woman doing crunches
Photo Credit:
Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Thinkstock

The No-Equipment Ab Workout

Take a break from sit-ups and try a variety of movements that engage and challenge your core
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
March 12, 2015

No matter how dedicated we are to strengthening our core muscles, performing crunch after go-to crunch can get pretty boring. Give it a rest (really!) and begin incorporating a mix of moves that target your abs into your workout. We’ve gathered a collection of some of our favorite ab exercises, none of which require equipment, that can be done anywhere, anytime. Try one or two before heading to the office or while watching TV.

Before getting started, keep these general tips in mind to make the most of your core-focused session:

  • Visualize. Throughout each exercise, imagine your navel being pulled toward your spine in order to keep your abdominals constantly engaged.
  • Exhale deeply. Be sure to exhale completely with every breath to help strengthen your abdominals and protect your lower back.
  • Move from your waist. Whenever an exercise involves a twist, make sure the movement happens from your bottom rib up, keeping your hips still.

Bicycle Crunches

Why We Love This Move: Unlike your average crunch that targets only the rectus abdominis muscle (the vertical ab muscle along the front of your torso), a bicycle crunch engages all sides of your abdominals.

How to Do It: Lie on your back with bent knees and your feet flat on the floor, a foot or so away from your glutes. Without clasping your fingers, place your hands behind your head, positioning your elbows out to the side and keeping your neck straight. Raise both knees to a 90-degree angle so your calves are parallel to the floor. Press your lower back into the floor and tighten your abs as you lift your head, shoulders and upper back, and shift your gaze toward the ceiling. Bring your right knee and your left armpit toward each other while extending your left leg straight out. Hold for a moment and alternate to the other side. Continue switching until you’ve completed 10 to 15 reps on each side. Perform two to three sets.

Be careful not to…reach your elbow toward your knee. Move your armpit toward your knee instead, which avoids a strain on your neck and engages the obliques, or side abdominals.

Bird Dog

Why We Love This Move: It works not only your abdominals, but also your back, glutes and hip muscles.

How to Do It: Kneel on the floor with your hands directly under your shoulders and your palms flat. Position your knees directly under your hips, keeping your back and neck straight. Brace your core and slowly lift and straighten your left leg behind you while extending your right arm until both are parallel to the floor. Hold for five seconds or so and return to your starting position. Repeat four more times and switch sides for 10 repetitions in all. To mix things up, try changing sides after each rep.

Be careful not to…lean to the side or let your back arch as you lift your leg and arm. Switching sides with control and balance keeps your muscles constantly engaged.


Why We Love This Move: Along with its ability to stabilize and strengthen the core, the bridge is a complete lower body exercise that isolates your hips, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and even contracts the muscles of your pelvic floor.

How to Do It: Lie on your back, arms down at your sides, knees bent and your feet flat on the floor under your knees. Pressing down into your feet and keeping your thighs parallel with each other, lift your hips off the ground. Hold the top of your bridge for a few seconds, and then slowly lower back down. Perform two to three sets of 15 repetitions.

Be careful not to…raise your hips too high, which can lead to painful hyperextension of your back. The goal is to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.

Mountain Climber with Push-Up

Why We Love This Move: The added push-up challenges your abdominals further while strengthening your chest, legs and arms as well.

How to Do It: Start in the push-up position on your hands and toes with your wrists under your shoulders, your feet shoulder-width apart, your abdominals engaged and your body in a straight line from head to ankles. Without changing the posture of your lower back, bring your right knee toward your chest, then return to start. Bring your left knee toward your chest, then return to start. You’ve completed one mountain climber rep. Now, do nine more. Then, perform a push-up by steadily lowering your chest toward the ground until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and rise back to start. Complete this pattern of 10 mountain climbers and one push-up five times.

Be careful not to…let your back drop or arch to prevent pain or injury.

Prone Plank

Why We Love This Move: It’s an all-in-one move for strengthening your entire core along with your arms, glutes and thighs.

How to Do It: Lie face-down on an exercise mat or rug with your elbows under your shoulders and tucked into your sides, your forearms and palms pressed to the floor and your toes tucked under. With your head in line with your spine, engage your core and thigh muscles as you press your body up off the floor, keeping your glutes from rising above your hips. You can either choose to keep your forearms on the floor or rise up so just your palms are on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds (or a time that feels comfortable to you) and return to your starting position. Repeat two to three times. As you build strength, try holding this position longer, up to one minute.

Be careful not to…let your lower back sag when pressing up off the floor. For best results, and to avoid pain, use your core to keep your body stable throughout the exercise.