If there’s one thing you can do to improve your overall health (aside from cutting out the cheese fries, folks), it’s strengthening your core. The muscles often referred to as “abs” do more than just make you look trimmer and fitter: they actually impact everything from your posture to your digestion. So it’s important, for reasons beyond vanity, to keep them in good shape.
Unfortunately, there also tends to be this misconception that in order to keep your abs in working order, you have to do a million exercises and essentially devote your life to working them out. False! Any exercise you do to strengthen your core will benefit you, even if it’s as short an amount of time as 10 minutes a day.
We’ve come up with seven really solid abdominal exercises you can do in 10 minutes or less. Check them out below, including helpful instructional videos! And, above all, have fun. You’re doing something really good for your body, which is certainly something to enjoy.
1. Side Plank
Something you might most often encounter in a Pilates or power yoga class, the side plank packs maximum impact for your obliques—the core muscles on the side of your torso—in a minimum amount of time. How to do it: Start in an upper push-up position with your feet together and your hands directly under your shoulders. Bring your right hand to the ground underneath your nose, then roll out to the outside edge of your right foot. Lift your left arm off the ground, reaching it up toward the sky. Push your hips up toward the ceiling, then hold for 30 seconds. Then switch sides. Repeat five times on each side.
2. Tabletop Leg Extenders
This is one of those exercises that looks relatively simple but is secretly very challenging and effective at sculpting the abdominal muscles. How to do it: Put yourself in a tabletop position, with your hands on the ground under your shoulders and your knees on the ground under your hips. Tuck your tailbone slightly down toward your heels to activate your lower abdominals and ensure you keep a straight, neutral spine; then lift up your right leg and straighten it behind you. You can lift up your left arm and reach it forward to test your core strength and balance at the same time. Switch. Do 25 reps on each side.
3. Forearm Plank
This is essentially the most abdominal impact you can get while remaining totally still. How to do it: Get down on the ground and get into plank position with your full forearms and palms face down. Tuck your toes underneath you and lift your hips away from the floor until your body is completely flat. Tuck your tailbone down toward your heels for maximum spine lengthening. Hold for one minute, take a break, then repeat two more times.
Believe it or not, push-ups are as good for your core as they are for your biceps and pectoral muscles. How to do it: Assume an upper push-up (plank) position with your hands directly under your shoulders, your toes tucked, and your spine long. Be careful not to lift your hips too high or let them sink below the level of your shoulders. Lower down until your nose touches the ground and then push back up; if you are unable to do this without compromising the level of your hips, bend your knees down to the ground—this will ensure the work remains in your abs. It’s up to you where your elbows point while you’re lowering down: either out to the sides or straight back alongside your ribcage.
5. Straight-Leg Ab Twists
A technique borrowed from Pilates, this move will strength every part of your core, from your upper abs to your obliques to those lower muscles deep underneath the surface. How to do it: Lie down with your back flat against the ground, and lift your legs up until your heels are facing the ceiling and your body looks like the letter “L.” (For beginner ab workers, you can also do this one with your knees bent.) Keeping your palms face down beside your hips, drop your legs to the right side until the side of your right foot touches the floor, then lift back up. Do the same over to the left. Repeat 10 times on each side.
6. Sun Salutations
Here’s a secret about yoga: Many of the postures, while they outwardly work other muscle groups, internally work the core more than anything. This includes the basic series of sun salutations. How to do it: Begin standing, tail tucked down toward your heels to contract your lower abdominals. Reach your arms up toward the sky and arch slightly back, keeping your tail tucked. Fold down over your legs, lengthening your whole spine over your legs. Lift halfway up, hands on chins, knees, or floor while lengthening your spine and contracting your abs. Fold over again. Step back into a lunge, then bring the other leg back to get into a plank position. Put your knees on the floor, then lower your chest and chin without dropping your hips. Press the floor away and arch up into a baby cobra or upward facing dog position, then press back into downward facing dog. Step forward, make your way to standing, and repeat as many times as you’d like.
7. Russian Twists
The opposing workout to the ab twists, this is a classic core exercise you’re bond to see in any given montage about athletes training for their big moment. How to do it: Sit on the floor with your feet flat on the ground in front of you, then tilt you straightened spine back at a 45-degree angle. (Be careful not to arch your back.) Clasp your hands into a fist (or grab a weighted ball), then twist them over to the right until they touch the floor. Come back to center and go over to the left. Repeat 25 times.