Best Upper Ab Workouts for the Home or Gym

woman doing an ab workout in the gym

Upper ab workouts can be used to strengthen the muscles above your belly button and below your chest. Upper ab muscles improve our posture, protect our spine and organs, and simply move us around. Whether you’re looking to hit the gym, or get in a quiet workout at home, upper ab workouts can be done anywhere.

Sometimes it can be hard for us to get to the gym. Our days are busy! Other times working out at home can be lonely and boring. Regardless of whether you have equipment or not, you can incorporate a number of upper ab workouts to improve your everyday life!

Muscles of the Upper Abs

There are four major muscles that make up the upper abdominals: transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, external oblique muscles, and internal oblique muscles. The transversus abdominis is a deep abdominal muscle attached to the hip and rib bones. The rectus abdominis runs down the middle of your stomach, spanning from your ribs to your pelvis. The external oblique muscles are the outermost muscle. It spans across both sides from ribs to hips. Lastly, the internal oblique is the deeper version of the outer obliques. These muscles, combined with others in the trunk, create the core. Doing exercises that use these muscles will improve back pain, sport performance, and strength.

Benefits of a Strong Core

Our core muscles are all of the muscles in our trunk. Strengthening the upper abs means strengthening the core. Many ab workouts target the core as a whole, so you’re working more than a few muscles when doing upper ab exercises. Having a strong core supports good form, improves balance and stability, reduces and prevents pain, boost power, improves strength training, and helps with problems from aging.

woman laying on a yoga mat doing an ab workout

Upper Ab Workouts at Home

The great thing about exercising our core is that it can be done with or without equipment or the help of a partner. Working out at home is private and it saves money, plus its flexible and saves you time. Try these exercises the next time you want a great core workout. All you need is a floor!

V-Body Hold

The V-body hold works all four of the major muscles in the upper abs. To do a V-body hold, lay on your back on the ground with your knees bent. Raise your knees to your chest and reach for your toes on either side of your knees and shin. Keep your back flat on the ground and your arms and fingers pointed. While holding your trunk still, stretch your legs out and point your toes. Reach above your head, leaving your feet in the air. Return legs to your chest and reach for your toes, then relax down to starting position.

Tips: You can hold each position for 10 seconds and repeat 3 – 5 times or repeat this cycle 8 – 10 times. Try not to stretch and strain your neck. Keep your shoulders down, not up by your ears.

Tuck and Crunch

Sit on the floor with your knees bent in front of you. Raise your feet off the ground, so the only thing touching the floor is your butt. Balance as you raise your knees up to your chest. Keep your arms bent at your side at a 90-degree angle. Lean forward until your hands reach your knees. Return to starting position.

Tips: Complete 10 reps for 3 sets. If the floor is painful, try sitting on a pillow, towel, or mat.


Planking is a great way to work the abs and obliques. Lay on your stomach on the ground. Tuck your toes underneath you. Rest your forearms on the ground and press yourself up to hover off the floor. Only your toes and forearms should be touching the ground. Keep your core tight and make sure you’re breathing. Squeeze your glutes and keep your body as straight as possible. Slowly lower your hips to the ground to starting position.

Tips: Keep your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the plank for 30 seconds – 1 minute. Breathe in your nose and out your mouth.

man and woman doing a plank exercise in the gym

Mountain Climber Twists

Twisted mountain climbers are an effective way to work the internal and external obliques. Get onto the floor on your hands and knees. Press up into a push up position. Keeping your arms and trunk steady, raise your left knee towards your right elbow, then return your foot to the ground. Repeat raising your right knee to your left elbow then returning to the ground.

Tips: Keep the movements controlled and steady. Tuck your stomach in and keep your shoulders above your hands. Repeat for 20 reps on each side for 3 sets.

Flutter Kicks

Flutter kicks are sure to make you feel the burn. You’ll feel this in just about every ab muscle, both upper and lower abs. Lay flat on your back and rest your hands at your side or tuck them under your bottom. Raise your feet about 6 – 12 inches off the ground. Pick your head and shoulders up and look at your toes. Gently kick your feet up and down, just a few inches, for 30 seconds – 1 minute. Return to your laying position.

