.
- Stretch your arms above your head.
- Crunch the upper and lower body up simultaneously and take the ball with your hands once your legs have brought it up past hip level.
- Flatten the body back down with the ball between the hands.
- Repeat the motion, passing the ball back and forth from hands to ankles, ankles to hands.
If you find regular plank pose boring, you can add some instability by using a stability ball.
- Get into plank position with your upper body resting on your forearms, which are on top of the ball.
- Flatten your back so that your body is in a straight line, then push your chest off of your arms.
- Balance on your toes and forearms for as long as possible.
These exercises use body weight as resistance and can build strength with any added weight.
The plank may seem easy because there isn't much movement involved, but it works your whole core (and most of your body). Holding your abs tight is necessary in order to maintain proper alignment. The side plank works the same way as a traditional plank, but it focuses on the obliques.
- To begin on the left side, balance on the outside of your left foot and your left hand. Those with wrist problems should balance on their forearm instead.
- You can either stack your right foot on top of the left, or cross it over the left ankle for balance.
- For an added burn, you can dip your hip down and pull it back up again for 10 to 15 reps.
- Repeat on the right side.
This crunch works the upper and lower abs, and the obliques.
- Lie on the floor, lift your upper back off the ground with your hands behind your head, and lift your legs to about a 45 degree angle.
- Pull one knee in toward the chest and leave the other one straight.
- At the same time, twist your torso so that your opposite shoulder is almost touching the knee.
- Straighten your body back out and repeat on the other side.
Pilates focuses on the core, strengthening the abdominal and surrounding muscles.
Your breathing pattern is important throughout this classic Pilates move.
- Lie on your back with your legs straight. Lift them to a 45 degree angle if possible. If this is too difficult, you can lift them further up, forming a 90 degree angle with your upper body.
- Flex your feet.
- Lift your upper body off the floor, keeping your arms straight out, parallel to your upper body.
- Pulse your arms five times as you inhale, then five times as you exhale.
- Repeat until you've counted to 100.
This move is frequently featured in the Blogilates workouts by Cassey Ho.
- Sit with your legs and arms out straight, shoulders back.
- Lean back until you feel as if you can't anymore, keeping your abs tight.
- You'll begin to shake.
- Hold it as long as you can, no matter how much your body trembles.
Single Straight Leg Stretch
This is a great stretch for the legs and back.
- Lie flat on your back, then lift your shoulder blades up off of the floor.
- Lift your legs a few inches off of the floor as well.
- Keeping both legs straight, lift one as far up as you can, grab it with both hands (elbows out) and give it a small stretch.
- Lower and repeat on the other side.
Yoga promotes balance and stability, both of which contribute to abdominal strength.
Boat pose in yoga is similar to a V-sit.
- Sit up straight with your arms and legs stretched out in front of you.
- Balance on your tailbone as you bring your legs up, knees bent, then straighten your legs so that your body resembles a "V."
- Keep your abs as tight and flat as you hold the pose as long as possible.
Balancing poses utilize core strength, and tree pose is no exception. Holding this pose requires significant balance and stability, both of which your core is responsible for providing. A stable tree pose may look simple, but ab muscles are hard at work throughout the pose.
Adding weights to your ab workout can help strengthen your core and force you to stabilize even more than with body weight exercises.
Get Up Sit Up
Based on the Turkish Get-Up, a classic strengthening move, the get up sit up strengthens the abs and core muscles.
- Lie on your back with you right knee bent and right foot on the ground.
- Extend a kettlebell or hand weight directly above you in your right hand.
- Sitting up, push the weight in your right hand toward the ceiling, keeping your right arm straight.
- Return to your original position, resisting the slow decline by utilizing your ab muscles.
Weighted Sit Ups
An exercise classic becomes even harder when weight is added.
- Hold a medicine ball, hand weight, or kettlebell in your hands.
- Assume the sit up position, lying supine with your knees bent and your feet on the ground.
- As you sit up, push the weight out in front of you.
- Return to your original position, resisting the slow decline with your ab muscles.