Sometimes, the best way to take your core workout to the next level is by simply picking up a dumbbell. Although there are plenty of bodyweight exercises that can strengthen your center, the following dumbbell exercises for abs are a great way to make things more challenging…and more rewarding.
“Once you become efficient at bodyweight core exercises, you need to increase the intensity to keep progressing,” explains Openfit expert Cody Braun. “One way to do that is by adding external resistance.” Laymen’s terms? Weights.
How Do I Get Abs with Dumbbells?
Bodyweight abs exercises like reverse crunches, hollow body holds, and sit-ups can become infinitely more challenging with dumbbells. They’ll work your targeted muscles to a higher degree, allowing you to train your cores endurance and strength, which is critical to both fitness and sculpting a coveted six-pack. (By the way, this is how you train every other muscle in your body. The abs are no different!)
Plus, as Braun notes, “some muscle groups are tricky to hit with your bodyweight alone, and in some cases, dumbbells can help to engage the muscles even further.” So adding dumbbell exercises for abs to your core routine may be the secret to finally carving out that deep V.
Try these 10 awesome dumbbell exercises for abs to increase the intensity of your core routine.
1. Side Reach
Somewhere between a core move and total-body move, this exercise works the obliques, transverse abdominis, and even the shoulders, glutes, and quads.
- Sink down into a sumo squat (feet wider than your shoulders, toes slightly turned out, legs bent so your thighs are close to parallel to the floor) holding a light dumbbell in your right hand. Lift the weight up and to the side of your shoulder like you are showing off your biceps. Place your left on your hip.
- Maintaining this stance, reach the dumbbell up and over your head, extending your arm to the left in an arc. Allow your torso to bend to the side as you do so.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position, moving immediately into the next rep.
- Perform all reps, then switch sides.
2. Hollow Butterfly
If you thought boat pose was hard, just you wait. This dumbbell exercises for chest andabs muscles is an awesome progression of the exercise, as it includes both a weight chest press and a partial reverse crunch.
- Lie on your back and, with bent arms, hold a dumbbell by both ends (so your palms are facing toward each other) just above your chest. Lift your feet off the ground and bend your legs so your knees point out to the sides and your heels are together, close to your hips. Engage your core and press your low back into the floor.
- Press the dumbbell toward the ceiling while simultaneously lifting your shoulders from the floor and extending your legs out at a 45-degree angle until you are in a boat pose, or “V” position
- Pull the dumbbell back toward your chest while lowering shoulders and bending your knees back into your torso to return to the starting position, then repeat.
3. Bridge Press Crunch Sit Up
Your core is the connection point between your upper and lower body and, with this abs exercise, you’ll definitely feel it. Prepare to work your glute, chest, shoulder, oblique, transverse abdominis, and rectus abdominis (six pack) muscles.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand at your chest, as if you’re about to perform a single-arm chest press. Place your left arm on the floor to the side with the palm down for balance, and lift your right foot slightly off of the floor.
- Press through your left foot and squeeze your glutes to raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
- Lower your hips back down, and then press the dumbbell straight toward the ceiling.
- Engage your core and push through your left forearm to raise to your right hand and sit up, extending your right leg straight out in front of you, letting it hover a few inches off of the floor. As you sit up, the weight should stay directly over your shoulder.
- With control, lower your torso back down to the floor, bend your right knee, and then lower the weight to return to the starting position.
- Perform all reps on one side — moving through the full move of single-leg glute bridge, press, and sit-up — and then switch sides.
4. Plank, Row, Lift
Renegade rows—performing rows from a plank position—are great for training core stability. But by adding a leg lift, this dumbbell exercise for abs challenges your stability and balance even further.
- Get in a high-plank position (a push-up position with your hands under your shoulders, core and glutes engaged with your body straight from head to heels)with a dumbbell in your right hand and your left hand flat on the floor. Spread your feet wider than hips-width distance and brace your core.
- Drive your elbow straight back to row the dumbbell to your ribs while simultaneously raising your left foot from the floor to waist height. Don’t let your torso move or tip.
