Sometimes getting on the ground to do planks, crunches, or other ab exercises just isn’t fun or possible—like when winter leaves the ground grubby. But you don’t have to hit the floor to get the strong, stable core you need to walk stronger, run faster, or simply function better in everyday life, says New York City personal trainer Kristian Flores, founder of Kaizen Kinetics. In fact, standing ab exercises can be more helpful than on-the-floor moves at improving everything you do in a standing position, from boxing to tennis to golf to carrying your kids.
“The key is to be unstable,” says Flores. “By taking one foot off the ground, your core muscles—and that’s not just your abs—gets challenged.” That’s because the additional stress placed on your core means it has to work harder to stay contracted and stabilize when you move around on one foot, as you’ll discover with the moves below.
5 Must-Do Standing Ab Exercises
These exercises will give your core the strength, stability, and mobility you need to stay fit and healthy. Flores recommends doing two sets before your usual walking or running routine and one set after. Not only can standing ab exercises aid your warmup and cooldown, but by incorporating them into your workout, you may be more likely to get your core training done.
“At the end of a workout, you’re tired and don’t want to do any more,” says Flores. “If you run through these moves first, you’ll have an important part of your work already done before your walk or run. Then, use them as a cool down to close.”
Single-Leg Balance with Running Arms
Your core is what keeps you stable here. Challenge it by moving your arms quickly.
1. Stand up straight, abs engaged. Lift your right knee in front of you to hip height.
2. Without letting your ribs overextend, move your arms like you’re running for 30 seconds, keeping your balance.
3. Switch legs and repeat.
Oblique Crossover Knee Raise
The oblique and erector spinae muscles along the sides and back of your core help you generate locomotion, and the ones in front stabilize that movement so you move efficiently. This exercise helps train those functions.
1. Stand up straight with your hands behind your head, fingers touching but not interlocking.
2. Bring your left knee toward your right elbow, twisting your torso to the left (you should be able to see the side of the room). The higher your knee, the better; avoid dipping your torso too far forward. Return to center.
3. Repeat bringing your right knee toward your left elbow, twisting your torso to the right. That’s one rep.
4. Do 15 to 20 reps. If you have time, do two sets.
To open up your hips and build core strength and stability, these windmills can’t be beat. Want extra training? Hold a weight in the hand that reaches to the ceiling.
1. Stand up straight, feet wider than shoulder width.
2. Turn your right foot out toward the right wall, so it’s pointing at about 45 degrees.
3. Raise your left arm to the ceiling and stretch your right arm toward the floor while pushing your left hip out toward the left wall.
4. Keeping most of your weight on the left leg, tilt your torso down to the right, stretching your arms away from each other. Squeeze your glutes and return to standing, exhaling on the way up so you finish with empty lungs and a tightened midsection.
5. Do 10 reps and repeat on the other side.
Single-Leg Deadlift with Side Arms
This challenging unilateral exercise forces your core to stabilize to prevent unwanted rotation while engaging your entire body.
1. Stand up straight, engaging your abs and glutes, knees slightly bent.
2. Extend your right leg back, toes pointing down, and let your chest dip forward until your right leg and core are parallel with the floor and your arms are perpendicular to it.
3. Keeping your hip bones facing the floor, open up your left arm and reach it toward the side of the room—extra points if you can raise it higher toward the ceiling without letting your hips tilt. (Need an extra challenge? Look at your hand as you raise it to the side.) Return to center.
4. Do five reps and repeat on the other side. If you have time, do two sets.
Trail runners, take note: Master these, and they’ll help you glide over uneven surfaces. Side hops help your body learn to absorb the oscillation that happens on that type of terrain.
1. Standing, bring your right knee up to hip height.
2. Hop as far as you can to the right, landing on your right foot and bringing your left knee up to hip height. Really “stick” the landing like a gymnast. Stay in that position until you’re stabilized.
3. When you have your balance, hop back to the left, landing on your left foot. That’s one rep.
4. Do two sets of 10 reps.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.