The 41 Hardest Ab Exercises to Challenge Your Core Strength

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Are you strong enough to master Swiss ball mountain climbers?

Coming up with abs exercises on the spot can be a challenge, leaving you in an endless loop of sit-ups. But with this library of challenging core moves, you can kiss those crunches goodbye.

These 41 midsection-mangling moves are some of the most advanced out there. These exercises will hit your torso from a variety of angles and in a variety of ways — stronger core, guaranteed.

1. Banana Roll

1. Banana Roll
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your back with arms extended overhead, legs straight out.
  2. Lift into a “hollow” position — arms and legs lifted, lower back pressed into the ground, head in line with the arms.
  3. Engage your core and roll to your left using your abdominal muscles, not your hips.
  4. Roll until you’re on your stomach and are in a Superman “flying” position.
  5. Roll back the way you came.
  6. Now, roll to the right onto your stomach and return to start again.

2. Barbell Hip Thrust

2. Barbell Hip Thrust
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs, Butt and Legs
Impact Level High-Impact
  1. Start seated on the ground with a bench behind you, in line with your shoulder blades, and a loaded barbell over your hips.
  2. Drive through your feet and extend your hips by contracting your glutes, raising the bar until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat.

3. Barbell Floor Wiper

3. Barbell Floor Wiper
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs and Chest
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your back and hold a barbell directly over your chest with straight arms.
  2. Keep your feet together and legs straight as you bring both feet up to the left plate (or left side of the bar) then return them to the floor.
  3. Next, bring your legs up to the right plate (or right end of the bar), then return them to the floor.

4. Body Saw

4. Body Saw
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Start in a forearm plank on a hardwood floor with a towel or sliders under your toes.
  2. Slide your body forward and back slightly, hinging at your elbows and shoulders.
  3. As you move, maintain a rigid body line from head to heels throughout the exercise.

5. Cable Push-Pull

5. Cable Push-Pull
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs, Chest and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Stand in the center of a cable-cross setup, with the cables set just above waist height. (Alternatively, you can do this with a long resistance band looped around an anchor point.)
  2. Face one side of the cables, with your left leg in front of your right.
  3. Grab the cable in front of you with your left hand and grab the one behind you with your right and stand as if you’ve just thrown a punch with your left. Your right hand should be by your right hip, your left arm extended.
  4. Push and pull simultaneously — pull your left arm toward your left hip as you punch your right arm forward.
  5. Return to start, repeat, then switch sides.

6. Cross-Climber With Feet on Swiss Ball

6. Cross-Climber With Feet on Swiss Ball
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Start in a high plank with your shins on a Swiss ball. Your body should form a straight line from ankles to head.
  2. Without rounding your lower back, lift your left leg off the ball and bring that knee toward your right elbow.
  3. Return to start.
  4. Bring your right knee up to your left elbow.
  5. Continue alternating opposite knee to elbow.

7. Dragon Flag

7. Dragon Flag
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie face-up on a bench and grab the bench next to your ears so that your elbows are bent and your upper arms are next to your head. Your hands are there simply for support — don’t pull with them or you’ll wrench your neck.
  2. Use your core to roll up onto your shoulders until your body is straight and perpendicular to the ground — basically, you’re stacked on top of your shoulders.
  3. Slowly lower your body using your core, maintaining a straight body line.
  4. Work toward bringing your body down until it’s hovering just above the bench.

8. Fire Hydrant

8. Fire Hydrant
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Abs and Butt
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Start on all fours, knees below your hips, hands below your shoulders.
  2. Keep your knees bent and lift your left leg out to the side until your thigh is parallel to the floor — you’ll look like a dog visiting a fire hydrant.
  3. Kick your leg straight back and return to start.
  4. Do all your reps on your left leg before repeating with the right leg.

9. Front Lever

9. Front Lever
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Grab a pull-up bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
  2. From the hanging position, use your shoulders, upper back and core to pull your body — totally straight — from the perpendicular position up to a position parallel to the floor.
  3. If you can reach this position, hold it for as long as you can with good form.

Tip

To work your way up to this position, start with your knees tucked in. Hang from the bar, arms straight, but with your body tucked in a ball and your back parallel to the floor.

