The best ab workouts for men to strengthen and tone
May 19, 2024

The best ab workouts for men to strengthen and tone

Trainwell Trainers

For many guys, a great set of abs is their holy grail — or maybe their white whale. We see them every day on TV and in movies, but it sometimes feels impossible to replicate in real life what we see on the screen.

The truth is, six-pack or no, a strong core is more important to overall wellness and fitness than a killer upper body. And strengthening that core requires a complete core workout, one that engages the lower and upper ab muscles, obliques, lower back, and more.

At trainwell (formerly CoPilot), we’re here to help you achieve your fitness goals. If one of your goals is to strengthen and tone your midsection, check out these three powerful ab workouts that will help you build muscle and develop a strong core.

Workout 1: The foundation builder

Whether your goal is fitness, avoiding muscle loss, active muscle building, or even just better overall health and quality of life, everything starts with your core. It’s the foundation for virtually everything you do in your day-to-day routine, and it provides a strong basis for your overall fitness and wellness goals.

The objective of this workout is to strengthen the base core muscles. It’s a great place to start if you’re early in your fitness journey or returning to it after some time away. Even if you’re more advanced, give the foundation builder a try — you might be surprised by how effective it is.

These core exercises target your obliques and your upper and lower abdominals (rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis). The front planks and both types of crunches target your upper and lower abs, while the side planks tighten up those obliques. You’ll also get additional activation of the hips, deltoids, and quads.


  • Plank circuit (front plank, side plank): Hold yourself up off the floor using your feet and forearms, either facing the ground (front plank) or on your side (side plank).
  • Bicycle crunches: Lie flat on your back, put your arms behind your head, and begin a bicycle motion with your legs. Bring your elbow up to the opposite knee throughout the motion.
  • Reverse crunches: Lie flat on your back, pull your knees up toward your chest, then extend your legs out.

Duration and repetitions

The right number of durations and reps depends on your current abilities, but a good target is three sets of 12–20 reps of the two types of crunches.

For the planks, start with a target of 20–30 seconds each. You can increase this over time, but most professionals agree there is little value in holding a plank longer than 60 seconds.

Advanced variations

Looking for something a little more intense or just different? Check out these variations:

  • Try mixing up your plank circuit by adding a side plank dip to your side planks or doing your front planks on a yoga ball.
  • Leg rotations irritating your knees on those bicycle crunches? The seal crunch might look a little goofy, but it’s a great way to work the same muscle groups at a lower intensity.
  • Add more intensity to those crunches by adding some weight. Check out the dumbbell toe touch crunch or the med ball crunch.

Workout 2: The core focus

We all need the solid foundation of a strong core, but that foundation alone probably won’t transform into rock-hard washboard abs. 

If you want to go a step further and get those chiseled six-pack abs, it’s going to take even more focus. Getting rid of body fat (and belly fat around the midsection, specifically) requires the right nutrition and the right workout routine.

The objective of this workout is to define the abdominal muscles better, building on a solid foundation to create greater tone and definition.

This exercise routine targets the abdominals (upper abs and lower abs). Hanging leg raises and cable crunches target the abs alone, while plank twists add obliques, glutes, and delts.


  • Hanging leg raises: Using a pull-up bar, hang from your hands and then lift your legs above waist level. Keep your legs straight throughout the maneuver.
  • Cable crunches: Face away from the cable machine and grab the rope. Kneel down, then crunch forward as far as you can.
  • Plank twists: In a front plank position, lower your body to one side, rotating on the balls of your feet, so that your hip drops toward the floor. Then return to the starting position and do the same on the opposite side.

Duration and repetitions

For hanging leg raises, three sets of 10–12 reps is a good place to start. The same pattern may work well for cable crunches. You can do plank twists with a rep count or a hold length (or both). 

We recommend following a trainer’s guidance — that’s a good move for every workout element, but especially for anything new to you involving unusual rotations.

Quick tips on form: keep your legs straight throughout the hanging leg raises — you’ll be tempted to pivot at the knee. On the plank twists, twist only as far as you can comfortably. The payoff is in the hold more than how far you can push the twist.

Advanced variations

Here are a few advanced variations you can experiment with adding to your routine.

  • Plank twists are adaptable in both speed and duration. As you grow in comfort and capability, push yourself to move faster and hold the twist position longer.
  • Once you’ve mastered the hanging leg raise, amp up your routine with the much more advanced hanging windshield wiper.
  • The cable decline situp is a gentler alternative to cable crunches and may be more comfortable for those who cannot put as much pressure on their knees. Advanced athletes can also use this setup for higher weight or higher intensity than the cable crunch allows.

Workout 3: The endurance challenge

You don’t want to be a flash-in-the-pan kind of guy. No, you want abs that go the distance. Perhaps you’re an athlete looking to improve your core durability throughout a lengthy match. From soccer to boxing to football (and just about any other sport), long-lasting core strength is a solid improvement to your game.

Even if you’re not involved in team sports, you might have fitness goals that are focused more on function than aesthetics. Whatever has brought you to this point, you’re ready for a workout that helps you build stamina and endurance — and we’ve got it: the endurance challenge.

This moderate to advanced workout is designed to increase core stamina and endurance, especially related to the abdominals. All three of these exercises build up the abdominals and then some. 

Planks engage the entire core. Mountain climbers add in hip flexors, glutes, and deltoids, while stability ball rollouts focus on obliques, glutes, and deltoids.


