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Best Standing Ab Exercises for a Strong, Fit Core

Ditch the crunches and get off the floor

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Updated May 16, 2014

We often work our abs with exercises like crunches, bicycles and planks. Floor exercises are important, but standing ab exercises can target your abs in a more functional way, the way your body actually moves in real life. The following moves show you how to get off the floor with challenging standing ab exercises.

Reverse Wood Chops

Paige Waehner

Reverse wood chops are great for the abs because they involve rotating the body and bringing the arms from the hips and across the body to the opposite shoulder. This dynamic exercise requires the abs and back to stabilizing the body throughout the movement.

There are a number of different ways to do woodchops:

  • Without rotation: One option is to rotate the entire body through the movement (as shown here) or you can keeping the hips, knees and chest facing forward and just move the arms across the body for more core stabilization.
  • With different types of equipment: You can use resistance bands, a medicine ball, a dumbbell or a Ballast Ball.
  • In different positions: Do this move while sitting, kneeling or even lying on an exercise ball.

Horizontal Wood Chops

Paige Waehner

Like the diagonal wood chops shown above, horizontal wood chops take your body through a rotation, moving the arms from one side to the other and targeting every muscle in the abs and back with some core stabilization thrown in.

Spice things up with these ideas:

  • Add more range of motion - You can keep the body facing forward and focus on only rotating the torso and arms, or you can pivot on the feet as you rotate to add more movement.
  • Add variety - If you're a beginner, try doing the move as shown or in a staggered stance for more stability. Add variety by kneeling, lying on a ball or even while standing on one leg (advanced).
  • Add different resistance - Use your body weight, resistance bands, a medicine ball, a dumbbell or cables.

Side Bends With a Medicine Ball

Paige Waehner

While side bends won't necessarily whittle your waist (that comes from losing body fat), this overhead side bend is a great way to strengthen the muscles of the waist (the obliques) while also targeting the abs and lower back.

Focus on doing this exercise at a slow, controlled pace rather than using momentum, which can cut down on the effectiveness and open you up to injury. You can also change things up with these ideas:

  • Try different positions - Do these standing, sitting, kneeling, standing on one leg or even standing on a BOSU or other unstable surface.
  • Try different types of resistance - Use your body weight, light dumbbells, cables, bands or an exercise ball for more variety.

Windmills

Paige Waehner

The windmill is an excellent exercise for the entire body with a strong focus on the obliques and the lower back. With this move, form is everything. The main keys to good form:

  • Start with no weight - Practice the move without any weight and make sure you're bend to the side, rather than rounding forward. When you do add weight, you can use a kettlebell (as shown) or dumbbells.
  • Bend the knee as you lean down - This will help you keep your chest lifted, rather than bending forward (which defeats the purpose of the exercise).
  • Kick your opposite hip out - As you bend towards one side, push the opposite hip to ensure good alignment.

You can add intensity by holding weights in both hands.

Find detailed instructions here.

Overhead Squats

Paige Waehner

The overhead squat is an advanced ab exercise that looks easier than it is. Your abs and back work hard to keep the body in position as you squat and rotate to bring the arm overhead, making this a dynamic, whole body exercise.

Use these tips when getting started:

  • Start with no weight - It's easier to practice good form (squatting with the hips back, core braced, arm straight up) with no weight. When you do add weight, start with light dummbells or kettlebells.
  • Look forward - Looking up at the weight also makes this move more challenging. Beginners should look forward until you practice the move and feel more comfortable looking up.
  • Watch your back - If you have any back or hip issues, you may want to modify or skip this exercise.

Medicine Ball Circles

Medicine ball circles are one of my favorite exercises for warming up the entire body, especially the abs and back. The idea is to circle the weight, making the biggest circle you can while using your whole body in the process. Tips for making this exercise more effective:

  • Move through a full range of motion - As you make your circles, bend the knees and pivot on the feet as you turn and rotate through the movement. Avoid keeping the feet planted, which may tweak your knees.
  • Use a light weight - Start with a light medicine ball or dumbbell to get used to the movement before adding too much weight.
  • Brace the abs and keep the back straight - As you move towards the floor, keep the back straight rather than rounding forward.

Medicine Ball Rotations with Static Lunges

Paige Waehner

The static lunge with a med ball rotation is another great exercise for working the abs and back while building endurance in the lower body. The idea is to engage the stabilizer muscles in your legs and hips to hold a lunge while rotating the medicine ball slowly to one side and then the other.

As a modification, keep the medicine ball close to the body as you rotate, focusing on keeping the entire movement centered on the torso. As you get stronger, straighten the arms to create a longer lever and to increase the intensity. You can also squeeze the ball as you rotate to engage the chest, making this a whole body exercise.

You can also do this exercise with a dumbbell, a resistance band or even holding an exercise ball.

Figure 8s with a Medicine Ball

Lunge with Figure 8 Medicine Ball
Paige Waehner

Figure 8 Lunges are a total body exercise emphasizing core strength and stability along with lower body endurance and overall balance and coordination.

The key to making this move effective is to start by performing each move separately: Step forward into a lunge with the right leg and hold that position, getting your balance. Then, take the ball to the opposite hip, rotating through the torso, and sweep the ball down and up in the first half of your figure 8. Then step the right foot back to start before taking the same leg back into a reverse lunge. Hold that position as you complete your figure 8 motion to the other side. Do all reps on one side before switching legs.

You can also do this move with a dumbbell or a kettlebell.

Standing Side Crunch

Paige Waehner

The standing side crunch is all about the obliques, with an added challenge to your balance and stability. To really engage the obliques, go through a full range of motion and keep the movement slow and controlled. As you bring the knee towards the elbow, keep the chest open rather than rounding forward - imagine that your back is against a wall and you're sliding along the wall as you do this exercise.

You can also make this move a bit more cardio intensive by speeding it up and going as fast as you can. The momentum takes some of the focus away from the core and puts it more on the heart rate. This is a great warm up exercise for almost any type of workout.

Standing Crossover Crunch

Paige Waehner

The standing crossover crunch looks a lot like the bicycle move done on the floor, with an emphasis on the obliques. To really get the most out of this exercise, go slow and focus on bringing the shoulder towards the hip, rather than the elbow to the knee. This will put the focus on rotating through the torso and engaging the core rather than swinging the arm towards the knee.

You have a number of options with this exercise. You can keep the move slow and controlled, which will focus more attention on your core as well as balance and stability or you can make the move more dynamic by speeding things up, which will make it more of a cardio exercise.

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