NOTHING SAYS FIT like ab muscles that cast their own shadows, which is why sculpting them is a major goal for just about everyone who’s ever stepped foot in a gym—whether they’re new to the weight room or an iron veteran. But the importance of washboard abs (and the strong core that hopefully accompanies them) goes beyond pure aesthetics.
The primary job of the muscles that encircle your torso, from your glutes to your traps (i.e., your core) is to support your spine. The postural strength they provide also pays total-body dividends, increasing head-to-toe stability and enhancing the transfer of power between your upper and lower body as well as from one limb to another. On top of all of that, your core controls a handful of key movements, including torso rotation and spinal flexion.
What that all adds up to is this: A strong core not only boosts performance in training and sports, but is also the secret to moving more powerfully through life. And the more attention you give it in your workouts, the faster you’ll chisel a head-turning six pack (whether you’ll admit that’s one of your goals openly or not).
Start with this 7-day challenge constructed by Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. It’s built with the busy guy in mind and is particularly well-suited to beginners. In just 10 minutes a day, you’ll quickly sculpt a stronger, more functional core that will boost your power and explosiveness in everything you do. Plus, you’ll learn as you train, mastering this muscle group’s key functions and movement patterns (e.g., bracing, flexion, rotation, anti-rotation, etc.) while honing your posture, too.
The 7-Day Beginner Abs Challenge Structure
As the name suggests, you should perform this challenge for seven days straight. You can do it whenever you want, whether that’s right when you wake up, at the end of the day, or at the end of your regular workout. It’s your choice.
Do each pair of moves as a superset, performing one set of each per round for five rounds total. In the first two rounds, do each exercise for 40 seconds, resting 20 seconds after each movement. In the second two rounds, perform each exercise for 50 seconds, resting 10 seconds after each movement. In the fifth and final round, perform one set of each exercise for 60 seconds without any rest at all (i.e., back-to-back). Focus on rep quality over quantity in every round—but don’t stop until the time is up.
The 7-Day Beginner Abs Challenge Exercises
Lie on the floor, with your arms extended above your head. Drive your lower back into the floor, flexing your abs and glutes to create tension. Lift your legs and shoulders off the floor, continuing to drive your lower back into the floor. Maintain full body tension for the amount of time prescribed. To scale the movement, you can shift your arms to above your torso or raise your legs higher off the floor or even bend your knees.
Start in a high plank position, with your palms flat on the ground stacked directly below your shoulders, lats activated by turning your elbows forward. Your shoulders should be higher than your hips, so keep your butt down, squeezing your abs and glutes tightly to create tension. Look down at the ground to keep a neutral spine. From this starting position, drive one knee high toward your torso, while keeping your core stable. Drive your working leg back into the starting position as you begin the movement with the other leg. Continue performing reps at a controlled pace for the amount of time prescribed.
Start lying on the ground on your stomach, then lift up to support your weight on your elbows and toes. Your elbows should be positioned directly beneath your shoulders. Squeeze your shoulders, abs, and glutes to create full-body tension. Keep your gaze directed at the floor to maintain a neutral spine position, and avoid raising your butt up into the air. Hold for the time prescribed, focusing on maintaining the muscle tension and avoiding breaks in form.
Situp and Cross-Body Punch
Lie down with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Hold your arms slightly above your torso, with your hands in fists. Squeeze your abs to lift your torso off the floor, while keeping your feet still. As you rise into the situp, punch with one arm across your torso. Keep your gaze directly in front of you throughout the movement, preventing yourself from fully rotating your spine with each strike. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position, then repeat with the other arm.
Start in a high plank position, with your palms flat on the floor directly below your shoulders, neutral spine, active lats, abs and glutes squeezed to create full-body tension. After holding for a beat, move one hand off the floor to touch the opposite shoulder. Squeeze your abs and obliques to keep your shoulders and hips from shifting to compensate for the movement; maintain the lower body tension by continuing to squeeze your glutes. After a beat, return to the starting position. Repeat with the other arm.
Begin lying on the floor in the start of the hollow body position, with arms extended above your head. Lift your feet up a few inches, while grounding your lower back into the floor. Begin the movement by bending your knees and driving your legs back, while lifting your shoulders off the floor and crunching forward, moving your head toward your knees. Reverse the movement, keeping your arms extended above your head throughout. Don’t return your feet to the floor until the work period is over.
Side Plank Thread the Needle
Start in a side plank position, supporting your weight on one elbow (elbow facing forward, forearm perpendicular to your torso) with your hips raised and feet on the ground. Squeeze your abs and glutes to create tension and prevent your hips from sagging while also squeezing your shoulder blades. Raise your off arm, keeping your head in a neutral position. From here, “thread” your off arm down through the space between your torso and the floor, following the movement of your hand with your gaze. While your move, maintain full-body tension and keep your core tight to avoid shifting your hips.
Bear Plank to Plank
Stack your wrists directly under the shoulders and your knees below your hips, with your weight on your toes. Squeeze your abs and glutes, keeping your back flat. Your shoulders should be above your hips. From there, slowly step back one foot into an elevated plank position, then the other. Alternate between stances, moving deliberately and maintaining tension to prevent any loss of balance.
Start in a plank position, with your elbows should be positioned directly beneath your shoulders, neutral spine, active lats, abs and glutes squeezed to create full-body tension. After holding for a beat, extend one arm straight out in line with your shoulder. Hold for a count, squeezing your abs and obliques to keep your shoulders and hips from shifting to compensate for the movement; maintain the lower body tension by continuing to squeeze your glutes. Return to the starting position, then repeat with the other arm.
Start in a plank position, with your elbows should be positioned directly beneath your shoulders, neutral spine, active lats, abs and glutes squeezed to create full-body tension. Drive one knee to your elbow, then repeat with the opposite side. After this, raise yourself up to a high plank position with your palms flat on the floor beneath your shoulders. Repeat the knee drive on each side, then return to the starting plank position.
Start in a hollow hold position, lying on the floor with your arms extended above your head. Drive your lower back into the floor, flexing your abs and glutes to create tension. Lift your legs and shoulders off the floor, then crunch forward to raise your torso while lifting your legs so that you touch your feet with your hands. Then, return to the starting position.
The 7-Day Beginner Abs Challenge
5 Rounds of Supersets – Rounds 1+2: 40 seconds on, 20 off; Rounds 3+4: 50 seconds on, 10 off; Round 5: 1 minute, no rest
- Hollow Hold
- Mountain Climber
- Situp and Cross-Body Punch
- Plank Shoulder-Tap
- Modified V-Up
- Side Plank Thread the Needle Left
- Side Plank Thread the Needle Right
- Bear Plank to Plank
- Modified V-Up
- Plank Reach
- Situp and Cross-Body Punch
- Plank Up-Down
Trevor Thieme is a Los Angeles-based writer and strength coach, and a former fitness editor at Men’s Health. When not helping others get in shape, he splits his time between surfing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and trying to keep up with his seven year-old daughter.