Trainer Emily Skye performing an l-sit exercise.
Emily Skye

How to smash an ab workout at home with no equipment

Emily Skye

We interrupt your inefficient ab workout at home to bring you this important message! If you’re only doing crunches, you’re not working your full core to get results.

With my Abs to the Core Challenge, I have created a 6-week program of ab workouts for women designed to burn fat, define and sculpt those abs and build an all-round stronger core. Because there’s a whole lot more to your core than just one muscle.

Your “core” actually incorporates all of your trunk muscles, from your pelvic floor to your back and up to your diaphragm. As for your “abs”, or abdominal muscles, you actually have three layers:

  • Transversus abdominis is the deepest layer, which teams up with your back muscles to stabilise your trunk

  • On top is the rectus abdominis which runs down the centre of your torso, forming that famous six-pack

  • On either side of your six-pack sit internal and external oblique muscles, which help you to twist and turn.

Are you ready to get more from your core? I’ll get you on track with some of my favourite core exercises (no equipment required) and ab workouts.

The benefits of a strong core

Think of your core as Central Station – the point through which all movement down to your lower body or up to your upper body must travel. When it’s strong and stable, you won’t overcompensate with other muscles, so your risk of injury goes down, and your balance and flexibility will be at their best.

The benefits of regular core exercises for women include support for your back and improved posture, as stronger muscles will draw your chest up and shoulders back. Love strength training? By strengthening your core to maintain a neutral spine, you’ll be able to lift heavier and with better form. Bonus: a strong core can help you run faster, too!

An Instagram post that shows Emily Skye 9-months postpartum with visible abs.

With the right exercises and diet, you can build a strong and defined core at any age or stage – even post-pregnancy.

What to eat for defined abs

Is it true that the best workout for your abs happens around the dinner table, not in the garage gym? There’s an old fitness cliche “abs are made in the kitchen”, and while it does oversimplify the work you need to put in to strengthen your core and reveal your muscles, there’s truth in it too: if you don’t fuel your body correctly, it doesn’t matter if you do the best exercise for your abs every day, the six-pack will not follow.

Your abdominal muscles will only be revealed when the layer of fat covering them is gone. That’s why my Abs to the Core Challenge includes fat-burning high-intensity circuits. And that’s why you need to fuel yourself with nutritious, whole foods, giving you enough energy to smash your workouts, without sabotaging your good work by eating excess calories.

How to train for abs and core

Crunches might have been the first exercise you thought of when we started talking about abs. But in order to define and strengthen your core, exercises must engage your muscles in different ways and work each region: lower, upper, middle and side.

My 6-week Abs to the Core Challenge takes the guesswork out of training to sculpt your abs, with 5 workouts a week that use a mix of specially designed full-body and targeted core workouts for women, ensuring you hit your muscles from all angles.

However you begin your ab workout routine at home, you should vary it on a regular basis, including workouts to target your obliques, lower, upper and transverse abs.

Incorporate moves including reverse crunches, knee raises, side crunches, twists, belly button pull-ins, and the bodyweight core exercises I’ll show you how to do below.

When you’re planning workouts to get abs, don’t fatigue your abdominal muscles first, as this will put you at risk of injury when doing other exercises. Leave the core work until the end, so you can perform with maximum power.

It’s also super important not to get caught up in thinking that the more you work your core, the faster you will see results. Allow time for rest, repair and growth by targeting the same core muscles every SECOND day.

Enough talk! Ready to try some moves? Brace yourself for my core workouts for beginners, intermediate and advanced levels of fitness.

The best beginner bodyweight ab exercises

You’ve come to the right place for core exercises for beginners. All of these moves will give you an ab workout – no equipment needed. To create your own mini HIIT ab workout, perform each exercise for 40 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds before starting the next one. Complete as many rounds as you can.

Supine leg lifts with bent knees
This gentle exercise will zoom in on your lower abdominal muscles.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back, knees bent with feet on the floor, and your arms by your sides.

  • Engage your core by drawing your belly button towards your spine.

  • Lift one leg at a time towards your abs, until you form a tabletop position with your shin.

  • Keep your back planted firmly into the ground.

  • Maintain a steady pace, aiming to feel the contraction in your abs.

Core controlled crunches
Crunches can lead to neck and back pain for beginners. Avoid the pain and start getting results with this variation.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your back, knees bent with feet on the floor.

  • Place your hands on your thighs, arms forming a straight line from your shoulders.

