7 Best Ab Exercises That Can Help With Fat Loss By Summer, According To Trainers: Planks & More

woman doing ab exercises outdoors
woman doing ab exercises outdoors

With summer just around the corner, many are turning their attention to toning up their bodies for the warmer months ahead. When it comes to achieving a sculpted midsection, abdominal exercises play a crucial role. Not only do they strengthen and define the core muscles, but certain ab exercises can also contribute to fat loss, helping you achieve that coveted beach-ready physique.

We checked in with Andrew White, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the co-founder of garagegympro.com, and Vivian Yu, co-founder of One Body Personal Training & Gym Near Me, a personal trainer and physical therapist, to tell us about seven of the best ab exercises to start doing now if you want a toned midsection by summer. They revealed that some of the best workouts are planks, bicycle crunches, Russian twists, and many more. Read on to discover all seven and why they can aid in a toned stomach and fat loss.

1. Planks

The plank exercise stands out as a simple yet highly effective workout that can significantly contribute to achieving a flatter stomach.

To elaborate further, White says, "Planks are a personal favorite of mine because they engage the entire core, targeting muscles like the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. Regularly incorporating planks into your routine will undoubtedly help you build core strength and stability, which are essential for achieving a flatter and more toned stomach. I've also seen improvements in posture and reduced lower back pain in many of my clients who regularly perform planks."

In order to properly perform this exercise, White says to follow these instructions: Start by assuming a forearm plank position with your elbows aligned under your shoulders, forearms resting on the ground, and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and hold this position. Make sure to keep your neck and spine in a neutral alignment. Begin with a 30-second hold and gradually work your way up to 1 minute or more as your core strength improves.

2. Bicycle Crunches

Bicycle crunches are a simple yet impactful workout that engages the entire core, including the rectus abdominis and obliques, promoting muscle toning and definition.

"Bicycle crunches have consistently delivered results for my clients, targeting not only the rectus abdominis but also the oblique muscles. This exercise effectively tones the abdominal muscles, contributing to a flatter stomach. Moreover, it enhances coordination and stability, which are invaluable aspects of overall fitness," White notes.

White says to follow these steps in order to correctly perform bicycle crunches: Lie on your back with your hands positioned behind your head, elbows out wide. Lift your shoulders off the floor and bring your knees to a 90-degree angle. Extend one leg while simultaneously twisting your torso, bringing the opposite elbow toward the bent knee. Alternate sides in a 'pedaling' motion. Aim to perform this exercise for 1-2 minutes, focusing on controlled movements and steady breathing.

3. Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are a dynamic full-body exercise that can be especially effective for toning the belly. In this exercise, you start in a push-up position and then alternately bring your knees toward your chest in a running-like motion.

"This dynamic move increases the heart rate, promoting fat burn. Simultaneously, the core is actively engaged as you pull the knees in, ensuring you're sculpting your abs," White shares.

How to perform mountain climbers: Start in a push-up position. Bring one knee toward your chest and then quickly switch to the other knee, similar to climbing.

4. Leg Raises

Leg raises are an excellent abdominal exercise that can effectively tone the belly and enhance core strength. Leg raises also engage the hip flexors and the transverse abdominis, contributing to improved core stability and posture.

"A stellar move for the lower abs, which are often tougher to target. The controlled motion required to lift and lower the legs without touching the ground intensely engages the lower abdominal muscles, leading to a tighter, more toned appearance," says White.

How to perform leg raises: Lie flat on your back, hands by your sides or under your hips for support. Keeping legs straight, lift them to the ceiling then lower back without letting them touch the ground.

5. Russian Twists

Russian twists are a highly effective abdominal exercise for toning the belly and strengthening the oblique muscles. Russian twists help target love handles and trim the waistline, leading to a more defined midsection.

"The rotational movement zeroes in on the obliques, helping carve out those side abdominal muscles. When done with a weight, it also introduces resistance, further enhancing muscle engagement," White says.

How to perform Russian twists: Sit on the floor, lean back slightly, and hold a weight or ball in front of you. Twist your torso to one side, bringing the weight beside you, then switch to the other side.

6. Pilates Bridge with Leg Extension

Pilates bridge with leg extension is an exercise that targets and tones both the abdominal muscles and glutes effectively. This exercise not only strengthens and tones the core and glutes but also enhances overall stability and flexibility. Its integration of two essential muscle groups makes it an efficient and powerful addition to a Pilates routine, contributing to a more sculpted and strengthened midsection and posterior chain.

"This exercise effectively targets both the glutes and the abs. You engage the glutes by maintaining a bridge position, while the leg extension activates the abdominal muscles, particularly the lower abs. The sustained bridge pose ensures continuous engagement of the glute muscles, promoting muscle endurance and strength. The leg extension adds an element of instability, forcing the abs to work harder to maintain balance, thus enhancing core strength and definition," Yu says.

To perform this workout correctly, Yu says to follow these steps: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips to form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Extend one leg at a time while keeping your hips stable and elevated. Engaging your core and glutes throughout the movement is crucial to prevent strain on your lower back.

7. Plank Leg Lifts

Plank leg lifts offer a dynamic and effective means of simultaneously toning the abdominal muscles and glutes. This workout not only strengthens the core muscles responsible for maintaining posture but also firms and tones the glutes.

Yu elaborates further on the benefits of this 2-in-1 exercise when it comes to your abs and glutes. "Starting in a plank position, this exercise requires lifting one leg at a time. This engages the glutes and demands stability from the abdominal muscles, making it a fantastic 2-in-1 exercise. This exercise is a powerhouse for core stability. The plank position itself is excellent for the abs, and adding leg lifts increases the challenge, requiring more strength from both the glutes and the core muscles. This combination is excellent for building a strong, toned physique."

Yu breaks down how to perform this workout properly: Start in a forearm plank position, ensuring your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. Engage your core and lift one leg up, keeping it straight, then lower it back down. Alternate legs. Keeping your hips steady and avoiding sagging or picking up is important.

Incorporating these exercises into a workout routine contributes to improved core strength, enhanced balance, fat loss, and a sculpted appearance. Yu concludes with a final tip by saying that it's crucial to "emphasize the importance of correct form to maximize benefits and prevent injury."