October 09, 2020 10 min read
For most, the six-pack is the holy grail of aesthetics and power—and for good reason. There’s maybe no better signifier of strength and commitment to fitness than a core that’s chiseled like a marble statue.
But looking past aesthetics, abs are absolutely essential in a wide variety of movements and everyday activities. Strengthening this “base” will have cascading effects on the health of the rest of your body.
However, when it comes to developing the abs, often we’re often relegated to bodyweight exercises, that—while useful and beneficial in their own way—aren’t able to push us into progressing in meaningful ways. This is where resistance exercises come in: medicine balls, kettlebells, barbells, and dumbbells all add a little extra something that simple bodyweight usually can’t. And it’s this last weight, the dumbbell, that we’ll be examining below.
Even if you’re forced to work out at home or in a poorly equipped hotel gym, there’s a world of hard-hitting dumbbell core exercises that you can do to get the sculpted 6-pack of your dreams.
Lucky for us, a sculpted body means much more than just having eyes follow you next time you’re at the beach. Strong abdominals have several benefits for your body’s wellbeing.
First and foremost is an improvement in posture. While this obviously benefits how people perceive you and how attractive you look, it also helps to stabilize your torso and lessens the pressure on certain joints. Your rotational and anti-rotational power will also be enhanced—a factor that’s especially useful when it comes to sports.
Developing the core will also ward off lower back pain, which is especially important for longevity and reducing the chances of spinal injuries.
The abs, along with the core as a whole, is the connection between the upper and the lower body. Being able to transfer power between different parts of the body is paramount when it comes to both functional fitness and also being able to successfully perform a variety of lifts and movements, including the lunge, deadlift, renegade rows, overhead presses, Russian twists—essentially everything.
While you don’t need to do all of the abs exercises below in order to get a sculpted 6-pack and insane core strength, try to pick a few that provide a well-rounded ab workout.
This means performing dumbbell exercises that involve movement (or flexion), rotation, and isometric exercises (holds). All of these varieties will test and develop your strength in different ways, allowing you to progress in a well-rounded manner. Furthermore, try to include both standing and floor exercises as well.
These exercises should also be done with controlled movements—that means no jerky motions. Going slower will not only increase the time under tension, helping to develop your muscles, but it’ll also prevent you from using momentum and making the exercise easier.
Lastly, these movements should be done within a complete training program that involves warm-ups, stretching, strength training, and cardio. This will garner the best results in the long run.
The complexity of the Turkish get-up makes it one of the best exercises you can do for a total body workout, but especially when it comes to your abs. In fact, it’s important enough to have its own legend behind it.
Back in the day, strongmen would supposedly tell potential apprentices to perform a Turkish get-up with a 100-pound weight before agreeing to take them on. Whether or not this story is true, it still serves to highlight how much is going on with this exercise.
First and foremost, it teaches your body how to move underneath a heavy weight—a skill that takes a significant level of awareness and control over your body. It’s a particularly useful exercise to include in your workout routine if you’re looking to strengthen your shoulders, but a major part of the challenge comes in with the role that your abs are supposed to play.
In a sense, your pelvis is meant to lock together with your ribcage in order to get up successfully. This skill just so happens to translate to several sports and functional needs since it allows you to develop your ability to absorb and produce force.
While this exercise tends to be performed with a kettlebell, a dumbbell will work just as well.
1. Begin by lying on your back, legs, and arms straight out at 45-degree angles—the dumbbell cradled on your stomach.
2. Bending your right leg at the knee, place your right foot a few inches away from your butt. Take your right arm and bring it up to the ceiling along with the dumbbell overhead.
3. Pushing through your left elbow and your right heel, prop yourself up on the left elbow while bringing back your left shoulder. At this point, your chest should be facing sideways.
4. Placing your left palm on the floor, push through it while engaging your core in order to enter a seated position.
5. Now slide your left leg towards and underneath you. Your left knee, left ankle, left foot, and left hand should all be in line, with your left knee directly underneath your left hip.
6. At this point, if you need to adjust, adjust with your knee, and not with your hand.
7. You should then shift your body’s weight onto your left heel as you come into a half-kneeling position—your right knee that’s up should be at a 90-degree angle along with your left knee that’s kneeling behind.
8. Shift your legs so both knees are pointing straight ahead, with your left leg moving to the left. This should result in you looking straight ahead.
9. Engage your core and drive through the back (left) foot in order to stand up with your feet together. This is the top of the movement. Reverse it and then repeat on the opposite side of your body.
I mean, what were you expecting? This wouldn’t be a core exercise list without including the plank, for good reason. The plank is a fantastic isometric exercise that has the potential to really challenge and develop your core muscles.
While the planks we’re most familiar with usually just use bodyweight, you can also make this a weighted exercise with a dumbbell by having someone place it (and secure it) on your back, much like with a plate.
1. Begin by placing your hand directly underneath your shoulders—just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart (in a push-up position). Your legs should be directly behind you with toes pointing into the ground.
2. Engage your core muscles, glutes, and make sure that your back is forming a straight line from your head to your feet.
3. Hold the position for as long as you’re able to, making sure not to dip your pelvis or round your back.
The conventional plank can also be done on your side, which frees up one of your arms to hold a single dumbbell. This is a fantastic way to engage your obliques (side abdominals).
To perform it, just lie on your side with your legs stacked, then proper yourself up by straightening the bottom arm and pushing out. Raise the other arm up with a dumbbell in hand.
This is a more advanced maneuver that has the potential to really gas out your abdominals and hip flexors. It’s a step above vertical leg raises while lying down on the ground, and it’s a fantastic way to hit your abs from a different angle. While most ab movements engage the muscles through a top-down approach, the hanging leg lift will challenge you from the bottom-up.
