We get it: You don’t always want to do crunches or planks or even use gym equipment to work your abs. Luckily, you don’t have to. If you’ve never thought about working your core while standing, you should.
It may even be more effective because your core muscles aren’t just the ones you see in the mirror. They wrap all the way around your body, from your “six-pack” abs to your obliques (which hug the sides of your trunk) to the muscles that stabilize and support your spine.
With that in mind, we tapped Rachel Nicks, a barre fitness instructor, to come up with the best standing abs moves that target your entire core.
As you do them, focus on form over reps, Nicks says. For instance, use your abs to lift your leg each time, not your quads or glutes.
The nice thing about abs: It’s hard to overdo them, so feel free to try 2 or 3 moves one day and 2 or 3 different moves the next time you work out.
1. March with twist
Think of this move as slow high knees with an added twist. Stand with feet hip-width apart, shoulders down, arms overhead, and core braced.
Bring right elbow to left knee as you twist through your waist, then return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Focus on using your core, not quads, to lift knee and squeeze obliques throughout. Continue to alternate sides for 1 minute.
2. Wide second side crunch
Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Turn toes outward and lower into a wide squat (sometimes called a wide second squat) by squeezing glutes, bending knees, and keeping hips in line with torso. Remember: Don’t stick your butt out.
Raise arms into goalpost position (elbows bent to 90 degrees), engage your core, and bend to the right, trying to tap elbow to thigh. Do 10 reps to the right and 10 to the left. Alternate sides for 20 reps.
3. Standing stabilization
Stand with feet hip-width apart, hold a medicine ball or dumbbell with both hands, and extend arms in front of chest.
Keeping arms straight and shoulders pressed down, rotate your upper body to the right and then return to center. Do 10 reps to the right and 10 to the left. Alternate sides for 10 reps.
4. Reverse chop
Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a medicine ball with both hands at chest height. Lower the ball to the outside of your right foot, allowing knees to naturally bend and feet to pivot.
Bring the ball across your torso and overhead to the left, feeling your core engage. Increasing your speed will create more of a challenge. Do 10 reps, then switch sides.
5. Standing side bend with dumbbells at side
Hold a dumbbell you can safely manage in one hand (or two dumbbells in one hand as shown). Stand with feet hip-width apart and bend from your waist to the right.
Engage core to pull torso upright. Do right side only for 1 minute, then left side only for 1 minute. Alternate sides for 1 minute.
6. Standing side bend with dumbbells overhead
Start in the same position as in No. 5, holding a dumbbell with both hands (or two dumbbells as shown).
Extend arms overhead and bend at your waist to the right, keeping arms straight. Use core to pull torso back to center. Do 1 minute to the right, then switch sides.
7. Standing side crunch
Stand with feet a few inches wider than hip-width apart. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and put your arms in goalpost position. Engage your core and bring left elbow to left thigh by bending at your waist and performing a side crunch.
Rather than move elbow down, try to keep arms and shoulders in the same place throughout so you’re forced to use your obliques to perform the move. Do left side only for 1 minute, then right side only for 1 minute. Alternate sides for 1 minute.
8. Standing crossover toe touch
Stand with feet wider than hip width and extend arms to a T. Engage your core, rotate torso to the left, and tap right hand to outside of left foot. Do left side only for 1 minute, then right side only for 1 minute. Alternate sides for 1 minute.
9. Single-leg sprint
Start in a low lunge position with left knee bent, right leg straight behind you, and arms extended overhead. Hinge forward slightly at hips, so chest is over left thigh.
Use your core to lift right knee toward chest and allow arms to come in at sides. Replace leg on floor and, as quickly as possible, drive forward again. Do 20 reps, then switch sides.
Make it harder: For more of a challenge, add a twist, pulling right knee in to touch left elbow each time.
10. Chair Pose twist
Stand with feet hip-width apart, engage your core, send hips back, bend knees, and place hands behind head.
Rotate upper body to the right, hooking left elbow to outside of right knee. Don’t allow hips to twist to the right — instead think about bringing left rib cage to right hip bone. Rotate to the other side to complete 1 rep. Do 20 reps.
11. Side leg raise with side bend
Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. With core engaged, bend from your waist to the right and simultaneously allow right foot to rise off floor, maintaining a straight arm and leg.
Engage obliques to feel a side crunch. As you return to the starting position, tap right foot to the floor and immediately begin next rep (don’t put weight on right foot). Do right side for 1 minute, then left side for 1 minute. Alternate sides for 1 minute.
12. Standing twist
Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, a dumbbell in each hand, and arms in goalpost position. Rotate to the right, keeping hips level and using upper body to twist.
Rotate to the left. Broaden across your chest and level your shoulders throughout. Rotate from side to side for 1 minute.
13. Overhead circle
Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a medicine ball with both hands straight overhead. Use the ball to “draw” a large circle on the ceiling.
Engage your core throughout and keep hips level and straight. Do 30 seconds in one direction, then 30 seconds in the opposite direction.
Special thanks to Rachel Nicks, who modeled these moves and designed them for us. Nicks wears her own Nike gear.