10. Glute Bridge March

10. Glute Bridge March
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Abs and Butt
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down.
  2. Bend your knees so your heels are on the floor, feet flexed.
  3. Squeeze your glutes so your body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders.
  4. Maintaining this straight line and keeping your hips square, lift your right foot off the ground and bring your knee to your chest.
  5. Return it to the floor and lift your left knee to your chest.
  6. Continue “marching” in this way.

11. Hanging Leg Raise

11. Hanging Leg Raise
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Hang from a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your torso perpendicular to the ground and don’t lean back as you pull your knees toward your chest by bending your hips.
  3. Hold the tuck for a moment.
  4. Lower your legs down with control to return to the starting position.

Tip

To make it more difficult, keep your legs straight as you raise them and work toward raising your straight legs all the way up to the bar.

12. Hollow Rock

12. Hollow Rock
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your back with arms extended overhead, legs straight out.
  2. Lift into a “hollow” position, with arms and legs up, lower back pressed into the ground and head in line with the arms.
  3. Using your core to get going, rock your body back and forth (shoulders to tailbone) so that you look like the leg of a rocking chair.

13. Incline Reverse Crunch

13. Incline Reverse Crunch
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie face-up on an incline bench with your hips lower than your head, your body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  2. Grab the bar behind your head for support or grasp the sides of the bench.
  3. Lift your knees toward your chest.
  4. Slowly lower your feet toward the floor and repeat.

14. K-Off Carry

14. K-Off Carry
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs, Arms and Back
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Double-wrap a thick mini resistance band around the handle of a kettlebell.
  2. Perform a weighted carry holding the band with the kettlebell suspended underneath.
  3. Engage your entire torso to maintain a tall posture while carrying the heavy weight.
  4. Walk 20 yards or so, then turn around and come back.

15. L-Sit

15. L-Sit
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Set two benches parallel to one another a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Get between the benches and hold yourself up with your arms, legs lifted and straight so that your body forms an L shape.
  3. Brace your core and hold this position as long as possible.

16. L-Sit Pull-Up

16. L-Sit Pull-Up
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs, Back and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Hang from a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your torso perpendicular to the ground and don’t lean back as you lift your legs up without bending your knees until they’re parallel to the floor. Your body will form an L shape.
  3. While holding this position, perform pull-ups, pulling your chest up to the bar while pulling your shoulders back and down.
  4. Return to the bottom of the pull-up, but keep your legs in the L shape and move to the next rep.

17. Weight-Plate Shield

17. Weight-Plate Shield
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Get a 10- or 25-pound weight plate and hold it in front of your chest as you come to the top of a modified boat pose — seated, leaning back, legs in a tabletop, weight in front of your chest.
  2. Hold this position as you breathe in and out through your nose, keeping your abs contracted and preventing your lower back from curving.
  3. Take a break for 30 seconds and catch your breath.
  4. Repeat.

18. Medicine-Ball V-Up

18. Medicine-Ball V-Up
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight.
  2. Hold your arms straight above your head, gripping a medicine ball so your elbows are by your ears.
  3. Without bending your elbows or knees, contract your abdominal muscles, fold your body up by lifting your arms and legs off the floor and stretch your arms toward your toes.
  4. Keep your back straight.
  5. Pause, then lower back down to the starting position.

19. Kneeling Reverse Cable Chop

19. Kneeling Reverse Cable Chop
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level High-Impact
  1. Stand next to a cable station with a rope attachment, the stack on your right. (Alternatively, you can secure a long resistance band to an anchor point near your feet.)
  2. Kneel on your right knee (closest to the base of the cable), your left knee bent 90 degrees.
  3. Grab the rope with both hands and stretch it taut, holding it down below your right hip.
  4. Keeping your arms straight, twist and pull the rope up and across your body until it’s past your left shoulder.
  5. Return to start, repeat and switch sides.

20. Overhead Squat

20. Overhead Squat
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs, Arms, Back, Butt, Legs and Shoulders
Impact Level High-Impact
  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly.
  2. Grab a barbell with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart, and raise it overhead so your shoulders are roughly in line with your heels.
  3. Keep your arms straight and directly overhead as you push your hips back to squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
  4. Press back up to standing.

Tip

If you're trying the overhead squat for the first time, practice your form with a PVC pipe or broomstick before you progress to a barbell.

21. Palloff Press

21. Palloff Press
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Stand with a cable or anchored resistance band at waist level on your right.
  2. Pull the cable out and hold it against the front of your chest with both hands, knees slightly bent. The cable should be taut.
  3. Hold your core tight.
  4. Maintaining this body position, press the cable straight out away from your chest. The cable will try to rotate you toward the station, but resist it.
  5. Return the handle to your chest and repeat.

