The 7 Most Effective Ab Exercises For A Flat Stomach, According To Experts

Along with big biceps, one of the coveted hallmarks of a fit physique is a flat stomach. 

Here’s the truth, though:

There are no exercises that will create a flat stomach on their own.

The most important aspect of achieving a flat stomach is a calorie deficit to lose body fat paired with a balanced full-body workout.

If you’ve nailed those two things, then including ab exercises (especially the ones I outline below) will give you a defined, flat stomach.

Key Takeaways

  • A sufficient calorie deficit is required to lose body fat from the belly area to see the muscles underneath that you have built up through training.
  • Performing ab exercises will not cause you to lose belly fat alone because you cannot spot reduce it; belly fat is lost as part of overall body fat.
  • Beyond ab exercises, movements that require bracing of the core such as squats also contribute to strong abdominal muscles. 

How To Achieve A Flat Stomach

To achieve a flat stomach, you have to be in a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than your body needs to maintain weight) to lose body fat, so that the layer of body fat sheds away.  

Along with a reasonable calorie deficit (check out our calculator), you’ll need a workout program that will strengthen the muscles in your core so that you have muscle definition to show off when you lose body fat (unless that isn’t your goal).

Once you know the appropriate calorie intake to help you lose body fat, you can check out some of our sample meal plans for various calorie intakes to get you going.

Then, add the ab exercises below, or follow our suggested ab workouts to create a flat stomach.

You’ll also need to follow this routine for at least 12 weeks. Sorry, no quick hacks here.

7 Ab Exercises For A Flat Stomach

The best ab exercises to include to tone your core are:

1. Standard Plank

Standard Plank

The basic plank has several different versions to increase or decrease difficulty.  It can be done from the hands or the elbows and from the knees or the toes.  

Regardless of the variation, the goal is to achieve a straight line from the top of the head, along through the shoulders, to the hips, and, if the legs are extended, all the way to the ankles.

No matter what version you do, the plank is a true foundation exercise of any ab routine.

“Probably the most important abs exercise in the game, the plank targets more muscles than most moves. Adding it to your routine is non-negotiable.”

Jennifer Nied, Fitness Editor, Women’s Health Magazine


  • Start in a kneeling position on a mat, with knees positioned directly under the hips.
  • Walk the hands forward until the wrists are directly under the shoulders. From here, the weight can either be transferred onto the hands, or you can drop down to the elbows, with the elbows taking the place of the hands directly under the shoulders.
  • If you’re planking from your hands, straighten the legs and squeeze the butt and the abs to form a straight line. 
  • If you’re planking from your elbows, the plank can either be done from the knees, or from the toes by straightening the knees.
  • Gaze slightly forward to maintain a neutral angle in the neck.
  • Hold the position for the stated time, or until no longer able to maintain a straight line. If our lower back starts to arch, then it’s time to take a break.

2. Hollow Hold

Hollow Hold

The hollow hold is a classic move for gymnasts, who arguably have some of the strongest cores in the sports world.  

Similar to a plank, the hollow hold is an exercise that requires you to use your core to resist movement. It also has varying degrees of difficulty, depending on whether the arms and legs are fully extended (hardest), or tucked in close to the body (easiest).


  • Start seated on a mat, and slowly roll back with a curled back. Imagine touching one vertebra at a time to the mat, maintaining constant contact between the back and the mat without allowing the lower back to arch.
    •  If needed, keep the knees bent and tucked toward the chest to assist with keeping a rounded back.
  • Once your lower back is in full contact with the mat, engage the core by drawing the chin toward the chest (without clenching the jaw).
    • To increase the difficulty, straighten the legs with the toes hovering in the air about one foot above the ground.  
  • To increase the difficulty further, extend the arms overhead so that the body forms a curved shape (hollow) like a bow.
  • Keeping the face relaxed, breathe steadily and hold the position for the stated time, or until no longer able to maintain a hollow position with the lower back firmly pressing into the mat.

3. Superman Hold

Superman Hold

The counter-movement to the hollow hold is the Superman hold. This exercise targets the opposing muscle groups (the glutes and the spinal erector muscles to extend the back), which is important for a balanced, strong, and functional core.


