12 At-Home Ab Exercises That Aren't Crunches or Sit-Ups

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Strengthening your core is about more than losing weight or getting defined muscles. A strong core can improve the way the rest of the body works and help balance and stability. Working out the abdominal muscles is an essential component of increasing core strength. (It's important to work out the back and hips, as well, to prevent injuries.) These 12 simple ab exercises go beyond crunches or sit-ups and include a few variations to increase or decrease difficulty. They can all be done from the comfort of home -- no equipment or gym membership necessary.

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Lie on your back and place your hands on the floor beside your hips. Slowly exhale and raise your legs 6 to 12 inches off the ground. Lock your legs and hold the position. To intensify the exercise, try to lift both legs to a 90-degree angle so your knees and feet are above your hips. Lower the legs, but don't quite touch the ground, and then raise back up.
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Similar to the leg raise, this exercise calls for lying on your back and bringing both feet about 6 to 12 inches off the ground. Raise and lower the legs in a quick scissor motion. Focus on using your core, not your legs.
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Many ab exercises focus on outer abdominal muscles, but the ab vacuum works the inner abdominals, which can lead to a tighter core and help support the back. Start by kneeling and placing your hands on the ground below your shoulders. Keep the back straight and look slightly forward. Exhale heavily through the mouth and suck in the stomach as if you're lifting your belly button to your back. Try to force all the air out of your lungs. Hold your breath and the position for five to 15 seconds. Inhale through the nose while slowly lowering your belly. Take one resting breath in through your mouth and out through your nose, then repeat. This exercise can be done while standing, sitting, or lying down.
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There are several variations of the plank, a standard and effective core exercise, with the "high plank" being one of the most common. Lie on the ground facing down and lift the body as if doing a pushup -- with hands and toes supporting the body, keeping the hands below the shoulders, arms fully extended, and toes below the ankles. (Spreading the fingers can help maintain balance.) Hold the position while focusing on keeping your back straight, your core pulled back toward your spine, and your glutes engaged. You can make the plank easier by resting on your elbows or knees (or both). Make it more difficult by adding alternating leg raises.
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Start by lying on your side. Support yourself on an elbow and lift your body so only the elbow, forearm, and side of the foot are touching the ground. Hold the position and focus on keeping your core engaged and body in a straight line. For extra intensity, incorporate side plank dips into the routine: While in a side plank, drop your lower hip to the floor and bring it slowly back up.
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Start from a high plank position with arms fully extended below the shoulders. Lift your right foot and bring the right knee forward to the right elbow or slightly outside. Extend the leg back -- without dropping your foot to the floor -- and repeat the exercise. Finish a set with one leg, then repeat with the other.
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Start in a sitting position with your heels and butt on the floor and knees bent. Keeping the core engaged, lean back to a 45-degree angle. Holding your hands behind your head and keeping the elbows wide apart, twist slowly from left to right. To increase the difficulty, clasp your hands above your head and try to keep the palms together. Lower your hands to tap the ground on one side, bring your hands back above your head, and lower and tap the ground on the other side.
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Like the Russian Twist, start by sitting down and bending your knees at a 90-degree angle. Raise the feet off the ground while leaning back slightly so the body creates a V. Extend your arms toward your feet to help maintain balance. Hold the position and return to the start, then repeat. For a harder variation, get into the V position and lower your body toward the ground while straightening and lowering the feet to about a 45-degree angle. Don't let shoulders or feet touch the ground. Return to the V position and repeat.
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Start like the Russian Twist and V-sits -- lying on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground. Lift both feet off the ground so the knees are almost above the hips. Exhale while lowering one foot to tap the ground; then raise it up and tap the floor with the other foot. Make this exercise easier by leaving one foot on the ground and toe tapping with the other, or harder by tapping and raising both feet at the same time.
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Lie on your back and extend your arms over your head. Keep the legs together and exhale while lifting the body and arms into a sitting position. Try to keep your arms above your head on the way up, and end with the hands reaching out parallel to the legs. Reverse the motion slowly until you're lying down.
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Lie on your back with legs bent at a 90-degree angle, keeping the feet on the ground throughout the exercise. Raise the shoulders off the ground using your core and lift your arms so your hands are above your shoulders. Start to move as if climbing a rope.
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Flip over and lie on your stomach. Exhale and reach your hands out in front of you, lifting your arms, shoulders, and legs -- as though flying through the air like Superman. This exercise engages the core and lower back.
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If the goal is to have clearly defined abs -- perhaps the often sought-after six-pack -- you may need an exercise of willpower rather than strength. Although increasing core strength can help define abs, you'll need to get into an athletic body-fat range first. For men, that's about 6 percent to 13 percent; for women, it's 14 percent to 20 percent. Working out can help burn calories, but a diet plan often needs to be incorporated as well.