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Fitness Expert: These Are the Best Ab Workouts for Women Over 50 to Improve Balance and Prevent Pain

The best part: They can all be done from the comfort of home — no gym membership required

“Where is my waist?” If you’ve asked yourself that question, you’re not alone — especially if you’re of a certain age. And while we no longer judge ourselves based on a little belly flab, we do know that a strong core is key to healthy aging. Your abdominal muscles help you maintain balance and prevent falls, safeguard against incontinence, and give you the ability to move freely and confidently so you can enjoy life. Luckily, there are targeted moves that not only strengthen your core, they may also flatten your tummy. Here, experts reveal the best ab workouts for women.

How menopause affects your midsection

Staying healthy and strong is a subject fitness expert Christine Conti, MEd, knows well. With more than 20 certifications under her belt, Conti specializes in chronic disease wellness. Her goal is to keep clients mobile and active throughout life. In fact, she was named the World 2023 Fitness Professional of the Year by the IDEA Health & Fitness Association.

Many of her clients are women who are somewhere in the menopause transition. Most aren’t looking to have six-pack abs, she says, adding they just want to be able to see their waists. “Honestly, unless you have amazing genetics, a six-pack isn’t achievable for most people,” Conti explains. “These women may be doing nothing different. They may still be exercising and eating well,” she says, but changing hormones make weight gain more likely. And particularly for menopausal women, fat accumulates around the belly, commonly referred to as a “menopot.” (Click through for natural menopause treatments that work to ease common bothers.)

Why a strong core is important

While there’s nothing wrong with aiming for a flat belly, Conti says abdominal strength is what’s most important. “When we think of our belly, we need to think of it as our core. We want it to be strong because that’s what’s going to keep us upright and keep our posture. Bad posture leads to pain, and it leads to various forms of arthritis,” Conti says. “But a strong core is going to give you good posture and good alignment. This then helps you reduce injuries and the wear and tear that happens when you get older in other parts of your body.”

“As we get older, balance can become an issue,” she adds. “It can be thrown off, whether it’s because we’re losing muscle mass, which is sarcopenia, or we have osteoporosis and are losing bone. But keeping a strong core can help if our smaller muscles start to go and we lose our balance, because the core will kick in and help us right ourselves.”

Related: Doctor’s Best Natural Ways to Strengthen Bones So You Avoid Osteoporosis Drugs

What comprises your ab muscles

So just how do you strengthen and tone your core? First, know that your abs aren’t just on your stomach; they encompass a large group of muscles that help keep you upright and hold your organs in place, Conti explains. “It’s the muscles that make up your stomach, your sides and your back.”

Broken down, that’s the rectus abdominus, the pair of muscles that run from the sternum to the pelvis (they’re what create “six-pack abs” for bodybuilders); the oblique muscles, which run down the sides of your ribcage and help you twist your body; the transverse abdominus muscles, which wrap around the trunk from front to back; plus the thoracic spine muscles found from your neck down to your lower back.

An illustration of ab muscles, which can be toned with workouts, in women

“When these muscles are strong, it’s going to help protect your bones because they’re going to help hold your spine in correct alignment,” Conti explains. “When your core is weak, your posture suffers. That’s when we see the kyphosis, or rounding of the back and shoulders, since a weak core causes us to bend forward.” The result? Extra pressure on your neck creates pain and mechanical issues with the neck and shoulder. “A strong core can greatly reduce your risk for chronic pain and injuries as you get older.” (Click through for natural ways to get rid of a neck hump.)

Best ab workouts for women

Ready to reap the rewards of a strong core? These are the best ab workouts for women that can help strengthen and tone your midsection.

Related: Exercise Jokes That Will Give You — And Your Funny Bone — A Good Workout!

1. Planks

The plank is one of the best bodyweight workouts for women who want to improve their ab and upper body strength. “With planks, you’re using your body weight as resistance,” Conti explains. “And when you’re holding a plank, you’re engaging all of the abdominal muscles, not just one. I also always want exercises to emulate real life. A plank could be something like you’re getting on the ground to look for something or you’re picking up a heavy pot off the stove. You’re going to engage your back, core, and shoulders” which is what doing a plank strengthens.

How to: Lie on your stomach with your legs extended behind you. Prop yourself up onto your forearms and toes so that your body is parallel to the floor, keeping your elbows directly below your shoulders. Tighten your glutes and draw your belly button in toward your spine while keeping your body in a straight line. Hold this position 20 to 60 seconds. First time planking? You can do a modified plank by keeping your knees on the floor. (Check out the video below for a quick how-to.)

2. Wall mountain climbers

You’ve likely heard of mountain climbers, a popular floor exercise that targets the lower abs, strengthens the arms and chest, and boosts your heart rate. “I actually don’t like to do these on the ground,” Conti reveals, adding many people have trouble doing the exercise in this traditional way. Instead, she prefers a modification known as wall or standing mountain climbers.