  • Begin by lying face down on a mat. With the hands touching the shoulders, slowly lift the chin and raise the chest off of the mat by arching the lower back.  
  • Squeeze the glutes and lift the toes off of the mat.
    • To increase the difficulty, extend the arms overhead.
  • Keeping the face relaxed, breathing steadily, and holding the position for the stated time, or until no longer able to maintain an arched position.

4. Bicycle Crunches

Bicycle Crunches

Bicycle crunches are a lot less pleasant than riding an actual bicycle, but they do introduce a useful dynamic, rotational movement to train the obliques (the muscles along the sides of the core), as well as the rectus abdominis (the sheath of muscle associated with six-pack abs).


  • Start by lying face up on a mat with knees bent at 90 degrees, shins parallel to the floor.
  • Gently cradle the back of the head with the hands, and open the elbows outward.
  • Draw the left knee in toward the chest while extending the right leg out, like pedaling a bicycle. 
  • As the left knee comes in, pull the right elbow in and across the body to meet it.
  • Continue the cycling motion by then extending the left leg and drawing the right knee in, with the left elbow coming across to meet it.
  • Cycle steadily, exhaling as the knee comes in to meet the elbow and complete the stated number of reps.

5. Dead Bugs With Counter Rotation

Dead Bugs With Counter Rotation

Dead bugs with an added isometric hold (exerting force to keep from moving) component make them the perfect complement to bicycle crunches. Instead of adding rotation like the bicycle crunches, the dead bugs train the obliques by resisting rotation.


  • Start by lying face up on a mat with knees bent at 90 degrees, shins parallel to the floor.
  • Press the left hand firmly against the inside of the right knee. Press the right knee back against the hand by bracing the core.
  • As the right knee actively resists rotation, extend the left leg toward the floor and the right arm overhead, stopping just before the toe or hand touches the ground.
  • Draw the left leg and right arm back in and start the movement on the other side by pressing the right hand firmly against the inside of the left knee.  
  • As the left knee actively resists rotation, extend the right leg toward the floor and the left arm overhead, stopping just before the toe or hand touches the ground.
  • Alternate with control, focusing on pressing the hand against the knee and resisting the pressure throughout.
  • Breathe steadily and complete the stated number of reps.

6. Side Planks

Don’t be deceived by the name – side planks work more than just the sides (obliques) of the core. A side plank requires strength and stability in the shoulders and hips as well. 

Just like a standard plank, side planks can be done from the hands or elbows, and to the knees or the toes, varying the degree of difficulty.


  • Begin by lying sideways on a mat, with the body in a straight line, and feet stacked on top of one another.
  • Bring the bottom hand or elbow under the shoulder, then engage the core and draw the hips up so that the body makes a straight diagonal line from the head to the feet.
  • To make it easier, bend your knees and perform the movement from the knees rather than from the feet.
  • To make it harder, once the side plank position is achieved, lift the top leg up to form a starfish shape.
  • Hold the position for the stated time, or until no longer able to maintain a straight line. If your hip starts to dip towards the floor then it’s time to take a break.

7. Heavy Squats

Goblet Squat

Squats aren’t usually an exercise that people think of when they think of training their abs, but it turns out that squats really do require (and create) a strong and stable core, especially the erector spinae muscles (muscles along your spine) used in the Superman hold.

Certain squat variations are particularly effective at engaging the core, like goblet squats and Jefferson squats.

How-To: Goblet Squat

  • Begin by standing upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and holding a weight such as a kettlebell or a dumbbell in both hands at chest height. 
  • Squat down by sitting down into your hips and allowing your knees to travel forwards. Brace the core to keep the weight steady near the chest.
  • Inhale before you squat, hold your breath and brace the core while squatting down, and exhale while standing up.

Sample Ab Routines For A Flat Stomach

Time-Based Workout

A great way to be sure that you will fit in your ab workout is to set a time limit for each movement so that you can move quickly from one to the next. 

Perform the following exercises in order as a circuit, with 20 seconds of working time and 10 seconds of rest to allow time to set up for the next exercise:

Standard Plank -> Left Side Plank -> Ride Side Plank -> Bicycle Crunch -> Dead Bug -> Hollow Hold -> Superman Hold

Complete the entire circuit 2-3 times in total.

