woman taking a selfie in training clothes

22 Exercises for a flat abdomen and a small waist

Exercises for the abdomen are probably the most recurring request to personal trainers along with the buttock exercises when one begins to train.

According to the contemporary beauty ideal, women and men strive to burn belly fat or strengthen their abdominal muscles, so we could say that a flat or well-trained stomach is the epitome of current physical fitness.

In this article, I compile some exercises that, in my opinion, are very important for the strength of the core. Since many exercises can be performed without expensive equipment, you can also train your abs at home.

Basics of abdominal training

The abdominal muscles are composed of the following two main muscle areas:

  • Anterior straight abdominal muscles (Latin name: abdominal rectum)
  • lateral abdominal muscles (Latin name: M. obliquus externus abdominis)

These are the visible areas of the abdominal muscle, which can be highlighted optically by specific training of the abdominal muscle. I would like to address these directly with the following tips.

There are additional subdivisions and transverse abdominal muscles between the individual abdominal muscles mentioned above.

The main functions of the abdominal muscles are to keep your body straight and help with the rotation of the spine, although it also participates in breathing and, in combination with the back muscles, ensures that the upper body remains straight. 

Without the abdominal muscles, it would not be possible to walk upright.

For the abdominal muscles to be “visible,” only two things are needed:

  1. Reduction of body fat.
  2. Muscle construction of the abdominal muscles.

How to get a flat abdomen

How quickly you get a flat stomach depends on several factors. The most important one is the percentage of body fat. The best exercises for the abdomen do nothing if you have a layer of fat that covers everything.

For belly fat to go away, you need a daily caloric deficit. That means you should consume fewer calories than you consume during the day.

Once you are at your optimal caloric deficit, defining the abdomen is only a matter of time. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. Alternatives to pizza, pasta, cakes, and other unhealthy foods, and a lot of willpower are needed. Regular training and the right exercises also help.

Extreme diets that save you more than 500 kcal per day are counterproductive in the long term. Because your body changes to survival mode, to call it somehow and consumes even fewer calories. Therefore, if you consume 500 kcal less per day, it is likely that your body also burns 500 kcal less per day. You´ll probably feel very weak at this point.

How to work the ‘six-pack’ at home

Training the abdomen at home is as effective as in the gym. However, you need to know some important tricks if you want the exercises for your abdomen at home and your training plan to work perfectly.

The great advantage of abdominal exercises is that you can do these exercises anytime, anywhere, and almost without any tools.

Either because you travel, you spend many hours in the office, you don’t feel like going to the gym or you have simply set up your own gym in the living room, many of these exercises will help you tone your belly and get the desired six-pack.

Before showing you the exercises for the abdomen and waist, I would like to give you some basic information that will improve your understanding of how to get a flat stomach.

Getting beautiful and attractive-looking abdominal muscles can be achieved mainly by training the rectus abdominis muscle.

Personally, I am not a fan of the exercises that train the lateral abdominal muscles (the obliques). The reason is very simple. Too much emphasis on the obliques causes the waist to widen and the abdominal muscles to protrude too much.

When training straight abdominal muscles, lateral abdominal muscles are involved anyway.

In addition, the burning of local fat by training specific muscle groups is also not possible.

1. Leg lift on bench

The first of the exercises that I would like to present is called “leg lifting on the bench.”

Technique: The first thing to do is to sit on a bench. The upper part of the body leans back slightly to maintain balance. Now stretch your legs forward without placing them on the floor, hold the tension for 1 second and contract your legs again to bring them to your chest.

Procedure: The execution must be slow and controlled. So it doesn’t swing during the motion. This abdomen exercise is relatively easy to do and can be learned quickly.

This is the basic version of the leg lift which can also be done sitting on the floor, for example.

2. Leg lift lying down

The lying version of the leg lift has the advantage that it is more comfortable for the back. Because it rests completely on the bench or on the ground and since it is not subject to vertical loads, the support function is also eliminated.

This version is preferable, especially for beginners. Even slightly preloaded people with mild back ailments should perform this exercise for the abdomen.

Procedure: The execution is exactly the same as in the bank but instead of sitting, you will be lying down.

man working out his abs

Variant 1: Scissors

The following abdomen exercise is excellent for beginners since the movement is very easy to do.

Muscle loading is achieved by static tension, which focuses mainly on the lower abdominal muscles.

The palms of the hands are placed under the buttocks, the head tilts slightly forward and the legs move up and down in a stretched position or open and close like scissors.

3. Lifting legs in a fixed bar

The third variant of the exercises for abdomen that we show here is carried out in a fixed bar.

Technique: The exercise is extremely simple, I said simple which does not mean easy. You should hang on a fixed bar and lift your legs as much as you can. But it is essential to avoid rolling! This arises when you try to do too many repetitions or try to do them very quickly in a very short time. This only serves to feed the ego and for little else.

