The quest for washboard abs is no simple task. Fortunately, weighted ab exercises can take your training to the next level and help you build a strong core.
Here’s everything you need to know about targeting your abdominal muscles, and the best weighted ab workouts to make it happen.
Understanding Your Abs
When most people envision their abs, they think of that desirable six-pack sported by bodybuilders and Crossfitters.
However, your abdominal muscles consist of more than just your six-pack. This muscle group includes:
- Rectus abdominis -- these are the two bands of muscle in the center of your abdomen that make up your washboard abs.
- External obliques -- these are located on the sides of your abdomen, running inward on a diagonal.
- Internal obliques -- these are located underneath the external obliques and running in the opposite direction.
- Transverse abdominis -- the deepest abdominal muscle, this provides structure and support to your core while protecting your spine.
Together with the erector spinae in your back, these abdominal muscles make up one of the most important muscle groups in your body: your core.
It’s important for bodybuilders to know that for your abs to be visible, you need to work on reducing your body fat percentage through proper nutrition. However, targeting individual abdominal muscles with weighted ab workouts can improve their definition and appearance.
7 of the Best Weighted Ab Exercises to Build a Killer Core
1. Triple Extension Med Ball Slams
Med ball slams are a fantastic compound conditioning exercise for finishing your workout and burning off your remaining energy. When incorporating a triple extension movement, it also becomes a great alternative to crunches and targets the abdominals.
The key to targeting your abs with this movement is to engage the core and use a crunching motion as you slam the ball.
- Holding a non-bounce med ball (AKA a slam ball), stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and core engaged.
- Extend upward, reaching your arms and the ball overhead, feeling the stretch in your core. You may come up on your toes during this movement.
- Slam the ball down as hard as you can, following through with the movement. Your knees should bend into a quarter squat position. Let your core crunch to lead the movement— the arms are just a vessel to hold the ball.
- Keeping your core engaged, pick the ball up, and repeat the movement. Try to make it a fluid cycle of slamming, following through, and picking up the ball.
Start doing this movement in slow and controlled segments until you perfect your form. As you get more comfortable, pick up the pace for a calorie-torching, endurance-building weighted core workout.
2. Kettlebell Windmills
Kettlebell windmills are one of those special ab exercises that looks easy but starts burning quickly. It’s a powerful warm-up exercise, as it stretches the hips and glutes while working the obliques. Start with a light kettlebell until you get the form right.
- Stand with your feet slightly within shoulder-width, with your right foot planted directly beneath your hip. Your left foot should turn outward slightly, at approximately 45-degrees.
- Hold onto the kettlebell with your right hand, and extend it overhead with the bell resting on the back of your wrist. Your left hand should be resting on your left thigh, palm facing upward.
- Rotate slightly to look toward the kettlebell, and lower your body to the left with a slow and controlled movement. Your legs should remain in the starting position, with your left hand staying in contact with your left leg as you descend.
- Go as low as possible while maintaining form— your mobility will impact your range of motion. At the bottom of the movement, your weight should be shifted into your right hip.
- Contract your hips and squeeze your obliques to pull yourself back into the starting position. Keep your left hand in contact with your left leg and your right arm straight and stacked under the kettlebell.
- Once you reach the starting position, pause before starting the next rep.
Getting the proper form and control over this movement can take some time. Feel free to swap out the weight with a shoe or water bottle until you feel comfortable with the movement.
3. Med Ball Woodchoppers
Woodchoppers are a rotational exercise that hits your transverse abdominis and your obliques. Like many of weighted exercises for abs, it’s best to take this one slow and steady, focusing on engagement and form over speed.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width while holding a medicine ball in front of you with both hands. Pro tips: It’s easier if you use a dual grip medicine ball like this.
- Keeping your arms extended in front of you, rotate your torso to lift the ball over your left shoulder. Your right arm should remain straight, while your left arm will naturally bend slightly.
- Pause, then bring the ball back down toward your right hip while maintaining extended arms. Your right arm will naturally bend while your left arm remains straight. That’s one rep.
- Repeat all of your reps on one side before switching.