Sets & Reps Workout

Complete the stated sets and reps for each movement before moving on to the next.

  1. Goblet squat (with an optional press); 3 sets, 10 reps, 60s rest between
  1. Dead bugs with counter rotation; 3 sets, 8 reps per side (16 total reps), 30s rest between
  1. Hollow hold; 3 sets, to failure (unable to hold hollow position), 30s rest between
  1. Superman hold; 3 sets, 30-second hold maximum, 30s rest between
  1. Bicycle crunches; 3 sets, 8 reps per side (16 total reps), 30s rest between
  1. Plank; 1 set to failure.

Other Habits To Implement For A Flat Stomach

Along with your calorie deficit and killer ab routine, there are some habits to implement to help you achieve a flatter stomach.

A Balanced Diet

Although a calorie deficit is key to losing body fat and revealing your abs, the nutrients that you eat to achieve this calorie deficit can also play a role in how your body looks and feels.

A balanced diet means that each meal contains a balanced blend of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).  

  • Protein provides the building blocks (amino acids) for repairing and building new muscle tissue in response to your workouts.  It helps create the abdominal muscles you want to show off.  

Each meal should have approximately 20-30% of calories coming from protein.

  • Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, to get you through both your workouts and your daily activities. The key is eating enough carbs to feel energized, but not too much, because the excess will be stored as body fat, making it harder to achieve a flat stomach.

Each meal should have approximately 40-50% of calories coming from carbs.

  • Dietary fat is another source of energy, and of the essential fatty acids needed for certain bodily processes, like cognition and hormonal function. 

Each meal should have approximately 20-40% of calories coming from fat. 

  • Micronutrients are found in all foods, with the greatest concentrations in fruits, vegetables, and other minimally processed whole foods like lean protein, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, and the lowest concentrations in highly processed foods.  

Each meal or snack should have at least 1 or more servings of vegetables and/or fruits.  

Without the element of a balanced diet, no amount of ab exercises will peel back the fat to show off all that hard work.

Eat a variety of minimally processed whole foods and aim for a protein, carb, fat, and fruit or vegetable at each meal, with serving sizes to reflect your calorie goal.

Adequate Sleep

Getting enough sleep also makes it easier to achieve a flat stomach because better sleep, in terms of both quality and quantity, is linked to higher success with weight loss efforts. Getting enough sleep can reduce cravings and make it easier to stick to a calorie deficit.

Aim for at least 8 hours of quality sleep in a cool, dark bedroom with a consistent bedtime each night and wake time each morning.

Stress Management

High-stress levels can lead to too much cortisol, the stress hormone that can break down muscle tissue and increase cravings, making it harder to see the results from ab exercises and harder to stick to a calorie deficit. 

Incorporate stress management habits like deep breathing, keeping a gratitude journal, or meditating each day.

Good Gut Health Habits

There is a strong link between good gut health and weight loss, so implementing our 5 Habits For Better Gut Health can improve body composition and make it easier to achieve a flat stomach.

On top of staying active with regular exercise, getting adequate hydration, and managing stress (see previous tip), you should consume prebiotics and probiotics to support your gut health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take To Get A Flat Stomach?

How long it takes to get a flat stomach depends on how much body fat is stored in the belly area to begin with, and whether a person’s genetic pattern of fat deposits stores more fat in the middle (“apple shape”).  It can take 3 months to a year or more of dedication to fitness & nutrition to get a flat stomach.

Which Ab Exercise Burns The Most Belly Fat?

There isn’t one ab exercise that specifically burns belly fat.  Belly fat is lost along with overall body fat when the body is in a calorie deficit.  Whatever exercise creates a calorie deficit assists with burning belly fat. Lifting heavy weights helps build muscle mass for calorie-burning, and strengthens the core.

Are Abs Made In The Kitchen?

Yes, the saying is true, abs ARE made in the kitchen. It is an overall calorie deficit that allows you to shed belly fat to reveal the muscle definition of the abdominals underneath.  Also, it’s a myth that you can “spot reduce” and target belly fat: as you lose body fat overall, some of it will come from the belly.

About The Author

Lauren Graham

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement.  Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete.  She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing. 

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