- Pause, then lower back to start. Repeat for all reps, then switch sides.
5. Crunch Press
If crunches are just too easy for you, this weighted version will strengthen your six-pack muscles while also benefitting your chest.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your arms bent, hold a dumbbell in each hand above your chest, palms facing toward your feet.
- Press both weights up and together to a perform a chest press while simultaneously engaging your abs to bring your shoulder blades off of the floor.
- Lower your shoulders to the floor and weights to your chest to return to start, immediately moving into the next rep.
6. Kneeling Get Up
You are about to do some fierce work your obliques. Having your arm extended throughout the exercise will increase the weight’s leverage on your core while also putting your shoulder stabilizers to good use.
- Get down onto the floor in a half kneeling position, with your right leg in front of you, foot flat, and your left knee and lower leg on the floor. Hold a light dumbbell in your right hand, arm extended straight up over your shoulder. Brace your core and look up at the weight. You will keep the dumbbell stacked directly over your shoulder throughout the entire exercise.
- Lean your torso to the left as you reach your left hand on the floor next to you. Pause.
- Pressing minimally through your left hand, raise your torso back up to start.
- Repeat all reps, then switch sides.
7. Reverse Crunch
Reverse crunches are a great move for emphasizing your lower abdominals. The addition of dumbbells also works your chest and shoulders isometrically, while simultaneously challenging your core stability even further.
- Lie face up on the floor with a dumbbell in each hand, pressed straight up over your chest. Extend your legs out in front of you a few inches off of the floor. Brace your core to press your low back into the floor.
- Activate your abs to crunch your knees into your chest, with the contraction raising your hips just off of the floor. Try not to swing or use momentum.
- With control, lower your hips and extend your legs back straight to start the starting position. Repeat.
8. 1-Arm Crunch
Loading just one side during crunches lets you train your core’s ability to resist rotation, one of the most important (and often overlooked) elements of a well-rounded ab routine.
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in one hand, pressed straight up over your shoulder.
- Keeping the dumbbell directly above your shoulder, engage your abs to crunch your chest up and lift your shoulder blades off the floor. Lift your shoulders up equally, fully engaging your core to prevent any twisting to compensate for the weight.
- Lower back down to the starting position and perform all reps, then switch arms.
9. Twist Under Starfish
This advanced dumbbell exercise for abs focuses on both external oblique muscles and the deep-lying transverse abdominis. It’ll also work your glutes as you engage them to maintain stability.
- Get in a low-plank position with a your left forearm on the floor, perpendicular to your body, and a light dumbbell in your right hand. Spread your feet wider than hips-width distance and brace your core.
- Lift the dumbbell a few inches off of the floor and reach it under your abdomen to the left as far as possible. Keep your even to stay facing the floor.
- Bring the dumbbell back to the right and move it overhead, pivoting your body onto your left foot and stacking your right foot on top, to get into a side plank with your arm extended straight toward the ceiling.
- Raise your right leg as high as possible toward the ceiling, keeping your top foot flexed and parallel with the floor.
- Lower your leg, dumbbell, and rotate toward the floor to move immediately into the next rep. Perform an equal number of reps per side.
10. Russian Twists
The Russian twist exercise will strengthen your core rotation, which is a common movement in everyday life, from changing directions on the soccer field or reaching behind you into the backseat of your car.
- Sit on the floor and hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your chest with your arms bent. Lean back to balance on your butt with your knees bent and feet together a few inches off of the floor.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, rotate your torso to lower the weights toward the floor outside of your right hip.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat to your left. Continue alternating, performing equal reps on each side.
Tips for Adding Dumbbell Ab Exercises into Your Core Workouts
When adding dumbbells into your abs exercise (or kettlebells, weight plates, or medicine balls, for that matter), it’s important to remember that’s exactly what you’re doing: progressing your core work. Before adding external resistance, master your ab-focused workouts with just your bodyweight, Braun recommends. He notes that, if your form starts to suffer or give out, that’s when you need to cut your set and rest. Always focus on performing your reps with controlled, picture-perfect form. This is particularly important with ab work because of the possibility of straining the lower back.