While you can’t do this movement with a dumbbell, try substituting it with ankle weights instead. This will guarantee a ridiculous ab workout.
1. Grasping a pull-up bar, an overhand grip with the thumb around the bar will help to improve stability.
2. Your pelvis should be tilted slightly back as you engage your abs and hip flexors. Initiate the movement by lifting your feet directly out in front of you, legs straight. You should breathe out through this movement while also ensuring that your core is properly engaged.
3. Continue raising your legs until they’re at least parallel to the floor, with your hips bent at a 90-degree angle. Or, go as far as you can with good form.
4. Pausing at the top of the movement, slowly reverse the movement while inhaling.
This exercise is a fantastic way to progress with the sit-up once it becomes too easy, and you’re always able to increase the decline or add some weight if you’re not being challenged enough.
Much like with the hanging leg raise, decline twisting sit-ups will engage your abs and hip flexors, while also giving your obliques a good workout due to the twist. While the decline sit-up can be done with just bodyweight, holding onto a dumbbell (or other weight) will make sure that you’re really drilling into your core.
1. Begin by setting a decline bench to an angle between 30 and 45 degrees—the higher the angle, the more difficult the movement.
2. Lying down on the bench with your head towards the lowered part, bring your arms up and touch the sides of your head with your fingertips.
3. Get into the starting positing by slightly raising your shoulder blades off of the bench.
4. Engaging your core, bring your torso up while slightly twisting. Your right elbow should be brought up to your left knee.
5. Pause at the top of the movement before slowly reversing back into the starting position
6. Continue the exercise with the opposite side, bringing your left elbow up to your right knee.
Make sure to complete the movement slowly to ensure that you’re not using momentum to make things easier.
A great standing core workout, this exercise primarily targets your obliques (obviously) while also giving your abs a decent workout when it comes to staying balanced and on your feet.
While the conventional standing oblique crunch is done simply with bodyweight, holding a dumbbell on the opposite side from the one you’re crunching with will add an extra level of tension.
The standing oblique crunch also does away with the pulling motion at the neck which happens with the standard crunch; a factor that can make this movement a more attractive exercise for people with back or neck pain.
1. To begin, hold a dumbbell in your right hand while having both feet planted on the ground shoulder-width apart. Your other hand (the left hand) should go up and behind your ear, bending at the elbow.
2. Inhaling, lower the dumbbell down your right leg while drawing your ribs into your left hip. You should feel a stretch in your left obliques.
3. Once you reach the bottom of the movement, engage your left obliques and exhale while slowly returning to the starting position.
4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps and then switch sides.
The farmers walk is one of the best exercises to do if you’re looking to develop a strong core brace, allowing you to develop strength against compressive and shear forces. The key to any farmers walk is to go heavy. Like, really heavy. Along with your lower body, your upper back and traps will also feel the engagement.
Performing the farmers walk single-handed, however, will place more emphasis on the core since you’ll be forced to act against the weight of the dumbbell on a single side.
Standing tall with a dumbbell in one hand, keep your body straight and your shoulders back. Simply make short and quick steps for a set distance, or for a set amount of time. Just make sure that the weight you’re carrying is heavy enough to challenge you while also allowing you to gas out over a period of time.
Sit-ups and crunches are the standard core exercise—we’re all familiar with them, whether we like it or not. While some people dislike them due to the tension they can sometimes cause in our backs, it’s possible to perform them in a way to mitigate pain.
Whatever your thoughts on these exercises, the sit-up and crunch is a great way to develop your abs (especially the lower abs) if programmed correctly in your workout routine. And adding a dumbbell in your hands will make them that much more difficult—and effective.
The 7 exercises we’ve highlighted above will put you well on your way to achieving the sculpted 6-pack of your dreams, but they’re far from the only things you need.
Along with a rigorous training routine and the commitment to stick to it, you’re going to need the diet to back up your training and bring you towards your goals. The abs are a muscle that everyone has—the difference between having abs and technically “having” abs comes down to the fat stored above them.
Getting your body fat percentage is going to be step 1 in the process of letting your 6-pack shine in all its glory, so you’re going to want to pay major attention to your diet. That means eating whole and healthy foods that stick to a few key points.
Your body is going to need a lot of protein to grow muscle, but make it lean protein. In terms of fat, you’re going to want to be eating healthy fats, such as those found in fish and nuts. Healthy carbs should also be on the menu.
When it comes to fat loss, many people have found success in adopting the keto diet. This diet has you almost entirely remove carbs as a source of nutrients from your meal plan. What this does to your body is put it in a state of ketosis, which essentially means that you shift from burning carbs for fuel, to burning fat for fuel. As you can imagine, that can prove very useful when you’re trying to burn that extra bit of belly fat to make your abs shine through.
If you’re looking to get an edge on the competition, consider taking a high-quality thermogenic fat burner. Supplements such as this can turbocharge your progress to a 6-pack physique, effectively suppressing your appetite and increasing your focus and energy levels.
Eating enough lean protein is also another good way to “hack” your way into a lower body-fat percentage. Not only is it filling, but it’ll give your muscles enough nutrients to grow and your body enough energy to work harder in the gym. If you don’t think that your protein intake is where it should be, drinking a whey protein shake throughout the day can boost your intake and leave you feeling full for longer.
But all of this needs to be backed by taking care of your body properly. If you’re constantly gassing out your muscles, eating like crap, and not resting properly, your progress is going to be slow and painful.
Getting enough rest to allow your muscles to recover, while also including all of the other ingredients we’ve mentioned above, is the only way to achieve long-lasting and incredible, shredded, results.