Fit Kit

The Only 4 Ab Exercises You Need to Be Literally Hardcore

ab exercises
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

If 30-plus years of exposure to mainstream media have taught me anything, it's that washboard abs are pretty much a requirement of success. And when I say "requirement of success," I really mean "a reminder that your body is somehow inadequate."

But that's not really true.

Life won't really be better if you can flaunt a six-pack under a crop top, or if you can literally wash your shirts on your washboard abs. I promise. The state of your abs says nothing about your worth as a human being. That said, feeling good in your clothes (and out of them) can certainly give you the confidence you need to rock your next job interview (or date). So go ahead and work those abs if you're so inclined -- here are the only four ab exercises you need.

walking lunges
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Walking lunge with dumbbells overhead

While walking lunges don't appear to work your abs, a 2013 review study suggests that multi-joint free-weight exercises are more effective at activating the deep stabilizing muscles of the core than ab-specific exercises. While these deep muscles may not be the "show me" muscles of the six-pack, they're critical to injury prevention and performance, and they're a great way to warm up your muscles at the beginning of a workout.

The walking lunge with dumbbells overhead is particularly effective at hitting the deep core muscles because it requires good posture and spine stabilization to maintain your balance while you walk forward.

Start with your feet about hip-distance apart, your knees slightly bent. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, press your arms straight up over your shoulders, as if performing a shoulder press. You'll keep your arms extended in this position throughout the exercise. Tighten your core and take a large step forward with your right foot, planting your heel on the ground. Bend both knees, and keeping your torso tall and stable, lower your back knee toward the ground. Just before it touches down, press through your front heel and the ball of your back foot, and return to standing as you simultaneously take a wide step forward with your left foot to continue the walking motion.

Take 16 to 20 total steps (eight to 10 per leg), rest for 60 seconds, then perform another set. Complete three total sets.

weighted russian twist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Weighted Russian twist

To really fire up your obliques while still keeping your core stabilized, look no further than the weighted Russian twist.

Sit on the floor with your knees bent, your heels on the ground. Hold a dumbbell between your hands at your waist. With your torso straight, lean back until you feel your abs engage -- your body should form a "V" shape with your thighs. Maintaining this "V" position, steadily twist your torso as far as you can to the right, tapping the dumbbell to the ground just outside your right hip. Reverse the movement and twist back to center before continuing to the left side, again tapping the dumbbell to the ground. Continue twisting back and forth, controlling the movement throughout.

Perform 20 to 30 total twists (10 to 15 taps per side) before resting for 60 seconds. Perform three total sets.

dumbbell woodchop
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Dumbbell wood chop

The dumbbell wood chop is another excellent free-weight exercise that targets the entire core, requiring engagement of the deep stabilizing muscles of the abs and back while simultaneously hitting the obliques and rectus abdominis.

Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, holding a single dumbbell between your hands at your hips. Tighten your core, press your hips back, and squat down slightly as you rotate your torso to the right until the dumbbell is positioned just to the outside of your right thigh. Your arms should be straight -- they'll remain straight throughout the exercise.

In a controlled motion, sweep your arms diagonally up and across your body as you rotate your torso to the left and stand tall. At the top of the movement your arms should be extended above and to the left of your left shoulder. Reverse the movement and sweep your arms diagonally down and across your body as you rotate your core to the right, the dumbbell returning to its position just to the right of your right thigh.

Perform 12 to 15 repetitions per side. Rest for 60 seconds, then perform another set. Complete two to three total sets per side.

paper plate plank
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Paper-plate plank

It's hard to argue with the effectiveness of the plank. This static exercise doesn't just fire up the deep stabilizing muscles of your core, it also works the entire front half of your body, including your shoulders, chest, and quads. But since the dumbbell wood chop and walking lunge with dumbbells overhead already helped target the deep muscles of your transverse abdominis and erector spinae, it's time to start firing up your six-pack muscles.

The paper-plate plank effectively takes the benefits of the basic plank, then amps it up by incorporating a reverse crunch to target your rectus abdominis. Start in a high-plank position with your palms positioned under your shoulders and your legs fully extended with a paper plate positioned under your toes. Tighten your core and make sure your hips are aligned between your shoulders and knees so your body forms a straight line. Hold this position for a count of five, then use your abs to pull your knees in toward your chest as you slide the paper plate across the floor under your toes. When your knees are fully bent, reverse the movement and extend your legs to return to the high plank. Hold the plank position for another count of five before continuing.

Perform 12 to 15 repetitions, rest for 60 seconds, and repeat. Perform two to three sets.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who loves herself with or without a six-pack (but she won't lie -- having a six-pack is fun). Connect on Twitter @girlsgonesporty.