22. Plate Squeeze Press

22. Plate Squeeze Press
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs, Arms and Chest
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Grab a pair of weight plates and hold them together directly in front of your chest, smooth sides facing out.
  2. Spread your fingers wide on the plates.
  3. Squeeze the plates together as you press them forward until your arms are pointing straight out in front.
  4. Return the plates to your chest and repeat.

23. Push a Car

23. Push a Car
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs, Back, Chest, Legs, Shoulders and Butt
Impact Level High-Impact
  1. On a long, flat stretch of pavement, have a friend put a car in neutral.
  2. Stand behind the car and put your hands on the trunk about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Brace your core and with a flat back, push the core firmly forward.

24. Renegade Row

24. Renegade Row
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs, Back and Arms
Impact Level High-Impact
  1. Assume a high plank while holding a dumbbell in each hand directly below your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
  2. Maintaining this body line, bend your elbows until your chest is between the dumbbells.
  3. Press back to start, then bend one elbow to row the weight up next to your rib cage.
  4. Return it to the floor, do another push-up and repeat on the other side.

25. Side Plank and Cable Row

25. Side Plank and Cable Row
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your left side in a side plank facing a low cable pulley or resistance band looped around an anchor a few inches off the ground.
  2. Prop yourself up on your left elbow with feet stacked and body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  3. Row the handle of the cable machine with your right arm until your hand is in line with your torso.
  4. Return the cable to start and repeat.
  5. Do all your reps on one side, then switch sides and repeat.

26. Single-Arm Dumbbell Lunge

26. Single-Arm Dumbbell Lunge
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs, Legs and Butt
Impact Level High-Impact
  1. Stand holding a dumbbell at your right side.
  2. Take a large step forward with your left leg, lowering as you step until your knees both form 90-degree angles.
  3. Press back to standing and repeat.
  4. Do all your reps on one leg before switching sides and repeating.

Tip

For an added challenge, try moving the weight to your shoulder then straight overhead or to the other arm.

27. Single-Leg Lowering

27. Single-Leg Lowering
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your back with arms at your sides, palms down, legs extended.
  2. Lift your legs perpendicular to the ground so the soles of your feet face the ceiling.
  3. Keeping your legs straight, lower your right leg until it hovers just a few inches off the ground. Your left leg should still be sticking straight up. Don’t point your toes; keep your foot flexed throughout the move.
  4. Return your right leg to the top, lower your left leg and repeat.

28. Single-Leg Squat and Row

28. Single-Leg Squat and Row
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs, Butt and Legs
  1. Stand facing a cable machine stack (or resistance band attached to an anchor) set at shoulder- or waist-height.
  2. Grab the handle with your left hand.
  3. Stand on your right leg with your knee slightly bent, your left leg trailing behind you.
  4. Push your hips back to squat with your right leg.
  5. As you stand back up, bring your left leg forward so your knee is up in a marching position and row the cable to your side.
  6. Return to start, repeat and switch to the opposite arm and leg.

29. Single-Leg Straight-Arm Side Plank

29. Single-Leg Straight-Arm Side Plank
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your right side, prop up on your right hand with your hand directly beneath your shoulder and arm straight.
  2. Your feet should be stacked on top of each other, your body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  3. Extend your left arm so that your body forms a T.
  4. Maintaining this rigid body line, separate your legs, raising your left leg until your body forms a five-pointed star.
  5. Hold this position for as long as you can maintain a rigid torso.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

30. Sledgehammer Swing

30. Sledgehammer Swing
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs, Back, Arms, Legs and Shoulders
Impact Level High-Impact
  1. Place the tire on some grass or a surface that won’t break if you miss with the hammer.
  2. Stand with a staggered stance, your left leg slightly in front of your right.
  3. Grab the hammer with your left hand at the base of the handle and your right up closer to the head.
  4. As you bring the hammer up, your right hand should slide down to meet your left.
  5. Once you reach your shoulder, swing the hammer down and slam the tire.
  6. Repeat on the other side, with legs and hands switched.