Procedure: In this case, what we are looking for is to extend the legs in a controlled way and then lower them again.

The important thing is the quality of the execution and not the quantity. 10 correct repetitions are worth more than 1.000 incorrect ones.

Try to slow down the movement. Because that increases the level of difficulty.

4. Leg lift on parallel bars

One of the exercises for the abdomen that looks very spectacular, but is basically quite simple is the lifting of legs on parallel bars. You can also use a couple of chairs or anything you can rely on.

Since the support posture requires a lot of strength in the upper arms and high coordination skills, I recommend that you start bending your knees and when you have a little more control go up with your legs stretched.

Technique: As with all leg lifts, raise your legs and lower them. The slower and more controlled the movement, the stronger the stress and tension in the abdominal muscles.

Athletes who have very strong abdominal muscles can lift straight legs instead of simply lifting their knees. The above exercises are mainly exercises that focus on the frontal abs with emphasis on the bottom.

But also the upper part and the lateral part are indirectly involved.

5. Exercises for abdominals with a Swiss ball

The abdominals can train in many different ways and one of them is using the Swiss ball. With it, you will increase the level of demand a bit when training the core.

Variant 1: Abdominal Extensions

This first exercise is called abdominal extensions with ball and it is great to work all your core.

Technique: The initial position is to kneel with your elbows on the Swiss ball. Now squeeze your abdominal muscles, lean forward slightly, and rotate your forearms along with the ball. Your body stretches but remains to kneel in the same position.

Now comes the negative phase of the exercise, once it is stretched and you must squeeze your abdomen again to return to the initial position. Your forearms roll again for the ball.

man working out his core with a fit-ball

Variant 2: Penknives with ball

The second exercise is the penknives with ball and is very similar to the first but this time you stretch and shrink your legs.

Technique: The feet are placed on the ball, the hands are placed on the ground as if you were going to do push-ups. Now you move the ball away from your body with your feet and bring it back with the strength of your abdominal muscles.

A very demanding coordinated exercise, which I recommend doing very carefully as it is at risk of injury if it is not done correctly.

Beginners should never do this exercise! It is one of the exercises for the abdomen that should only be performed if they have experience training.

woman training with a fit-ball

Variant 3: Side crunches

Lateral shrinking with a ball is an exercise purely for the lateral abdominal muscles, which stimulates the obliques and the transverse abdomen.

The Swiss ball serves as an effective aid to perform these exercises, but, however, a chair or a sofa backrest can be a totally useful replacement.

Technique: The execution technique is super simple, you lie on the ball, you have your hips fixed and your arms behind your head. It should be noted that the hands and arms do not pull the head, lift the upper body one side at the time with the help of abdominal muscles alone.

Variant 4: Side crunches with fit-ball

This exercise is similar to variant number 3.

Technique: The upper body rests comfortably on the Swiss ball. The legs are only used for support and are fixed on the floor. Hands grab the ball. Alternatively, a small weight or a medicine ball can be used for advanced users.

The movement goes from the left to the right side. The arms should not fall below the parallel position of the floor (see image). The ball serves as a support and helps a little when turning. The rotating movement is the central movement and should not end in a hasty manner.

Do not forget that slow and controlled movements are the key to quickly tone the ‘six-pack’

woman exercising her abs with a fit-ball

Variant 5: Crunches with ball

Now I will show the most basic exercise of all, the shrugs with raised legs. This is one of my favorite exercises for abs.

Technique: Crunches are very simple and effective, but are often performed incorrectly. The arms serve as direction indicators and not as supports. The hands can be held behind the head. Depending on your preference, on the ears or on the forehead.

The final position only includes the slightly erect upper body. It is very important that the lower back is not raised!

However, you should be careful not to let your hands lift your head. You lift the upper part of your body only with the strength of your abdominal muscles, keep the tension for 1 to 2 seconds, and then slowly lower it again in a controlled movement.

6. Crunches

Abdominal crunches are one of the exercises for the abdomen that requires a lot of static tension (retention, slow movement) to effectively stimulate the abdominal muscles.

I see very often how people perform 100, 200, or even 500 repetitions. So many repetitions are useless and counterproductive! You should never be able to do more than 30 or 40 repetitions in the first set.

After that, the burning should be so unbearable that it would no longer be possible to continue with more repetitions.

Crunches are a very effective abdominal exercise that anyone can easily do at home.

Technique: I want to emphasize it again. For the abs, simply lift the upper part of the body slightly, exhale, maintain tension for 1 to 2 seconds, then lower the upper part of the body (really only the shoulders) and inhale.

two girls working out

Variant 1: Classic crunches

No type of equipment is needed to perform classic abdominal crunches.

