Many women want to have a strong core and lean midsection, but for many, it’s easier said than done. In addition to the obvious challenges that come with finding a diet and exercise plan that you can stick with long term to get the results you’re looking for, women are at a bit of a biological disadvantage in the abdominal department compared to men. From a purely muscular standpoint, the abdominal and core muscles of men and women are pretty much the same, but women are built differently and typically have a wider pelvis and longer waist. Add that to the havoc that pregnancy can wreak on your abs (abdominal separation, anyone?) and the challenges that come with maintaining a lean midsection as women age, and it seems like the fight for flat, firm ab muscles is an uphill battle. However, it’s entirely possible for women to have visible abdominal muscles and a strong core, and it’s possible to get both right from the comfort of your home. We’ve put together eleven ab workouts for women at home.
Targeted Muscle Groups
The most effective ab exercises for women are designed to target four of the core’s main muscle groups:
- Rectus abdominus: The rectus abdominus are the quintessential “six-pack” abs you think of when you think of your core. The muscles of the rectus abdominus run from your breastbone down to your pelvis.
- External obliques: Your obliques consist of the muscles that run along the left side and right side of the body along the rib cage and beneath the arms. Your external obliques are beneath the “love handles” that so many women are seeking to get rid of.
- Internal obliques: We can’t see the internal obliques, but they’re important stabilizing muscles that are found under the external obliques.
- Transversus abdominus: The deepest layer of the abdominal muscles, the tranversus abdominus runs horizontally around the midsection.
Best Core Workouts for Women at Home
All of these abs exercises can be done as an at home workout with no equipment besides your bodyweight, a yoga mat, and towel.
- Side plank: To perform a side plank, lay on one side of your body with your left elbow or right elbow beneath your shoulder and your forearm extended away from your body at a 90 degree angle. Stack your feet on top of each other and then tighten your abs as you draw your hips up off the floor. Your body should form a diagonal straight line from your feet to your shoulder. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds and switch sides. To make the exercise less challenging, you can plant your bottom knee on the floor for additional support. To make the exercise more challenging, lift your top leg and extend your top arm above your head, or dip your hips up and down.
- Reverse sit ups: This is one of the classic core exercises. Start by lying on your back with your legs lifted up until your feet are directly over your hips and perpendicular with the floor. Pull your belly button in towards your spine and lift your hips up off the floor, moving your feet towards the ceiling as you lift. Lower your hips back down to complete the motion. To make the exercise less challenging, bend your knees so that your shins are parallel to the floor, or lift your hips less. To make the movement more challenging, try to complete the reps without allowing your hips to touch the ground.
- Boat pose: This classic yoga move is a lower abs torcher! Start by sitting upright with the knees bent and feet on the floor. Lean back until you’re at a 30 to 45 degree angle, balancing on your rear end. Lift your legs off the floor until your shins are parallel with the ground, forming a “V” with your body. Extend your arms out and hold for 30 seconds. To make the exercise less challenging, keep your feet on the floor and focus on maintaining the angle of the upper body. To make the exercise more challenging, extend your legs out long towards the ceiling or drop both your upper body and legs closer to the floor, making the “V” wider and further challenging your core.
- Toe touches: To perform toe touches, start by lying flat on your back with your legs lifted toward the ceiling so that you have your feet hip-width apart. Extend the arms long and crunch up with your upper body, reaching towards the toes. Lower down and repeat the movement. To make the movement less challenging, bend your knees slightly (this can also help with tight hamstrings). To make the movement more challenging, try to hold briefly at the top as you reach for your toes before slowly lowering back down.
- Alligator drag: This exercise is super challenging, so don’t worry if you can’t do it right away or if you need to modify the movement. To perform an alligator drag, start in a plank position (hands underneath the shoulders with legs extended long, the body looks like one long line) with your feet on a towel. Use your hands to “walk” forward, dragging your lower body behind you – your feet should not move. Keep your core engaged and glutes tight as you move forward for 10 to 20 “steps.” Rest and then head back to where you began. To make this exercise less challenging, drop your knees down to the ground and place the towel under your knees.
- Plank rolls: To perform plank rolls, start in a forearm plank position with your elbows resting on the floor beneath your shoulders and your forearms pressed into the ground. Extend the legs long behind you and balance on the toes, forming one long line with the body. Your hips should be level with your shoulders. Engage your core and glutes, then rotate your pelvis to the left and right as if trying to touch one hip to the ground, then the other. To make this exercise less challenging, you can rest your knees on the ground and perform the same movement. To make the exercise more challenging, inhale before you start the plank roll and exhale as you rotate your hip towards the ground while you tighten your obliques.
- Opposite arm and leg raise: In this movement, which is usually called a bird-dog in yoga, you’ll begin in a tabletop position – on all fours with your knees underneath the hips and hands underneath the shoulders, pressing into the floor. Lift and extend your right arm to shoulder height as you lift and extend your left leg to hip height. Hold briefly, then return to tabletop position. Perform the same movement on the other side. To make the exercise less challenging, work with just your arms or just your legs. To make the movement more challenging, touch your opposite knee to your opposite elbow as you pull the arm and leg in towards the body.
- Hip dips: Start on the side of the body as if you were going into a side plank (exercise #1). Prop yourself up on your forearm and stack your feet on top of one another. Lift your hips up off the floor, then lower back down. Engage your core to lift the hips again, repeating the motion. To make this exercise less challenging, place one foot in front of the other, staggering the feet. To make it more challenging, hold your hips at the top of the movement for a couple seconds before lowering back down.
- Plank: The good old-fashioned plank is a total body burner that you can do absolutely anywhere. Lay on the floor with your hands underneath the shoulders and your legs extended long, then push up into a push-up position with your arms extended. Hold this position for one minute, keeping the core engaged, hips level, and the elbows soft. To make this exercise less challenging, drop to your knees and hold the plank position from there. To make the exercise more challenging, try lifting one leg or one arm at a time and holding the position.
- Leg lifts: Lie face up on the floor with your legs extended out long in front of you. Pull your belly button in towards your spine, pressing your lower back into the floor. Holding this position, lift your legs and feet a few inches to one foot off the floor, then pulse the feet up and down for 30-60 seconds. To make this exercise less challenging, lift your legs higher in order to keep your lower back pressed into the mat. To make the exercise more challenging, hover your feet just a few inches off the floor. Remember, only try this if you are able to keep your lower back pressed firmly against the floor!
- Single-leg stretch: Lie on your back with your knees bent, then lift your head and shoulders with your chin tucked in towards your chest. Draw one knee in towards your chest, placing one hand on the ankle and the other on the knee. Hold in this position as you lift your opposite leg up off the floor at about a 45 degree angle. Lower down and switch legs.
Whether you decide to give these ab workouts a try all at once or you’re looking to take it one day at a time, we can all agree about the convenience from working out at home. However, sometimes we need that additional support to give us some new ideas or motivation. Consider trying out exercise DVDs, like from BodyFX, where they take you move by move and guarantee a fun time all while getting in a killer ab workout that you can do in the comfort of your own home.