Woodchoppers are a versatile exercise. You can swap out your medicine ball with a dumbbell if you’re working with limited equipment. You can also do this movement in a lunge position or seated for stability.
4. Dumbbell Leg Raises
Dumbbell leg raises effectively target rectus abdominis as well as both your internal and external obliques. As with other weighted core exercises, slow and steady movements are essential for keeping the core engaged.
- Sit on the ground with your legs stretched in front of you. Tuck a dumbbell between your feet. The bar should be held in the natural curve of your foot while they touch each other.
- Lay back and tuck your pelvis so that your lower back is flush against the floor, and your core is engaged. Place your arms by your sides with your palms facing down. If you need back support, you can place your hands under your lower back.
- Slowly raise your extended legs until your bottom comes off the floor.
- Pause at the top, then slowly lower your legs back to starting position.
When doing this weighted ab exercise, use a lighter dumbbell than you would for hamstring curls or leg extensions. The focus is to add slight resistance without breaking form. For an extra challenge, do these on an incline bench while holding the top for stability.
5. Med Ball Russian Twists
Russian twists are another rotational ab exercise. It’s also an exercise that many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts do incorrectly, which can contribute to low back pain over time.
Keep in mind that while getting shredded abs is an honorable goal, the function of your core is to protect your spine. Rather than twisting, as the name of the movement implies, focus on bracing your core and rotating as far as your obliques allow while actively engaged. This shouldn’t be a fast-paced exercise.
- Start in a sit-up position, seated with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor while holding a medicine ball in front of you.
- Engage your core and lift your feet slightly off the ground, leaning back slightly while keeping your back straight.
- Slowly rotate your torso, bringing the med ball to your right hip.
- Pause, then rotate slowly to bring the med ball to your left hip while keeping your core tight. That’s one rep.
You can put your heels on the floor to add stability if you’re new to this movement. To intensify this exercise, keep your feet elevated and straighten your arms. If you’re doing this movement properly, the ball isn’t touching the floor when you rotate.
6. Lying Med Ball Compound Passes
Lying med ball compound passes bring together the joy of dumbbell leg raises and sit-ups for one of the best weighted exercises for abs on the list. While this movement mainly targets the rectus abdominis, you’ll also hit the transverse abdominis and obliques. This weighted core workout is effectively a full-body exercise.
- Lay flat on your back with a med ball held securely between your feet, and your arms stretched overhead.
- Brace your core and lift your legs, keeping them straight, until your bottom comes off the floor. At the same time, your arms should be extending from an overhead position to come forward and grab the ball.
- Grab the ball with your hands, then lower your legs and arms simultaneously, maintaining the extension. Stop when the ball is about an inch off the ground.
- Repeat the motion to bring the ball back up, securing it between your feet once more.
- Simultaneously lower your arms and legs until the ball is about an inch off the floor while held between your feet. That’s one rep.
This weighted ab exercise is intense and draining. Opt for a lighter med ball until you get comfortable in knowing that you can transfer the weight without dropping it on yourself.
7. Barbell Roll-Out
As far as weighted core exercises go, nothing hits all of the ab muscles the way a barbell roll-out will. When you do this exercise, you’re engaging your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, both your internal and external obliques, and your erector spinae. Whether you don’t have an ab wheel handy or you just want an added challenge, this is the workout for you.
- Load a barbell with standard plates. Start light— the weight makes a surprising difference when doing a barbell roll-out.
- Get on your hands and knees, and grab the barbell with an overhand grip. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart with the barbell starting directly under your shoulders.
- Brace your core, and slowly push the barbell away from you. Keep your arms extended and your knees fixed to the floor.
- Roll until you are fully extended, getting as close to the floor as possible without touching or breaking alignment in your back.
- Pause at the bottom of the movement, then pull yourself back to starting position while maintaining form.
The barbell roll-out is a great way to take your ab wheel experience to the next level. You can scale this movement by adding weight or starting from a standing position and keeping your knees elevated.
Say Goodbye to Crunches
The most effective ab workouts consist of compound movements. When working the core, your form is the top priority. Slow the movement down, maintain tension, and feel the burn. With the right weighted ab exercises and proper nutrition, you’ll be showing off your abs in no time.