My Three Simple Go-To Ab Exercises

Everyone has a goal. Here’s mine…

Britney Spears Goal Abs
(photo via Google images)

Okay, it’s just one of my many goals. But ever since Britney Spears started showing off her amazing abs in the late 90s, I’ve wanted to get mine in the same condition.

In college, I’d do as many crunches as a could. I’d heard Britney did something like 500 crunches per day. So I tried to do as many as I could. Unfortunately, at that time, I didn’t realize that ab definition (or muscle definition, in general) requires a couple other things. Namely, I’d need to ease back on my drinking, eat healthier, and add in some cardio for all over shaping up.

It would take many years before I got this all sorted out. And…lost my Freshmen 15+. As it turns out, I’d get into cardio before I got back into toning. If you’ve been reading for awhile, then I’m sure you remember my many posts about Zumba. Both taking and teaching class. While we did some toning in class, it wasn’t until I got to NYC that my interest in toning stepped back up.

My Three Simple Go-To Ab Exercises

After my injury early last year, I felt like I’d suffered a complete set back. How was I supposed to keep my abs strong when I couldn’t do my go-to ab exercises: crunches? Actually, I’d known for awhile I should give crunches up. I’d read in an email newsletter from my sports doctor that crunches were a no-no because they were bad for your back. So perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. I was forced to explore new, safer exercises. And they turned out to be pretty darn effective too!

So much so, that I’ve been doing three main ab exercises on repeat for at least the last year. When I originally thought about ab toning, I remembered thinking it was complicated. But my go-to exercises are super simple and have many variations to take the intensity up or down.

My Three Simple Go-To Ab Exercises

My Three Simple Go-To Ab Exercises

Not necessarily in order

  1. Planks
  2. Side Planks
  3. TA Activations

Note: Form is more important than time/durations, so try to do these in front of a mirror so you can keep an eye on that.


What muscles do planks work?

Planks work more than just your abs. Just another reason to love them, right?

The plank is one of the best exercises for a flat, toned stomach because it works all the muscles in your core, including the rectus abdominus (the “six-pack muscles” you can see), transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, hips, and back. Source: Shape

How long should you hold a plank?

There are plenty of great videos that explain dos and don’ts of planking. I’ll let you google those. What I will say is that it’s totally fine to start small. Hold for what you can. And work your way up to holding longer. I recommend adding 5-10 seconds as you go. Hold as long as your form is good.

I’ve worked my way up to a 2 minute plank and I add in different leg/arm variations every 30 seconds to take up the intensity. While I was considering working towards holding past 2 minutes, I read an article that said 2 minutes is the max length for effective planks. After that, you’re better off doing multiple planks.

Plank Variations to Increase Intensity

  • First 30 seconds: hold normal (on forearms since the on-hands way can bother my wrists)
  • Second 30 seconds: lift foot/heel up towards the ceiling, slowly, one at a time
  • Third 30 seconds: I either sway forward and backward while maintaining a strong plank position or I go from my forearms to my hands and back down – repeat
  • Fourth 30 seconds: back to lifting up my feet

In addition to taking the intensity up, variations also keep me from getting bored. Haha

Side Planks

What muscles do side planks work?


It strengthens abdominal and back muscles, particularly the transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques and quadratus lumborum. It also targets the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus in the hips, as well as the adductor muscles located in the inner thigh.


The side plank also works several other muscles that provide additional stability as you hold the position. These muscles include the gluteus maximus, the quadriceps on the front of your thighs and the hamstrings on the back of your thighs.

Source: AZ Central

How long should you do side planks?

According to Coach Mag:

15sec – novice
30sec – average
1min – good
2min – very good
3min – excellent
4min – side-plank master

Though I do mine a little differently because I do variations…

Side plank variations to increase intensity

My favorite variation is to lift my top leg. Rather than holding this position, I do leg lifts in sets. Depending on how strong I’m feeling / how intense the rest of my workout is, I’ll do 3 sets of 10 – 15 on each side. I’ll go less when I feel more weak because I want to make sure my form is the focus, and I find it harder to maintain good form when I’m tired. The leg lifts can be fairly slow since I usually watch myself in the mirror to make sure my form is in check.

TA Activations

What muscles do TA Activations work?

TA activations target one specific muscle: the transverse abdominis (TA).

…having a strong transverse abdominis will create core stability. That stability will allow you to perform abs exercises properly, which will result in the visible definition you may be looking for. Source: Self

How long should you do TA Activations?

This is an exercise I first learned about in physical therapy. It took nearly an entire 60 minutes session for me to even find and be able to engage my TA muscles. From there, I did 3 sets of 15 simply engaging the muscle. We worked up to me doing 3 sets of 15 where I held the TA engaged for 5 seconds and then released. If I’m being honest, this was pretty frustrating to get at first. But well worth it in the end.

TA Activation Variations to Increase Intensity

I’m not familiar with many TA activation variations since I mainly do these as basic sets. Though my physical therapist did have me do some of these sitting. And he said I could do these at work while I was sitting at my desk!

Anywho, here’s a great article by Fitness Republic with variation ideas as well as some other good information on this awesome workout. Including this gem. According to the article author:

I even suggest these exercises to clients who haven’t even had back problems, because it helps with function, core strength as well as injury prevention.

Interested in trying them now?

My Three Simple Go-To Ab Exercises

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What are your go-to ab exercises?

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