Tips: Don’t strain your neck or use it to pull yourself up. Keep your toes pointed.

Bicycle Crunch

Bicycle crunches are a fun core exercise to target your upper abs. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent. Raise them to your chest in front of you and interlace your fingers on the back of your head. Keep your elbows wide, not tucked into your chest. Stretch one leg completely out while balancing on your butt, then bring it back at the same time you stretch the other leg out. You’ll alternate the legs back and forth (like a bicycle) for 30 seconds – 1 minute.

Tips: Don’t strain your neck leaning forward. Make sure you’re breathing and you’re not pulling your neck.

woman laying on a yoga may doing bicycle crunches

Alternating Leg Lowers

Alternating leg lowers are a simple, low-movement way to work the abs. Lay flat on your back with your legs stretched out. Rest your hands, palm down, at your sides. Raise both legs into the air, keeping your head, trunk, and hands on the ground. Raise your legs directly above your hips, at a 90-degree angle. Lower one leg down close to the floor without touching it. Slowly raise your leg back to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

Tips: Breathe in your nose and out your mouth. Keep the leg movements slow and controlled. Complete 10 reps on each side for 3 sets.

Ab Walkout

An ab walkout can be done to work all the muscles in the body, but especially in the core. When performing an ab walkout, lean over and touch the ground with both hands flat in front of you. It’s okay if you have to bend your knees. Walk your hands out until you’re in a push up position. Continue walking your hands out until they are a little past your head. Your body should be stretched out with just your hands and feet on the ground. Slowly walk your feet to your hands or use your hands to move back towards your feet.

Tips: Be sure to keep stress off your elbows when walking them out in front of you. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep your stomach and back from sagging by pulling your core muscles in tight.

Upper Ab Workouts at the Gym

You can burn belly fat by improving core strength through ab exercises at home or the gym. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to scoop out an hour of our day to hit the gym. Not only are there some great machines for upper abs, but there are also a number of tools you can use to get that great workout.

Dumbbell Crunch

When doing a dumbbell crunch, lay on your back with your feet bent. Hold a dumbbell across your chest with both hands on the end. Raise the dumbbell straight into the air and above your chest. Raise your upper body, leaving your middle and lower back on the ground. Keep the dumbbell steady and in the air. Lower back down onto your back.

Tips: You can do 8 – 10 crunches for 3 sets if starting out. Don’t focus on reaching with the dumbbell, focus on using your upper abs to move with the dumbbell. Be cautious not to drop the dumbbell. Don’t use the weight to jerk yourself forward. Raise your body with your abs.

man doing cable crunches in the gym

Cable Crunches

To perform a cable crunch, find the cable machine in your gym. It should be a large pulley system with a bar or rope that you can pull down. Lean down on your knees and shins, tucking your feet underneath you. Reach above you and grab the rope. (There should be a rope attachment for the cable). Hold each end of the rope on either side of your head. Roll forward and tuck your head towards your knees, pulling the rope down with you. Slowly raise back up to the beginning.

Tips: Careful not to pinch your fingers, hurt your ears, or pull your hairs. Jewelry shouldn’t be worn for this exercise. You can perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

Weighted Russian Twists

Russian twists are a great way to work the obliques. Sit on the ground with your feet in front of you. Hold a dumbbell or weighted ball with both hands in front of your chest. Raise your feet off the ground so you’re only balancing on your butt. Keeping your knees in front of you, twist to the right, moving the ball over to the side and tapping the ground. Twist over to the left and tap the ball on the ground beside you. Raise back to the middle.

Tips: You can do this on each side for 20 reps for 3 sets, or twist continuously for 1 minute.

man doing weighted russian twists with a medicine ball

Ab Rollout

Ab rollouts can be done with an ab wheel or with a barbell. Get onto the floor, on a towel or mat, and rest your body weight on your knees. Lean forward and grab the wheel or bar in front of you. Raise your feet up and cross them at the ankles. Keeping the back flat and your core tight, slowly roll forward, keeping yourself off the ground. Once you’ve stretched as far as you are comfortable, roll backwards.