31. Stir the Pot

31. Stir the Pot
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Support yourself on a stability ball in plank position with your elbows on the ball, feet on the floor and body forming a straight line from head to feet.
  2. Maintain this rigid body line as you move your elbows beneath your shoulders to rotate the ball in a small counterclockwise circle beneath your chest. Your hands will look as if they’re stirring a pot (hence the name of this move).
  3. Give it all you’ve got, take a rest, then do the same number of circles in a clockwise rotation.

32. Suitcase Walk

32. Suitcase Walk
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs and Back
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Grab a heavy dumbbell and hold it at your side in one hand as you would a suitcase.
  2. Brace your core and walk forward while maintaining a tall posture and keeping your shoulders level.
  3. Walk a few yards forward, then turn back and switch sides.

33. Standing Barbell Rollout

33. Standing Barbell Rollout
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Stand with a loaded barbell at your feet.
  2. Bend forward at the waist, knees slightly bent and grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  3. Roll the bar out, keeping your toes on the ground, until your body is straight in a full-extension position.
  4. Now use your core — not your arms — to pull the bar back toward your body and return to the bent-over position.

34. Swiss-Ball Bird Dog

34. Swiss-Ball Bird Dog
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Abs and Back
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie facedown on a Swiss ball, with the ball under your belly button. The balls of your feet and your palms should be on the floor almost in a high plank over the ball.
  2. Raise your left arm and right leg simultaneously until they’re in line with your torso.
  3. Hold for a second.
  4. Return to start and lift your right arm and left leg.
  5. Alternate back and forth.

35. Swiss-Ball Jackknife With Push-Up

35. Swiss-Ball Jackknife With Push-Up
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs, Arms and Back
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Start in a high plank with your shins on a Swiss ball. Your body should form a straight line from ankles to head.
  2. Without rounding your lower back, contract your abs and use your feet to pull the ball toward your chest by bending your knees.
  3. Pause before rolling back out to return to the starting position.
  4. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor and perform a push-up.
  5. Press back up to a high plank and repeat.

36. Swiss-Ball Pike

36. Swiss-Ball Pike
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs and Arms
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Start in a high plank, but with your shins on a Swiss ball. Your body should form a straight line from ankles to head.
  2. Without bending your knees, roll the Swiss ball toward your body by raising your hips as high as you can.
  3. Pause, then roll the ball back out to return the ball to the starting position.

Tip

For best results, concentrate on controlling the ball with your core, not your arms or legs.

37. Swiss-Ball Push-Up (Feet on Floor)

37. Swiss-Ball Push-Up (Feet on Floor)
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs, Arms and Chest
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. With your hands on a Swiss ball, assume a high plank with your feet on the floor, hands directly beneath your shoulders and body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  2. Bend your elbows, keeping them close to your sides, until your chest touches the ball.
  3. Press back up and repeat.

38. Swiss-Ball Russian Twist

38. Swiss-Ball Russian Twist
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie face-up on a Swiss ball with your upper back on the ball and feet on the floor, knees bent at 90 degrees. Your body should form a straight line from your head to knees.
  2. Hold a light weight plate or medicine ball with straight arms directly over your chest. (This is optional.)
  3. Brace your midsection and bring the weight to the left without bending your arms by twisting your core until your arms are parallel to the floor.
  4. Keep your hips up as you move but allow them to rotate.
  5. Twist back to start, then twist to the right.

39. Tight Core Rotation

39. Tight Core Rotation
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms bent as your sides, forearms parallel to the floor.
  2. Without relying completely on your shoulders, rotate at the torso to move your hands left and right.
  3. Move quickly as if you were sprinting.

40. Turkish Get-Up

40. Turkish Get-Up
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Advanced
Body Part Abs, Arms, Back, Butt, Legs and Shoulders
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm straight above you.
  3. Keeping your elbow locked and the weight above you at all times, move your legs and left arm underneath you to push yourself up.
  4. From here, stand up.
  5. Still keeping your right arm straight and the weight above you, reverse the motion to return to the starting position on the floor.

41. Two-Point Bridge

41. Two-Point Bridge
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Travis McCoy
Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part Abs
Impact Level Low-Impact
  1. Assume a high plank: legs straight, hands beneath your shoulders.
  2. Raise your right arm and left leg simultaneously until your right elbow is next to your ear. Your pelvis should not twist; the front of your pelvis should still face the floor.
  3. Hold your arm and leg in the air for a second, then return to start.
  4. Now lift your left arm and right leg.
  5. Hold for a second, return to start and repeat.
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