How to: Extend your arms in front of you and place your palms on a wall, then lift your knees high to your chest one at a time, alternating legs. “As you lift, you’re stretching your hip flexor,” Conti says. “You’re working against gravity. And when you do that, you’re still engaging your core.” Have trouble sitting on a toilet or getting up from a chair? This is a great exercise to help with that, she says.

3. Russian twists

A Russian twist may look like a simple movement, but it requires a great deal of strength. So it’s no wonder why ab workouts like this are an effective way for women to strengthen their midsection.

How to: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lean back very slightly, keeping your back straight. Place your hands on your stomach, and twist your torso to the right then to the left. Twist from side to side for 30 to 60 seconds, keeping your core engaged as you twist. Find this pose too challenging? Conti says the same motion can be achieved while standing up. For added resistance, hold light weights in your hands while twisting side to side.

4. Flutter kicks

Typically seen in Pilates, barre and strength training classes, flutter kicks are popular for a reason: They work. This exercise specifically targets the lower abdominal wall and strengthens core muscles.

How to: Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your arms at your sides. Slowly lift both legs about six inches off the ground, keeping your lower back glued to the floor. Begin fluttering your legs up and down a few inches, keeping them straight and your movement controlled.

Tip: For so many of us, this exercise is difficult because we start using the muscles in our neck to help hold our legs up, Conti says. If you’re having trouble, Conti advises lying flat on the ground and bending your knees. Then pick up one leg at a time as described above. 

5. Dead bug

It’s not the most appealing name for an exercise, but it’s one of the best ab workouts for women. It builds strengthen not just in your core, but throughout your upper and lower body, too.

How to: Lie flat on your back with your arms extended upright toward the ceiling. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and stack them over your hips. Your torso and thighs should form a right angle, as should your thighs and shins. This is your starting position. With your lower back flat on the floor, extend and lower your left leg while simultaneously extending your right arm in the opposite direction. Reach both limbs outward until your heel and hand are just above the floor. Pause, then return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Continue for 40 to 60 seconds.

Not quite mastering this move just yet? There’s an easy modification. From the starting position described above, simply keep your arms still and alternate legs as you tap your feet to the floor (as shown in the video below).

6. Medicine ball slams

While a floor exercise known as wall ball sit ups — in which you do sit ups while tossing a medicine ball at a wall — is popular in fitness communities like CrossFit, it can be difficult to master. And if you’re a beginner or don’t have access to a gym, it can be downright intimidating! “If people think an exercise is too hard, they won’t do it and that’s what we’re fighting against,” Conti says. “You don’t have to be able to do everything, and we don’t want people to think exercise is scary. You should feel good when you’re doing it.” A better bet: Medicine ball slams, which act like a modified version of the wall ball sit ups.

How to: While standing upright, hold a small medicine ball (about 5 lbs.) in both hands. Brace your core and crunch your abs as you throw the ball down onto the ground, driving your hips slightly backward. Repeat 10 times.

7. Reverse crunch

The reverse crunch is an exercise that engages the ab muscles without putting as much strain your neck as a traditional crunch.

How to: Lie flat on your back, then bring your knees and feet up to form 90-degree angle with the floor. With your hands flat on the floor and knees bent, crunch your lower body toward your chest (lifting your hips off the floor). Keep your back and head flat to the ground. For a modification, place your hands under your bottom for added support. Repeat 10 times.

Want more? You can exercise those core muscles along with the Quick Burn: Fab Abs Workout in under 10 minutes!

8. Hip lifts

Hip lifts are one of the best a beginner-friendly ab workouts for women. Why? They strengthen your core and lower body at the same time, and are relatively easy to master.

How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent, arms straight beside you, and feet flat on the floor. Your fingertips should barely be able to touch the back of your heels. This is the starting position. Press your heels into the floor as you lift your hips up off the ground. Your body should form a straight, diagonal line between your shoulders and knees. Hold for a count of two, then slowly lower your hips back to the starting position. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

9. Dumbbell crossover crunch

Adding dumbbells to a classic sit-up is a great way to challenge your core muscles. The dumbbell crossover punch — a.k.a. a weighted “cross-body crunch” — activates your core, arms, and shoulders.

How to: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a lightweight dumbbell in each hand at your chest, keeping your elbows on the floor. With your hands at your chest, slowly roll up to a sitting position. Twist your torso to the right as you “punch” your left hand to the outside of your right knee. Bring your hand back to your chest and your torso back to the center before rolling back down. Repeat the sit-up one the opposite side. That’s one rep. Repeat 10 times. Beginner? Feel free to skip the dumbbells.

Check out Quick Burn: Fab Abs Workout to be guided through more core strengthening exercises.

For more ways to stay healthy head-to-toe well into old age:

The 7 Best Ways To Reverse Brain Aging & Strengthen Memory, According to Scientists

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Doctor’s Best Natural Ways to Strengthen Bones So You Avoid Osteoporosis Drugs

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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