The legs stand at an angle and rest firmly on the floor. This exercise is recommended for beginners as well as if you have blood circulation problems.

Since you do not have your legs in a high position, there is no risk that blood will go to your head when you get up, which could cause momentarily blurred vision.

It can easily happen that the blood rises to the head due to the legs in a high position and the effort, and when you get up quickly, the blood wants to return to the legs and you end up with a lack of blood in the head. So be careful when you get up quickly if you have done any exercise in which you had to keep your legs up.

woman doing abdominal crunches

Variant 2: Crunches with legs raised

This variant is the alternative to crunches with the Swiss ball. Instead of resting your legs on the ball, you can use a stool, soft sofa seat, bedroom bed or travel bag to rest your legs.

It does not matter if only the ankles or the entire lower part of the leg are supported.

If you like it, I recommend the variant on the sofa in your living room and lay your entire leg.

Variant 3: Double crunch

For those who are more advanced in exercises to abound, I recommend the exercise “Double crunch”, which stimulates the entire stomach from top to bottom.

Instead of having your legs supported on a stool or on the floor, in this exercise you suspend your legs in the air near your body, similar to leg lifts lying down (see above) but with your knees bent. At the same time, move the upper part of your body up (contraction movement). The upper part of the body and the lower part of the body moves simultaneously.

This exercise is a double exercise and is perfect for working both the upper and lower abdomen.

Variant 4: Crunches with legs in 90 degrees

This exercise is exactly the same as the one just described above with the sole exception that the legs remain static in the air, which makes it the perfect exercise for people who have an intermediate level.

The advantage here is that the bent legs create tension in the lower abdomen, the rectus abdominis, to actively train the upper abdominal area with the contraction movement and passively the lower function with the retention function.

In the classic abs we just discussed, the emphasis is on the upper abdominal muscles or the rectus abdominis. You should not forget that both the lower abdominal and lateral or oblique muscles are indirectly stimulated with all these exercises.

7. Abdominal lateral crunches

Even if the abdominal muscles involved in the movement are indirectly involved in the abdominal exercises mentioned above, I would like to show you some exercises that directly train the abdominal muscles (the obliques, the transverse abdomen).

Variant 1: Lateral crunches to opposite knee

The first of the exercises is the lateral crunch to the opposite knee.

We start as in the classic crunch, with the hands at the back of the neck and the feet resting on the floor, with the knees bent. To stimulate the lateral abdominal muscles very well, cross the legs as shown in the image and guide the opposite elbow/arm towards the crossed leg. Then you make a rotating movement.

There is no need to exaggerate and unnecessarily increase the range of motion. A slight twist will make the tension of the muscles work your obliques perfectly.

woman performing lateral crunches

Variant 2: Side crunches with fit-ball

The next exercise is hard to name. Therefore, I simply call it side shrinks with fit-ball.

The ball represents a small resistance and serves to guide the arms. The lateral abdominal muscles work hard thanks to the rotating movement.

The straight and frontal abdominal muscles are also involved in the exercise since the upper part of the body is upright and the legs are statically suspended in the air.

You practically just sit on your butt and turn the trunk from one side to the other, to touch the ground with the ball. This exercise actively stimulates the lateral abdominal muscles, while passively the entire core works statically.

It becomes a little easier if the legs are fixed on the floor. This exercise is quite demanding and is only recommended for advanced athletes. The level of effort or intensity, which is very high, should not be underestimated.

Variant 3: Chair oblique rotation

The following exercise is highly recommended for beginners! I call it “chair oblique rotation,” I don’t know what its real name is.

Sit on a chair or bench, clasp your hands with interlaced fingers behind your head, and then turn the upper body from left to right. Note that the head rotates with the upper body!

In this exercise we take advantage of the rotation of the upper part of the body to work the abdomen, it is a perfect exercise to exercise the oblique muscles and the transverse abdomen.

Alternatively, you can put a bar behind your head, cross your arms over it, and then rotate your torso. However, you should be careful, because the movement of the bar can easily cause injuries.

The bar is used to increase endurance and should ONLY be used by experienced athletes.

This exercise is perfect for beginners and to easily develop lateral abdominal muscles.

Variant 4: Bicycle

The next exercise is the bicycles. It is a general and very demanding exercise for straight and lateral abdominal muscles. The movement is a combination of side and abdominal abs with bent legs.

When the left leg is bent, the right elbow is brought to the bent leg. The arms are fixed static to the head and in no way support the movement (do not push with them behind the head!).

While the left leg is stretched, bend the right at the same time. Also, move the left elbow towards the right leg in the same movement. The arms (elbows) and legs cross each other. It is important that you do not lower your legs while stretching, but keep them in the air suspended.

woman doing bycicles

8. Planks

The planks are one of the exercises that allow you to strengthen your abdominal muscles without exposing your spine and hips to unnecessarily high pressure. Not only does it strengthen the core and back muscles, but it can also reduce existing back pain or make it disappear completely. The reason for this is the strengthening of structures in the area of ​​the spine and lower back.

