The Best Abs Workouts For Sculpting A Rock-Hard Six-Pack

Man performs decline plank abs exercise
(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

If you’re looking to improve your abs, the good news is that there are a huge variety of abs workouts that can help you achieve that goal. 

Even if you’re not doing moves that focus on the abs directly, their location means that they are worked hard by compound exercises that hit both the upper and lower body. Your core is also key to any exercise in which you have to keep your body stable, such as static holds like the plank or tricky balancing acts like the single-leg Romanian deadlift.

Whether your goal is a six-pack or just a little more definition around your midsection, compound lifts like squats, overhead presses and deadlifts will help get you there, and they’ll build strength all over your body at the same time. That said, there’s also room for more focused abs workouts too, especially if you have designs on achieving a cover model-style six-pack.

The four-move circuits below provide both isolation exercises and compound moves, and the three options target different areas of your abs to ensure you’re hitting them from every angle. The first abs workout concentrates on your upper abs, the second focuses on the lower abs, and the final routine works the often neglected side abs – or obliques – along with your deeper core muscles.

Though each circuit works as quick stand-alone abs blast, you can also tack them on to the end of your main training session to ensure your abs are getting the attention they deserve.

How To Do Each Abs Workout

Each of these abs workouts is a mini-circuit you can do at the end of your main routine. The circuits are designed to work the maximum number of muscle fibres as quickly and effectively as possible, so you’ll do all four moves in order, sticking to the reps and rest periods detailed. The first move of each circuit is the hardest, then they get progressively easier as the number of reps per move increases. This works your abs harder and places them under greater tension for longer, which is ultimately what stimulates muscle growth. After the final move, rest for the allotted time, then repeat the circuit. 

The really good news is that you don’t need access to a gym to complete these abs workouts. This is one area of the body that you can absolutely whip into shape at home, with minimal equipment required to get you really feeling the burn in your midsection.

We say minimal, rather than no, equipment, because for the workouts below you will need a pull-up bar for moves like the hanging leg raise. Bars are generally affordable, and our guide to the best pull-up bars you can buy can point you in the right direction. The dumbbell crunch calls for a dumbbell, but if you don’t have one then any kind of weight you can hold by your chest will do – it doesn’t have to be particularly heavy.

Upper Abs Workout

1 Dumbbell crunch

Man demonstrates two positions of the dumbbell crunch

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 10 Rest 10sec

Lie on your back, holding a dumbbell or weight plate (check out our guide to the best Olympic weight plates you can buy) across your chest in both hands. Raise your torso, then lower it, maintaining tension in your uppers abs throughout.

2 Tuck and crunch

Man demonstrates two positions of the tuck and crunch upper abs exercise

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 15 Rest 10sec

Lie down with your hands by your head and your legs raised with your knees bent at a 90° angle. Simultaneously raise your torso and draw your knees towards your chest. Keep your fingers by your temples throughout and initiate each rep smoothly without jerking your torso up. Don’t let your feet touch the floor between reps.

3 Modified V-sit

Man demonstrates two positions of the modified V-sit upper abs exercise

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 12 Rest 10sec

Lie with your legs raised off the floor and extended away from you so they’re parallel with the floor, and your arms straight by your sides, held off the floor. Keep your arms straight as you raise your torso and bring your legs in, bending at the knees, so that your chest meets your knees at the top of the move. Then lower under control.


Man demonstrates two positions of the crunch upper abs exercise

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 20 Rest 90sec

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted, and your arms crossed across your chest. Raise your torso using your abs, then lower. Your upper abs will already be close to fatigue but try to hold the top position of each rep for at least one second to make them work as hard as possible.

Lower Abs Workout

Hanging leg raise

Man demonstrates two positions of the hanging leg raise lower abs exercise on a pull-up bar

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 10 Rest 10sec

Fair warning, this tough exercise sets the tone for what is going to be a brutal workout involving four different hanging exercises. Start in a dead hang with your legs straight and your knees and ankles touching. Keep them together as your use your lower abs to raise them, then lower back to the start under control.

2 Hanging knee raise twist

Man demonstrates two positions of the hanging knee twist lower abs exercise on a pull-up bar

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 12 each side Rest 10sec

Start in a dead hang with your legs straight and knees together. Twist your body and raise your knees to one side, then return to the start. Continue, alternating sides.

Hanging knee raise

Man demonstrates two positions of the hanging knee raise lower abs exercise on a pull-up bar

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 15 Rest 10sec

This slightly easier variation on the hanging leg raise still puts a lot of pressure on your lower abs. Start in a dead hang and raise your knees powerfully to activate more of the muscle fibres in the lower abs. Lower back to the start under control to prevent swinging.

Garhammer raise

Man demonstrates two positions of the Garhammer raise lower abs exercise on a pull-up bar

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 20 Rest 90sec

Start hanging from the bar but with your knees already raised to around your midsection, then lift them as high as you can. Lower back to the start under control, keeping your abs engaged throughout.

