Many of us pick a couple of the same core exercises—crunches, anyone?—and end up doing them over and over again. But a dumbbell ab workout can shake things up because it’ll challenge you to incorporate some surprising core moves that you might not necessarily think of as abs exercises.
There are two main ways you work your abs: through movement and anti-movement, Sivan Fagan, C.P.T., owner of Strong with Sivan in Baltimore, tells SELF. Traditional abs work uses movement to challenge your core, often through flexion, like with crunches. But anti-movement can be a really effective way to work your core too.
With these kinds of abs exercises, you’re training your core to resist movement, which boosts core stability, she says. You do this through anti-flexion, where your spine resists folding forward under load (like with a deadlift), anti-extension, where you resist the extension of your lumbar spine to prevent your low back from hyperextending (like with a plank), anti-lateral flexion, where you resist bending from the side (like with a suitcase carry), and anti-rotation, where your core resists twisting (like with a single-leg deadlift).
While anti-movement abs exercises can look like traditional abs exercises—as the plank does—many of them play double duty as upper- and lower-body exercises too. And using dumbbells for added resistance can help kick them up a notch.
These exercises will challenge your entire core, which is important in helping you lift more weight in your workout as well as function better in everyday life, whether you’re twisting to the side to pick something up or lifting a heavy box over your head. Plus, a strong core can help prevent and reduce lower back pain.
Since these dumbbell moves are pretty varied, try picking three or four that you like to string together into a circuit for a simple dumbbell ab workout. Try doing 10–12 reps of each move and repeat the circuit three times. You can also choose one or two to swap for a similar exercise you’re already doing but no longer feel pumped about.
Demo-ing the moves below is Amanda Wheeler (GIFs 1, 4, and 7), a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength; Cookie Janee (GIFs 2 and 5), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Rachel Denis (GIFs 3 and 6), a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York state powerlifting records; Nathalie Huerta (GIFs 8 and 10), coach at The Queer Gym in Oakland, CA; Erica Jasmine Moon (GIFs 9 and 11), a personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist; and Shauna Harrison(GIF 12); a Bay Area–based trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate, and columnist for SELF.