Whether you’re aiming to strengthen your core, define your waistline, or rebuild abdominal muscles postpartum, The Bar Method is an excellent way to get the abs of your dreams. We’re sharing some of our most effective flat stomach exercises and ab workouts for women to help you tone and tighten your midsection. And the best part? Some of our best barre instructors are sharing their favorite tips to take your ab routine to the next level.
The Anatomy of Your Abs
When it comes to ab work, it’s important to understand the basic anatomy of your abdominals. The following muscle groups primarily contribute to having strong abs: the transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, and both the internal and external obliques.
- Transversus Abdominis: The transversus abdominis (TA) is the deepest muscle in the abdominal wall, wrapping around your internal organs and stabilizing your spine. While this large muscle is hidden behind the rectus abdominis, it plays a critical role in your abdominal strength and is contracted every time you move your arms and legs. Because it’s attached to the diaphragm, you actually have to breathe to engage it!
- Rectus Abdominis: Better known as the six-pack, the rectus abdominis lies front and center on your midsection. It’s actually comprised of eight muscle sections and is superficial enough to be seen with low levels of body fat. This muscle group helps with your posture and lumbar spine movement.
- Internal and External Obliques: Finally, your obliques are found on the sides of the abdomen with the external obliques on top of the internal obliques. These muscles help with bending, twists and trunk rotation, and they also play a role in the respiration process.
Barre Approved: Top Ab Exercises for Women
Let’s face it: Flattening and strengthening your abs is not an easy task. For starters, having visible ab muscles requires very low body fat levels. Furthermore, pregnancy and conditions like diastasis recti can make ab work more challenging. No matter where you are in your fitness journey, The Bar Method is the perfect way to start building your core strength thanks to targeted moves and personalized modifications.
As Carrie Konosky, an instructor from The Bar Method Wexford explains, “The Bar Method is so effective when it comes to targeting ab muscles because you have opportunities to engage this muscle group in nearly every exercise that we do. You’re asked to focus on your breathing throughout each class, which is a great reminder from start to finish to be mindful of your abdominals.”
Another reason barre is one of the best ab workouts for women? “We focus a lot on the core as a whole (abs, glutes, and posture), and most of our exercises will cue you to draw your abdominals in to activate your core, meaning more work for your abs,” Konosky adds. “This work can help to stabilize your body during some of our seat exercises, keeping you in better alignment during thigh movements and keeping the work in the primary muscle group.”
Konosky has seen firsthand how The Bar Method’s unique approach to ab work has positively impacted her students. “I really love the way our abdominal-focused exercises have been designed. So many clients will say that they finally feel like they’re getting an ab workout after years of searching for the exercises to strengthen this area. By utilizing props for specific exercises to help work with the proportions of your body, we can help you to stay out of your hip flexors and back — two areas that can easily take over during traditional abdominal exercises. With the use of the right props and proper form, you’re better able to isolate the various muscles in your abdominals and maximize your results.”
Best Warm-Up Ab Exercise
Our Top Pick: Planks
Before you get started with any ab routine, it’s important to perform warm-up movements to help prevent injury. Planks are a warm-up essential (and an ideal flat-abs workout) for Michelle Chuang, an instructor from The Bar Method Newport Beach. “I always try to integrate a plank into my warm-up set, simply because planks are one of the most efficient ways to warm up the entire body. They’re highly effective in engaging the core muscle, activating the shoulders, abs, glutes and lower back.”
That’s because planks directly engage the transversus abdominis muscle by drawing your belly button to your spine. And don’t feel limited to classic planks. Alternative exercises like spider planks, walking planks, side planks and hollow holds can all target the transversus abdominis from a variety of angles, making your core stronger overall.
Best Flat Stomach Exercises
Our Top Pick: Flat-Back
When it comes to good ab workouts for women, few exercises can compare to flat-back. This is one of the most challenging (and often mysterious) moves The Bar Method has to offer, which is why it’s also one of the most effective. Typically performed immediately before curl work in order to jumpstart your heart rate, flat-back involves sitting back against the wall beneath the barre facing away from the mirror below the barre while exhaling and lifting your feet to target your abdominals.