Tips: Don’t let your stomach or back sag during this exercise. Move slowly and try to prevent the wheel or barbell from rolling away from you. Breathe out as you’re leaning forward, breathe in as you’re coming back.

Dead Bug Weighted Pullovers

This exercise can be challenging but rewarding. Start by laying on the ground with your knees bent while holding a weight ball or dumbbell. Raise your knees to line up with your hips, making your shins parallel to the floor. Using your core muscles, raise the dumbbell or ball above your head, staying in line with your shoulders. Stretch out your right leg while raising the weight above your head and lowering it towards the ground. Pull your knee back to your chest and raise the weight back above your shoulders. Lower the weight back down above your head, almost to the ground, while stretching out the alternate leg. Return to resting position.

Tips: Keep movements slow and controlled. Keep your legs straight and your core tight. Completed 8 – 10 reps for 2 – 3 sets.

Weighted Pullovers

For this upper ab exercise, you’ll want an incline bench and a dumbbell. Lay flat on the incline bench with your feet on the ground, like you’re doing a bench press. Hold the dumbbell with both hands and raise it above your head. Lower it behind you, making an arch with your arms. Focus on using your core to pull the weight back up. Return the weight to starting position.

Tips: Try to keep your feet on the ground. Arch your back to get a better workout for the abs. Complete 10 reps for 3 sets. Keep your shoulders and shoulder blades tight and supported.

Stability Ball Crunches

Stability ball crunches are great for working your core because it has to work to keep you balanced, as well as perform the crunch. Stability ball crunches are similar to normal crunches, except they take place on a stability ball. Sit on a stability ball with your hands interlaced behind your head and both feet on the ground. Slowly roll the ball forward, allowing yourself to lean back and balance your butt and mid-lower back on the ball. Keeping your butt on the ball, lean forward up into a crunch, squeezing your abdominals. Lean back to relaxing position.

Tips: Make sure your shoes have a strong grip and you’re on a reliable surface, so the ball does not slide out from under you. Complete 10 – 15 reps for 3 sets. Breathe out as you’re crunching forward and in as you’re leaning back.

man using a stability ball to do crunches

Hanging Leg Lifts

Hanging leg lifts are beneficial in the gym because there are a number of structures you can hang from to perform this exercise. Hold onto a bar with both hands and hang freely. You can use an overhand or underhand grip. Hold your trunk and core steady as you raise your legs. You’ll want to raise your feet even with your hip, then lower them down back to a hanging position.

Tips: Keep your movements slow. Ensure your hands aren’t sweaty before doing this exercise. Pause and hold the legs for 5 – 10 seconds to make this exercise more difficult.


Working on the upper abs comes with a few rules to keep you safe and to get the best workout.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Never hold your breath while exercising. Proper breathing can help you engage more muscles, lift heavier and longer, and keeps your body calm. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth allows your body to use these benefits for a better workout. When working your core, focus on pulling your belly button in towards your spine.

Say No to Hip Flexors

Keep your hips flat on the ground and avoid using your hip flexors. Our hip flexors are the muscles in the top of the thigh that help us walk, sit up, stand, keep our balance, and more. When lifting ourselves up, or bringing our knees to chest, our hip flexors activate. These muscles are helpful, but when they’re engaged it can take away from the upper ab workout.


Rest is just as important as exercising. Rest days are when strength and muscles gains actually happen. When we exercise, we create very small tears in our muscles. When they health themselves, they are stronger than before. Rest days are vital for muscles to relax and heal themselves, so you can remain injury free and be ready for another workout. You should rest for at least 48 hours between ab and core exercises.


No matter where you are, upper ab workouts can be completed anywhere; in a busy gym or in the comfort of your home. Working your ab muscles in each of these exercises can make your workout routine more effective. Next time you’re stressed out, having back pain, or want to improve balance and posture, try out some of the best upper ab workouts listed above!

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