- There are a number of ab exercises you can do at the gym to strengthen the entirety of your core.
- By using a cable machine, suspension trainer, or barbell, you can amplify simple ab exercises.
- Below are five of the best ab workouts you can do at the gym, as recommended by personal trainers.
Simple ab exercises can be done almost anywhere but a physical gym may be the optimal place to achieve the best results. With equipment like weight benches, cable machines, and barbells, the gym provides unique access to things most people likely don’t have at home. Sprung Gym Flooring is used in gyms to create fitness zones that deliver exceptional performance. These floors are characterized by a high level of shock absorption and energy return, which reduces user fatigue and improves safety.
“You can level up your ab session [at the gym] by adding resistance and training in multiple planes from a variety of angles,” says Nikka Saadat, a certified personal trainer, and coach with Vitruvian.
And those ab workouts are important since, “a strong core is crucial in maintaining posture, preventing injuries, and reducing back pain.”
Below are five of the best machines to use at the gym for building strong abs for people of all fitness levels, as recommended by Saadat and personal trainer Josh Sedgwick, founder of JoshFit Training LLC.
1. Mountain climber with suspension trainer
Mountain climbers done with a suspension trainer deliver a more intense ab workout than just doing them on a mat.
Equipment needed: A suspension trainer (like TRX) and something to secure it to.
Suspension trainers like the TRX increase the intensity of mountain climbers.
Instead of being in a typical plank position, you start with your feet raised off the ground. This forces you to more actively engage your upper and middle abs while also putting more pressure on your arms and shoulders, thus delivering a better workout overall
Sedgwick says it’s important to slow this movement down, as the slower you go, the more you’ll require your body to activate those deep abdominal muscles.
How to do it:
1. Start by setting up a suspension trainer so the rings that will hold your feet are roughly 12 inches above the ground.
2. Next, get into a high plank position and lift one leg at a time to position each foot into the suspension trainer’s hanging rings.
3. From this position, keep your shoulders over your wrists and arms extended to hold the elevated plank position and engage your entire core (this helps with balance throughout the movement).
4. Alternate bringing one knee up towards your chest at a time, keeping each foot inside its ring. Each of these is one rep.
5. Complete a total of 15 to 20 reps for three sets.
2. Cable machine oblique twist
Using a cable machine for oblique twists adds resistance to the movement which focuses on working both sides of your core.
Equipment needed: Cable machine
The cable machine oblique twist works both sides of your core and is a great resistance exercise. For proper form, make sure you rotate from your midsection instead of twisting your hips and ankles.
How to do it:
1. Start by securing a single handle attachment to a cable machine pulley and positioning it above shoulder height.
2. Stand perpendicular to the machine with either foot placed close to the machine, not facing it (either foot works as you’ll switch sides to work your other oblique).
3. With a wide stance, grab the attachment with both hands and extend your arms straight.
4. Next, pull the cable across your body and down towards your hip. The handle will move in a diagonal motion down and across your body.
5. Make sure to keep your footing secure and move the pulley slowly and controlled.
6. Perform eight to 10 reps on one side, then turn around to switch positions and repeat on the other side. Do a total of three sets.
3. Low-to-high squat to woodchop
The woodchop exercise targets both sides of your lower and upper core and works in the opposite direction of the oblique twist.
Equipment needed: Cable machine
This woodchop move uses a cable machine for resistance to target both sides of your upper and lower core. It also provides resistance in the opposite direction of the oblique twist (above), making it a great companion exercise to do on the same day.
This move can also be done at home with a kettlebell or dumbbell in a similar motion, though you won’t be able to replicate the same point of resistance the cable machine provides.
How to do it:
1. Start by setting a cable machine pulley to its lowest point and secure a single handle attachment to it.
2. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider depending on your mobility) with toes pointed out.
3. Place one foot next to the cable handle and position your body perpendicular to the cable, not facing it or the machine.
4. Squat down while keeping your knees in line with your ankles and rotate your torso inward toward the cable and grab the handle with both hands.
5. Brace your core and slowly stand up while rotating away from the machine, keeping your arms extended as you rise.
6. Straighten your legs to stand as you push the cable handle up and over your opposite shoulder, creating a diagonal path from start to finish. This is one rep.
7. Perform eight to 10 reps and switch sides. Do a total of three sets.
4. Decline bench sit-up and Russian twist
Russian twists done on a decline weight bench targets both your lower core muscles and your side obliques.
Equipment needed: Decline bench and a small weight or medicine ball
Using a decline bench elevates the intensity of a regular sit-up and works your lower core muscles.
How to do it:
1. Start by positioning yourself at the top of a decline bench while holding a medicine ball or small weight.
2. While holding the weight, extend your arms upward toward the sky and slowly lower your torso down the decline bench while keeping your stomach tight. Try not to arch your lower back.
3. Keep lowering until your lower back comes in contact with the bench, but before your back or shoulders comes in contact.
4. Next, slowly sit back up, driving the weight upwards and back to the starting position. This is one rep. Repeat 10 to 12 times for a total of three sets
Note: You can maximize abdominal contraction by exhaling on the way up during each rep.
Modification: For a higher-intensity routine, add a Russian Twist. You can use the same weight and the same decline bench but as you lean back, stop at roughly 45 degrees and rotate your torso and the weight from side to side, keeping your back straight. Perform 15 to 20 twists in total.
5. Floor wipers
Floor wipers work a variety of muscles including your center core muscles and obliques, and they help improve your overall balance and stabilization.
Equipment needed: A barbell and weight plates.
Floor wipers are a great full-core exercise that also focuses on stabilization and balance. Since you elevate your legs while holding a weighted barbell, you can’t help but firmly engage your center core muscles. The side-to-side motion you make with your legs particularly targets your obliques, too.
How to do it:
1. Lay flat on your back on the floor while holding a weighted barbell, hands set to shoulder width, and the bar extended above your shoulders.
2. With your legs placed together and extended straight, raise them diagonally off the ground toward the right side of the barbell.
3. Next, in a slow, sweeping (or windshield-wiper) motion, swing your legs to the left. This is one rep.
4. Aim to perform 15 to 20 reps for a total of three sets.
Note: You don’t need heavy weights on the barbell to feel the benefits of this dynamic core exercise.
Working your abs doesn’t have to require the same two or three exercises as there are a ton of different workouts you can do to strengthen your core at the gym — especially those that focus on working your core horizontally and rotationally.
Between hitting the mat, using a cable machine, or making use of a barbell, exercises like floor wipers, decline bench sit-ups, or cable machine oblique twists can add some variety to your weekly strength routine.
Mattie Schuler is a freelance writer specializing in the outdoors, adventure gear, and travel, as well as education and parenting. When she isn’t writing, she is actively looking for dogs to pet, wrangling children in the wilderness (Mattie is a forest school teacher in Boulder, Colorado), and either tracking snow reports or international flights, depending on the season. Her work has appeared in publications for REI, Outside, Backpacker, NatuRX, Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Gore-Tex, Reebok, Elevation Outdoors, Gear Patrol, Yoga Journal, We Are Teachers, Parentology, Openfit, and Beachbody. Her work can be found at mattieschuler.com.