The extensor muscles of the back are responsible for stabilizing and straightening the spine. Due to our daily life, which we often spend in a sedentary position, these muscles can gradually degenerate, that is, break and weaken. As a result, these muscles, when walking, getting up, stretching, etc. (during everyday movements), are overwhelmed by their weakened, hardened, and tense condition. This in turn means that the regional tissue does not receive enough blood, which can cause further irritation and even inflammation.

The planks can completely eliminate these terrible consequences, as it gradually promotes and strengthens the affected regions, making daily overload at least less likely.  Your back and abdominal muscles also reduce the likelihood of injury.

There are many varieties of planks, which we talk about in this other article.

girl doing a plank

9. abdominal roller

To perform the exercise presented below, a small abdominal wheel is required. It is available in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and designs.

The execution of the exercise can be compared with that described above on the Swiss ball. The disadvantage here is that the roller offers less resistance, which means that you have to tighten your abdomen to do the exercise in a controlled manner.

The load on the front abdominal muscles is correspondingly high. This exercise is only suitable for advanced athletes!

The simplest exercise version (kneeling) is perfect if you are a beginner. The abdominal wheel is ideal to add variety to your training. Special stimulation of the abdominal muscles can be guaranteed. And besides, it’s also fun.

woman doing abdominal exercises

10. Crunches with raised legs

Now we come to the last, but not least, of the abdominal exercises, which mainly stimulates the lower abdominal muscles. And, as we know, he worked indirectly in all other abdominal muscle areas.

In the initial position, the palms of the hands are placed on the floor with the back of the hand supported or on the neck. The head and back lie on the floor and do not move. The legs are straight and you move them slightly upwards.

It is not necessary that you raise your back too much. You just need to raise your lower back a little and push with your abdomen up. The movement is concentrated and slow.

The effective abdominal exercises described here are ideal for effectively stimulating the stomach in the gym, while traveling or in a home.

‘Six-pack’ training plan

As I announced at the beginning, I would like to add a small training plan to the exercises.

As I am (as maybe many) quite busy, I trust simple but effective things, the training plan for the abs, therefore, is short.

I am just referring to the stomach and deliberately omit all the other muscle parts that you should not neglect to get your body in shape.

The abs look better when the rest is so well trained.

The following training plan should be done 1 (up to a maximum of 2) times per week:

  • Crunches – 3 x muscle failure
  • Leg lift – 3 x muscle failure
  • Obliques – 3 x muscle failure

If you can do more than 12 to 15 repetitions, just increase the resistance.

With exercise 1, we focus primarily on the upper abdominals. All variants of crunches can be tested here. You better find out for yourself which variant you like best or which one you think is most effective.

Exercise 2 is particularly suitable for the lower abdominal muscles. Here you can also choose between the variants described.

Exercises for lateral abdominal muscles are also included. Although I don’t think they need to be specially trained, I have included them in the training plan, since beginners, in particular, receive a basis for developing well-developed core muscles.

Number of sets

With 9 sets, this abdomen training plan is quite extensive. The reason is that this plan mainly contains exercises without direct resistance to weight. This means that the intensity (the stimulus for the muscle) is not so strong.

To get a good muscle stimulus (muscle development), I rely on a greater volume of training in this plan.

The plan is suitable for beginners and moderately advanced. Those who have a little more experience in training may include additional exercise, preferably leg lifting, in training.

Intensive training for abdominal exercises

In general, intensive training should be done, that is, until muscle failure. It is important to ensure that the work is always carried out with tension and without momentum.

If you want to have a good abdomen you will have to work hard. An effort that will undoubtedly be rewarded successfully, because as the saying goes: “Without hard work, there is no reward!”

The training plan described serves to develop basic muscles. If you already have good abdominal muscles, you can increase the intensity by incorporating super series (2 abdominal exercises are performed in succession without interruption) in the abdominal training.

The burning and the effect are enormous. For beginners, the “simple” version without super series is enough in any case!

Another way to increase the load is to execute the training plan twice a week.

Frequency training

Since beginners are often very motivated, I would like to expressly point out that training abdominal muscles once a week is completely sufficient. If you train intensely and very cleanly, you don’t need to train them every day

Muscles need to rest to develop and train too often can make you get the opposite of what you want. The goal here is to train your abdomen with simple exercises to lay the foundations of a perfect beach figure.

Important note:

An adapted diet is recommended at this point. Abdominal muscle training alone does not cause automatic fat burning in the abdomen and in no way can compensate for a poor diet! Only with abdominal home training CANNOT burn fat in the stomach!

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