  • Engage your core.

  • Use your core to lift your upper back off the floor, sliding your hands from your mid-thighs to your knees, then lower yourself back down.

  • Keep your head and neck neutral, and maintain a slow and steady pace.

Knee plank
This plank is all about the hold. Isometric exercises, where your muscles hold tension without contracting, are one of the most effective ways to work your core.

How to do it:

  • Take a plank position on your elbows, with elbows directly under your shoulders and knees on the floor.

  • Keep your head and neck in a straight line with your back.

  • Brace your core and hold the plank for as long as you can maintain good form. As your strength increases, you will be able to hold the plank for longer.

The best intermediate bodyweight ab exercises

Already training to strengthen your core? Step it up using these moves as a circuit – 40 seconds on, 20 secs off – to create a core workout routine at home.

Leg lowers
To control the movement of your legs, your core – particularly your lower abdominal muscles – will need to work hard.

How to do it:

  • Lay flat on your back on the floor, with your arms above your head to aid balance.

  • Engage your core and, keeping your feet together, raise your legs into the air – forming an L shape with your legs and torso.

  • Lower your legs towards the floor, then bend your knees and draw your thighs back up towards your torso, followed by your feet to return your legs to an upright position.

  • Think about it as a digger action, with your feet shovelling the ground towards your butt.

  • Maintain a steady pace, aiming to feel the contraction in your lower abs. Be careful not to let your back arch.

This go-to move will rock your core, but really also feel benefits in your legs, arms, shoulders and back.

How to do it:

  • Place your elbows on the ground directly under your shoulders, engage your core, and come up onto your toes.

  • Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your heels – don't stick your butt up or dip at the hips.

  • Hold your plank for as long as you can maintain good form, and remember to breathe.

Russian twist with feet on the ground
Get twisting to build up your rotational core strength and target your obliques.

How to do it:

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet planted.

  • Keeping your back straight, lean back until you’re forming a V-shape with your torso and thighs. Only lean back as far as your core can hold you up.

  • Gripping your hands together above your abs, use your core muscles to rotate from side to side at a steady pace, not pausing at either side.

  • Follow your hands with your eyes to help keep your back and neck straight.

The best advanced bodyweight ab exercises

Take your core workouts at home to the next level with these challenging exercises. You can combine them into an ab workout routine, or add as a finisher to your regular workouts.

This is one of the trickiest but crucial core exercises, right up there with planks.

How to do it:

  • Sit with your back straight and legs extended in front of you, heels on the floor.

  • Place your hands on the floor at your sides, keeping your arms straight.

  • Contract your ab muscles to activate your core.

  • Lift your butt slightly off the floor, taking your weight on your hands and heels and using your core to hold your balance.

  • Hold the sit for as long as you can with good form, remembering to breathe.

  • If your arms are a bit shorter, move your hands forward towards your knees, and make sure to tuck your tailbone in.

This full-body exercise will fire up your cardio, while testing your core strength and flexibility.

How to:

  • Set up in a high plank position, propped on your toes with your hands on the floor under your shoulders.

  • Kick your left foot towards the opposing wrist – as if you are kicking your wrist with the top of your foot as your toes reach outside your hand.

  • Return to plank then kick your right foot towards the opposing wrist.

  • It’s okay if your feet don’t reach your wrists to begin with. Slow it down and step it out – as you get the hang of the foot-to-wrist movement, you’ll build speed.

Sit-throughs build strength and mobility in your hips and shoulders while also giving you one heck of a core workout. The trick is taking it slow – nailing the movements step by step until you can pick up the pace and fully extend.

How to do it:

  • Start in a crawling position, hands over wrists and knees over ankles.

  • Drive your left knee towards your right wrist, twisting at the waist while keeping your knee bent and your little toe sliding across the floor.

  • Lift your right arm towards the sky and place your left booty cheek on the ground to ensure you’re extending your leg all the way out. You can keep your knee bent to make it easier on your hips.

To build your strongest core ever, my Abs to the Core program is the only challenge you need! Join me on FIT to start today with your first 7 days free.

Emily Skye
Personal trainer • Founder

Emily Skye is a strength training expert and the face of FIT, the digital fitness app that helps women worldwide build strength and confidence, stay active through pregnancy and rebuild post-pregnancy. Emily holds a Certificate IV in Fitness and Master Trainer qualification from the Australian Institute of Fitness. She is also co-founder of James Cosmetics and a mother of two.

Emily Skye
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