6 Dumbell Moves for Better Abs

A strong core doesn't just involve sit-ups to strengthen your abs. We're here to show you how to work your abdominal muscles, obliques and glutes to strengthen, tone and build endurance.

Reece Royster, personal trainer at the Downtown Nashville YMCA, recommends trying the following exercises without weights at first to master the movements. He stresses the importance of proper form to all of his clients. Once you've got the technique down, you can add in dumbbells or even a barbell for several of these exercises, depending on what's most comfortable. 

If you're not sure where to start or how much weight to use, Reece encourages a little assessment before you dive in. Pick up a set of dumbbells you'd like to try, and perform one of these core exercises 10 times (called repetitions, or "reps"). Pause, and repeat the exercise for a second set. If the exercise is too easy, you may want to move up a few pounds. If you're compromising your form or technique because the weights are too heavy, pick up lighter dumbbells. Let's get started!

Grab a Mat.

Dumbbells Rowboats

  • This exercise is a modified version of a Russian Twist.
  • To make it more dynamic, use the dumbbell as a "paddle" to mimic a rowing motion.
  • Sit on the back of your hips, holding one dumbbell in a position that's comfortable for you.
  • Raise your feet off the ground.
  • Squeeze your core muscles as you row on each side, bringing the dumbbell back to center after each rep.

Side Plank Raise

  • Lay on your side, coming down on your elbow.
  • Your legs should be straight and your feet stacked.
  • Put the dumbbell in a comfortable spot on your hip.
  • You don't want to push off with your elbow; instead, focus on raising the hips and the legs with the weight.
  • If you need more stability, do this exercise with your feet against a wall.
  • Come up, pausing at the top, and slowly bring yourself back down.

Stretch Out Those Arms.

Long Arm Dumbbell Crunch

  • Lay on the mat with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.
  • Hold one dumbbell firmly with both hands.
  • Bring your arms up straight in front of you.
  • You can do a full sit-up with the weight, keeping those straight arms, or you can just crunch up. Make sure to let your core muscles lift you.
  • As you come back down, try not to bring your body into a full resting position. 
  • As soon as you feel your shoulder blades hit the mat, crunch back up.

Suitcase Crunch

  • This crunching motion is meant to mimic a closing suitcase.
  • Lay on the mat with your back on the ground and one weight held with both hands behind your head.
  • Raise your feet off the ground.
  • Crunch your whole body up, bringing the weight in to your center and your knees up to meet your core.
  • Try to stay elevated through the exercise, keeping your feet off the ground and not letting that weight fall behind your head.

Let's Work Our Leg Muscles!


  • This exercise is a little more challenging, so grab a lighter dumbbell.
  • The goal of a V-Up is to make a V shape with your body.
  • Your arms will want to come down faster than your legs, so try to keep the same speed between both.
  • Try the motion without a weight first, folding your body up into a V and squeezing your abs.
  • When you're ready, add a weight and hold it firmly in two hands behind your head.
  • Your lower back should come off the mat as you bend.

Hip Raises

  • You can use a barbell or dumbbell for this exercise—whichever is more comfortable.
  • Grab a bench and position yourself so your shoulder blades are resting on the side of the bench.
  • You don't want too much of your back on the bench; this exercise should be using your glutes to lift you up.
  • Rest one or two dumbbells on your hips, distributing the weight to the center of your body.
  • Your feet should be comfortably apart, with your knees at a 90-degree angle.
  • Lift up, pausing at the top and squeezing your glutes.
  • Bring your core slowly back down.
  • If you're not comfortable doing the Hip Raises on a bench, you can also do this exercise lying flat on a mat.

Exercise Ball Squat with Dumbbell Jabs

Once you have the basic exercise ball squat down, we challenge you to add a few dumbbell jabs.

  • This intermediate movement caters to isometric contractions in your legs—meaning that your muscles are not lengthening or shortening; they are staying at a consistent length.
  • Come down into a squat, and hold your legs in that 90-degree angle as you alternate punching with the dumbbells.
  • If you need a rest, come back up into your leaning/standing position, take a few breaths, and then go back down into your squat.

Keep It Going

Once you've mastered these core exercises, try moving up in weight! The more you build your endurance, the stronger your core will become.

When you're ready to move on, strengthen your upper body with our dumbbell arm workout for beginners.