Whether you’re trying to fit in a quick gym session or you simply want to make your workout time as efficient as possible, you might wonder if you should do cardio or spend those precious minutes on core work. But what if you didn’t have to decide? What if you could do a cardio abs workout for full-on efficiency?
Good news: You can. There are plenty of exercises that will give you a cardio burn and an abs workout at the same time.
Can You Get Abs from Cardio?
Although some cardio-focused workouts end with core-strengthening exercises, the fact is that all movements should engage the core, says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S. and director of fitness and nutrition content for Beachbody.
“The muscles of the core provide stability and support the spine,” he says. “The greater the instability created by the exercise, the greater the activation of the core muscles will be.”
But keep in mind that abs exercises alone won’t get your six-pack to pop — diet and body fat percentage also play a huge role in whether or not you can see your abs. (More on that here.)
Should I Do an Ab Workout After Cardio?
Since cardio requires stabilization in the midst of mobility, all cardio will involve some degree of core activation, Thieme says. But that doesn’t make all cardio equal when it comes to strengthening your major core muscles.
If you’re doing steady-state cardio, like logging miles on a treadmill or stationary bike, you’ll be doing some degree of core activation, but not a ton, Thieme says. In these cases, it doesn’t hurt to cap off the workout with some dedicated core work.
So what is the best cardio for maximum abs activation? There are certain moves that will power up your abs to a higher level. “If you’re doing a workout with a lot of kicking, jumping, rotating, and other movements that require a high degree of core activation, you likely don’t need to tack on an ab-focused ‘finisher’ routine,” says Thieme.
By picking the right cardio moves, you can kiss those “post-cardio core sequences” goodbye.
11 Exercises That Will Give You a Killer Cardio Abs Workout
We picked some of the best cardio abs exercises below from a handful of the streaming workout programs available on Beachbody. Try some (or all!) to spike your heart rate and challenge your core muscles. And if you want even more after these 11 moves, check out some of the 10-minute abs workouts in 600 Secs, or the killer cardio abs routines in the MMA-inspired Rough Around The Edges program.
No matter which moves you choose, be sure to keep your core engaged throughout the movement. Not only will that help fully engage your abs, but it will also help stabilize and support the spine so you can prevent potential injury and keep going strong.
1. Plank Side Foot Taps
Start in high-plank position with your feet separated a few inches apart.
Keeping everything else still, reach your right leg out to the side to tap the foot on the ground, and then bring it back to the starting position.
Repeat on the other side with your left foot.
Move faster to ramp up the cardio element.
This is also a good warm-up move before you move into plank jacks (below).
2. Plank Jacks
Start in forearm plank with your elbows under your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to heels.
At the same time, jump both legs out to the side, and then back together. Keep hips stable so they don’t drop or lift up.
Make this move easier by performing it in a high-plank position, or doing the plank side foot taps exercise (above).
3. Plank to Low Squat
Start in high-plank position with your shoulders over your wrists, feet together, core engaged, and body straight from head to heels.
Jump your feet up to the outside of each hand, and then lift your chest up as you come into a low-squat position. Your hands should come up in front of your chest.
Pause, and then keep the sequence going by reversing the action: plant your hands between your feet and jump back into a plank. Repeat. (For an in-depth look at how to do the plank to low squat, click here.)
4. Mountain Climbers
Start in a high-plank position.
Engage your core to pull your right knee in toward your chest so your foot hovers above the ground, and then step back into the plank. Repeat on the other side with your left leg.
Speed it up, alternating one leg in and then the other.
Be sure to keep your hips level and fully extend each leg as it comes back out from the center.
5. Russian Twists
Sit on the ground, balancing on your tailbone with your knees bent about 90 degrees, heels on the ground and feet flexed. Hold your hands together in front of your torso.
Twist to your right side, bringing your hands down toward your right hip. Then, reverse the moves and twist to your left side.
Make it extra challenging by speeding it up, lifting your feet off the ground, or holding a light weight in your hands (shown in video above).
6. Bicycle Twists
Lay on your back with your legs out straight. Lightly place your hands on the back of your head with your elbows pointed out to the sides.
Keeping your lower back on the ground, engage your core to lift your chest up and bring your right knee in toward your chest as you rotate your torso to bring your left elbow toward your right knee.
Reverse the move by straightening your right leg as you bend your left leg and bring it in toward your chest as you rotate your torso to bring your right elbow toward your left knee.
Once you have the right form down, begin to move faster to ramp up the cardio element of this move.
7. Scissor Kicks
Lie down on your back with hands tucked under your glutes (this will help support your lower back). Lift both legs off the floor a few inches while keeping your low back in contact with the floor.
Lift your your right leg up to about a 45-degree angle while keeping the legs straight, and then switch your legs so your right leg lowers toward the ground and your left leg lifts up higher.
Go faster, alternating quickly. To make it more intense, lift your chest up into a partial crunch.
8. Plank Hip Dips
Come into a forearm plank with your elbows under your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to heels.
Keeping your abs engaged, drop the right hip down toward the floor while keeping both elbows planted down.
Come back to the center, and then reverse the move so your hips drop to the left.
Continue to alternate sides, making sure the movement is coming from your abs and not your shoulders.
9. Dolphin Hops
Start in forearm plank with your feet together.
Lift your hips and hop your feet toward your arms in three small bursts.
Pause at the top with your hips lifted high, and then step back into the starting plank position.
Repeat, hopping in a sequence of three hops forward, then step back.
10. Knee Taps with High to Low Plank
Begin in a high plank with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart.
Draw your right knee in under your torso and tap it with your left hand, trying to resist any kind of rotation of your hips. Step back to the plank position and repeat on the opposite side by drawing your left knee in and tapping it with your right hand. End back in a high plank.
Drop your right forearm down to the ground, and then drop your left forearm down, so you’re in a forearm plank with your elbows under your shoulders.
Then, press back up to a high plank again: put your right hand under your shoulder to press your right arm to straight, and then repeat with your left side.
Go right into the next rep, starting with the knee taps.
Keep your abs engaged the whole time so the transition from high to low plank doesn’t cause your lower back to sag down or hips to swivel.
11. Jab, Weave, Front Kick
Assume a staggered fighting stance with your left leg forward and your fists up in front of your chin. This is the starting position.
Throw a jab, punching your left fist out straight in front of your left shoulder.
Bring your left fist back toward your chin as you bend your knees and weave to the left, so your left shoulder is now slightly forward.
Shift the weight to your left foot and bring your right knee up to hip height, bent at 90 degrees, and then kick your leg straight out in front.
Step back to the starting position and repeat. (Want to get your kicks down? Rough Around the Edges Amy Johnston shows you exactly how to perfect your front and side kicks.)
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