  • Long-hold plank: The front plank, but longer. The great thing about planks is their scalability. If you can do a 10-second plank, then a 20-second plank is a stretch and a challenge. If you can do 30 seconds, then work toward 60.
  • Mountain climbers: Total body resistance and cardio exercise. Take the plank position, then pull one knee forward. Alternate this with a little hop, simulating the motion of climbing.
  • Stability ball rollouts: Balance and bodyweight exercise. For this one, kneel behind a large stability ball. Place your forearms and elbows on the ball with your hands clasped. Roll forward on the ball slowly with your core engaged.

Duration and repetitions

For long-hold planks, you can aim for two-minute sets and three sets per session. We know — we just said not to bother with more than 60 seconds in an earlier workout, but that limitation was more about form. 

Beginners tend to lose their form around that point. But if you’re already working toward endurance, chances are you have the experience to know when your form is dropping. Work toward two-minute stretches with unbroken form. 

Beginners will want to start with 8–10 mountain climbers and 1–2 sets, but you’ll quickly increase these numbers. Just make sure you keep your back reasonably flat. Curving your back is easier because it disengages parts of your core, which you don’t want to do.

Advanced variations

If even our endurance challenge isn’t challenging enough for you, then congrats! You’re already doing extremely well on your fitness journey. Here are some additional advanced techniques and variations to really take this routine to the max. 

  • Planks come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s generally okay to push yourself with any variation. Just be careful about overextending on any of the ones that add movement or motion, and always check your form.
  • There are all kinds of variations on the mountain climber, such as the chair mountain climber, slider mountain climber, and bosu mountain climber. Each of these enhances or modifies the exercise to change it up or make it more challenging.
  • You can do stability ball rollouts while standing as well, which requires careful balancing of your body weight. This approach is both more intense and gentler on your knees.

Tips for effective ab workouts at home

We’ve included a mix of exercises here, and you can do nearly every single one at home with minimal or no equipment. You might need to swap in resistance bands for the cable crunches, but otherwise, these are all at-home-workout-friendly.

Actually working out effectively at home, though? That takes some careful planning. Follow these tips to improve your results and consistency in your at-home workouts.

Set up the right environment

First, make sure you have a place to work out. Maybe it’s a basement, a spare bedroom, a corner of the garage, or even the shed out back — but you absolutely need a space.

Experts say this is true in all aspects of our lives — while studying, in the professional world, and yes, in our exercise routines. Even the Department of Homeland Security proclaims the value of creating a dedicated space for working out, and those guys are serious.

Setting up a dedicated space for working out (and only working out, if at all possible) helps you tune out distractions and get in the right mindset. When you enter that space, it’s time to get to work!

It’s worth noting that your home workout space doesn’t have to be especially high-end. You can build a respectable home gym on a budget. Some free weights and a bench (or a yoga mat and stability balls) will be enough to successfully complete many exercises. 

As you see ongoing consistency and results, you’ll feel better about incrementally upgrading your at-home equipment.

Focus on form, not just reps

The right exercises aren’t the key to achieving your goals, nor is a specific number of reps.

It’s the right exercises done right that help you get where you want to go. 

So focus on form more than reps. Joe Gym Bro might be able to “plank” for a whopping five minutes, but only because he’s not technically planking — he’s doing something that looks sort of like it, but isn’t.

Not to mention, doing good exercises the wrong way is one of the quickest paths to injury. So watch out for these common form issues in your ab workouts:

  • Over- or under-arching your back during planks: You might need to downgrade to a simpler or shorter plank and build up your strength.
  • Faux-twists: In most twisting exercises, it’s possible to do movements that mimic the twist (such as arms side to side) but don’t actually twist your core. Make sure your entire core is engaged — if you can do the exercise without engaging your core, you’re doing something wrong.
  • Neck-powered crunches: Crunches aren’t for building neck muscles, but many people “lead with the neck.” If you’re feeling your crunches in your neck (or notice a sore neck afterward), check that neck tension and get back to the basics.

Add variety to your routines

Even though we’ve given you three well-designed ab workouts, we really don’t recommend sticking with any one of them forever. It’s a good idea to vary your ab exercises over time, especially once you build up that baseline of core strength. 

Why? Because mixing up your routine will engage different muscle groups, prevent boredom, and improve overall core strength.

Use trainwell for personalized workout plans

Finally, try not to go at it alone. Everyone needs a buddy — or even better, a knowledgeable trainer who can help you make the most progress possible in your fitness journey without getting injured.

Trainwell takes a unique approach here. More than an app and more than a personal trainer, trainwell assesses your individual fitness level and personal goals to tailor your workouts to your specific needs and objectives. 

Advanced motion tracking keeps your form in check, and your real human virtual trainer will keep you motivated, safe, and on track.

Trainwell also helps users integrate workouts into their daily routines, making fitness more accessible and sustainable.

Maintain and enhance your ab workouts with trainwell

We’ve shared three fantastic ab workouts with you, but let’s be clear: there’s no “best” ab workout. The best ab workout for you depends on your fitness level, health, goals, and more. 

That’s why having a trainer at your side makes such a difference. They ensure you’re getting the best ab workout for you.

Trainwell enhances your ab workouts on several levels. The trainwell app measures your progress, makes adaptive adjustments, tracks your form and progress, and keeps you focused. And trainwell trainers are always available to further tailor your workouts and provide real, expert feedback on your progress.

Ready to experience the trainwell difference? Start for free with a 14-day trial and get a completely personalized ab workout made just for you.

Written by trainwell trainers

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