As Instructor Julie Bolanos explains in our article How Flat-Back Gives Us the Abs of Our Dreams, this movement “engages the entire midsection as well as the anterior upper extremity muscles, posterior muscles, hip flexors, quads, and intrinsic foot muscles. In doing so, it can create better alignment of the knees and shoulders. Plus, it can burn fat while increasing your endurance and stamina thanks to its cardio bursts, which mimic interval training.”
We actually include flat-back in the second half of many of our classes, which is when students are already working aerobically. This placement allows you to maximize its fat-burning effect. Plus, we provide modifications if you have trouble lifting your legs during the flat-back portion of class. Using one to three risers can raise you a few inches off the floor and make lifting your legs easier while still providing the full benefits flat-back has to offer.
Pro Tip: Worried about your stomach “pooching out” during flat-back? Don’t be — it’s totally normal! Pooching tends to happen when your transversus abdominis and internal obliques are on the weaker side, which means they aren’t as efficient (yet!) at pulling in when you contract them. In turn, this makes your six-pack abs pooch out. By sticking with flat-back and other ab exercises, you’ll strengthen your core muscles and create visibly flatter abs as you go.
Best Ab Exercises to Get a Six-Pack
Our Top Picks: Low Curl & High Curl With a Ball
The Bar Method is packed with exercises to get a flat stomach, but low curl is one of the most effective at targeting your entire abdominal wall. Lie back resting your weight on your elbows, hold onto the back of your thighs, and lift your legs into a tabletop position. Use your arms to anchor yourself as you curl your abs forward. You can simply hold the position while focusing on your breathing, or you can add pulses of isometric curls to really target your core. You can also kick things up a notch by letting go of your legs to increase the work in your abs.
Much like low curl, high curl works your entire abdomen for a stronger midsection. Sit down on your mat with knees bent in front of you and your feet hip-width apart. Lift your arms and roll your upper body forward to grab the back of your thighs. For an even bigger challenger, try placing a ball behind your back—that will put the emphasis on your rectus adominis.
Pro Tip: It can take months to let go of your legs in low curl — and that’s okay! It’s important to focus on improving your form and really targeting your ab muscles before challenging yourself further. Just keep going!
Best Ab Exercises for Your Obliques
Our Top Picks: Pretzel, Side Planks & Spider Planks
According to Instructor Michelle Chuang, “One of the most commonly requested exercises that I get is pretzel, because it’s so effective in working not just the gluteus medius muscle, but also contracting the oblique muscle and shaping a lean waistline.”
To get into position for pretzel, sit with one leg in front of you and the other behind you with both knees bent at 90-degree angles. Keeping your back knee aligned with your hip, rest one hand on your front ankle and lift your back foot off the ground. Lift your foot in small pulses and then alternate lifting your knee and your foot off the ground to really activate your obliques. You can also elongate your back leg to challenge your stability and target your abs even more.
The side plank is another great exercise for strengthening the obliques, which are frequently overlooked during traditional crunches. In this exercise, you balance yourself on one side with your weight resting on one arm and the side of one foot. Your obliques are forced to stabilize your hips in this position, and it’s particularly ideal for pregnant women since it places less stress on the front of your abdomen.
Spider planks can also help chisel your oblique muscles. Start in a plank position with your hands planted on the ground beneath your shoulders and your feet hip-width apart. Engage your core, and bring your right knee to your right elbow. Return to the plank position before repeating this movement on the left side, alternating back and forth as you complete your reps.
How Long Does It Take to Get Abs?
So that brings us to the ultimate question: How long does it take to get abs? Women often struggle with reconnecting with their abs after childbirth, and the presence of intramuscular abdominal fat coupled with the naturally thin build of the abdominal muscles can make the journey to flat abs seem even longer. In fact, many of our instructors report that it takes their students much longer to strengthen their abs than other muscle groups. That’s why the amount of time it takes to get flat abs ultimately depends on your personal journey.
That being said, it’s not uncommon to see results within a few months. Each Bar Method class engages your abs further with deep breathing and abdominal work, helping you connect to your core and strengthen this important muscle group. In the meantime, our classes gradually build dense muscle and burn fat to help reveal all your hard work. In other words, stick with the program! When it comes to flat abs, persistence is key.
RELATED: Finding and Flattening Your Abs
At The Bar Method, our program offers a wide variety of ab workouts for women to help you chisel your midsection and strengthen your core. Find a Bar Method studio near you to get started, or sign up for online classes here.