Obliques And Core Workout

1 Decline plank with foot touch

Man performs decline plank abs exercise

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 10 each side Rest 10sec

Get into a decline plank position, supporting yourself on your forearms with your feet raised on a bench. Your body should form a straight line from heels to head and the aim is to maintain that position throughout the exercise. Lift one foot off the bench and move it to the side to touch the floor, then return it to the bench. Continue, alternating sides.

2 Seated Russian twist

Man demonstrates two positions of the Russian twist core exercise

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 12 each side Rest 10sec

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and heels on the ground. Your torso should be at the top of the crunch position, forming a 45° angle to the ground. Twist your torso from side to side, moving in a smooth and controlled manner.

Bicycle crunches

Man demonstrates two positions of the bicycle crunch obliques exercise

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Reps 15 each side Rest 10sec

Lie on your back with your hands by your temples and your legs raised with your knees bent at a 90° angle. Bring your right knee up towards your chest while raising your torso and twisting so your left elbow comes to meet your knee. Then lower and do the same on the opposite side. Keep your shoulders and feet off the ground to force your abs to work hard to stabilise your torso.


Man demonstrates plank exercise

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Time Max Rest 90sec

Maintain a strict plank position, with your hips up, your glutes and core braced, and your head and neck relaxed. Breathing slowly and deeply, hold the position for as long as possible.

Abs Workout Tips

Look beyond deadlifts

In this CrossFit-and-strongman era, it’s a common claim that deadlifts are all the abs work you need. Dead wrong. In fact, the most recent study to compare key exercises found that press-ups and plank holds beat even heavy back squats and deadlifts for core activation. Although the weighted movements produced the most force on the lower back, the bodyweight moves proved most effective for the rectus abdominis and external obliques.

What’s the frequency?

Once upon a time, the myth was that, as “endurance” muscles, the abs should be trained every day. Now it’s more common to encounter claims that you only need one dedicated core workout a week – but the truth lies somewhere in between. “Two or three abs workouts a week might be optimal for most people,” says trainer Jonny Jacobs. “Breaking it up into separate days – for static, anti-rotation work and dynamic movements – is one good option.”

Bringing flexion back

You should know by now that doing hundreds of sit-ups is doing nothing good for your back, but that doesn’t mean you ought to ditch spinal flexion entirely. In 2017, back health expert Dr Stuart McGill co-authored a paper explaining: “If flexibility is important… the trainer may want to select full-range curl-ups and crunches… if maximal muscular development is the goal, including the crunch and its variations may help.” Translation: a few are fine.

Nutrition Tips To Support Your Abs Workouts

There’s no question that if you’re looking for a more defined six-pack, abs workouts are an important piece of the puzzle – but they’re still only one piece. Eating a diet that allows you to maintain a low body fat percentage while also giving you the energy to work out and build muscle is essential if you want your abs to be on show. 

It’s hard work and, as these normal guys with six-packs show, you have to be disciplined but it’s not impossible. We have a selection of foods which should be part of a six-pack diet, as well as this seven-day abs meal plan that will help you develop muscle while burning fat. And if that sounds like too much work for you to fit into your life, you can always throw money at the problem by enlisting one of these excellent meal prep companies to do the hard work for you.

More Abs Workouts

Six-Pack Abs Workout

This workout uses tri-sets to overload your abs muscles and exercises that work them from different angles to help build the definition you need for a six-pack to start showing. Do three rounds of the first tri-set, then move on to three rounds of the second tri-set. You’ll need a dumbbell and a gym ball.

1A Knees-up crunch (Sets 3 Reps 12)

1B Reverse crunch (Sets 3 Reps 12)

1C Diagonal mountain climber (Sets 3 Reps 12 each side)

2A Gym ball dumbbell crunch reach (Sets 3 Reps 12)

2B Gym ball upper body Russian twist (Sets 3 Reps 12 each side)

2C Gym ball decline plank with toe taps (Sets 3 Reps 12 each side)

See the six-pack abs workout

10-Minute Abs Workout

Shock your abs with this short but intense workout from fitness model Gilles Souteyrand. You’ll be rattling through two rounds of nine bodyweight abs exercises, doing each move for 20 seconds, but with very little rest. Brace yourself (and your core, always brace your core).

  1. Hollow plank
  2. Plank side-to-side feet jump and tuck
  3. Bicycle crunch
  4. Rolling plank
  5. Heel touch 
  6. Side plank crunch 
  7. Legs-together hip thrust
  8. Press-up kick-out
  9. Plank with leg raise

See the 10-minute abs workout

Five-Minute Abs Finisher

Make sure your abs are challenged in every workout by adding this finisher to the end of your session. You’ll be doing 10 bodyweight moves for 30 seconds apiece, with no rest at all.

  1. Hollow hold
  2. Plank
  3. Hollow hold
  4. Mountain climbers
  5. Hollow hold
  6. Toe touch
  7. Hollow hold
  8. Walking plank
  9. Hollow hold
  10. Bicycle crunch

See the five-minute abs workout

Sam Rider
Sam Rider

Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix. Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.