15 Best ab exercises for overweight beginners + Tips to strengthen the core

Heather Campbell
 min read

This list of 15 best ab exercises for overweight beginners are a must for anyone seeking to get started with ab exercises.

15 Best ab exercises for overweight beginners + Tips to strengthen the coreIt’s also vital to know what may be stopping you from getting those abs, despite your best efforts. ​

As a general rule, exercising abdominal muscles is great for developing a six-pack and a strong core. There are other benefits to having strong abs, such as better posture and less back pain. But for a flat and tight belly, you’ll also need to focus on healthy nutrition and cardio exercises.

Would you like to get a six-pack? Read on to learn about the good, the bad and the ugly, and grab our list of the 15 best ab exercises for overweight beginners.

Ab exercises for overweight beginners: Introduction

By doing abdominal exercises (on abdominal exercise machines), you will strengthen and shape your abdominal muscles.

Ultimately, the goal of most people here is to achieve a six-pack.

Yet there are many other benefits to exercising abdominal muscles regularly. Practicing the 15 best ab exercises for overweight beginners will give you:

Better posture

By training your abs, you will also develop better posture.

If you lean too far forward with your pelvis due to an overly fat belly, it will cause extra pressure on your back.

Strong abdominal muscles improve posture, including the posture of your back.

Less chance of back problems

Also, with a strong core, you will have a much lower chance of back problems. With many other exercises, it is also essential to keep your back straight.

When you have strong abdominal muscles, you stay in the correct position better, which reduces the risk of back pain.

Good for stability

This is because you are also going to strengthen your core with abdominal exercises. Along with training your back, this ensures that your stability will improve significantly.

This can be very helpful when doing a lot of other exercises.

Your execution will also improve, so you’ll suffer fewer injuries and better target the muscle group you’re currently training.

The 15 best ab exercises for overweight beginners

Here are the 15 best abdominal exercises, which will allow you to quickly develop a firm six-pack.

Hanging knee raise

With this exercise, you target the bottom of your abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis).

The hanging knee raise is an excellent exercise that is fun to do with legs extended or knees bent, depending on how hard you want to make it on yourself.

The hanging knee raises are done like this:

  • Hang from a pull bar or cage with your arms shoulder-width apart.
  • Let your legs hang down, the familiar starting point.
  • Lift your legs or knees and tilt your pelvis slightly forward (knees toward chest).
  • Do this in 3 to 4 sets, with 12 to 15 repetitions.

You have special reins that you can hang in to perform this exercise, but not all gyms offer this.

Leg raises

These target the straight abdominal muscles. This is how you do leg raises the right way:

  • Lie on the floor and place your arms beside your body with your hands flat on the floor.
  • You may also choose to place your hands slightly under your buttocks if you find this slightly more comfortable (this is also somewhat better for your lower back).
  • Keeping your legs extended, lift them up until you reach a 90-degree angle to your upper body.
  • Now lower them again and repeat the exercise.

Pallof press

The Pallof press trains the side of the abs, known as the obliques, but is less stressful on your back than other exercises such as the Russian twist.

It is a relatively simple but very effective exercise.

The Pallof press abdominal exercise goes as follows:

  • Place a handle on the pully (cable machine) and set it at the height of your chest.
  • You can also use a resistance or exercise band if you don’t have a cable machine available.
  • Stand with your side to the machine and step to the side, away from the device, to lift the weight (or to put tension on the resistance band). You do this while holding the handle with both hands close to your chest.
  • Feet straight and hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and back straight.
  • Now push the cable with both hands away from your chest and extend your arms. Try to hold this for a few seconds. Keep your core tight.
  • Repeat with 3 sets of between 10 and 15 repetitions.

Mountain climber

This is a challenging abdominal exercise that also trains the rest of your body.

For example, you can do the mountain climber:

  • Get into a planking position with your hands on the floor, just as if you wanted to do a push-up.
  • Now lift your legs 1 by 1 by bending your knees under your body.
  • Keep your back straight, and don’t push your hips and butt too high in the air.
  • Repeat several times.

Reverse crunches

With the reverse crunches, you engage the “musculus transversus abdominis” or transverse abdominal muscle, which is a little deeper.

This is how you perform reverse crunches:

  • Lie on your back on the floor, bring your legs up and bend your knees 90 degrees.
  • Place your hands next to your body, just slightly below your buttocks.
  • Elevate your hips slightly.
  • Move your knees toward your chest and push them away again.
  • Repeat the desired number of repetitions.

Plank exercise

With this exercise, you are not only targeting your abs but also the muscles around your hip and the back muscles.

  • Lie down with your elbows bent and with your belly to the ground.
  • Stay off the ground with the rest of your body, supporting yourself on your toes, elbows, and forearms.
  • Keep your head in a straight position and look forward.
  • Try to maintain this posture for as long as possible, to the point where your posture becomes less.
  • Also, make sure your back is straight, but you don’t keep it too hollow.

Side plank

The side plank is a very effective exercise for the sides of your abs. The side shelf works like this:

  • Lie on your side, supporting yourself on your elbow and forearm at your shoulder level.
  • Move your pelvis off the ground until your body comes into a straight line.
  • Repeat several times.


The traditional sit up is the most well-known abdominal exercise:

  • Lie on the floor and bend your legs, with your feet on the ground
  • You can also choose to lift them up and bend your knees 90 degrees.
  • Keep your arms behind your head or on your chest.
  • Raise your upper body off the ground and lower yourself back down.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times in 3 sets.

Captain’s chair

With this exercise, in addition to all the abdominal muscles, you will also properly target the legs. This is how you do the Captain’s chair:

  • Sit upright on a chair.
  • Place your hands palm down next to your body.
  • Now bring both legs up against each other, knees folded toward your chest. Hold them for 5 seconds. Make sure your back is not arched but remains straight and tensed.
  • Now gently extend your legs again and repeat the exercise. Execution is everything.

Knee raises (while lying down)

Knee raises work in almost the same way as leg raises. The difference is that you bend your knees, and then you start to let them move towards your chest.

Then stretch your legs as you lower and repeat the exercise. Also, try keeping your legs just above the ground when stretching. This increases the difficulty.

Hyperextension side bend

This exercise is for the sides of your abs. The hyperextension side bend is done like this:

  • Lie on a hyperextension bench (also called a Roman chair) and place your hands at your sides.
  • Make a sideways movement to the side your hip is on, do this without a dumbbell.
  • Now bend back and repeat this exercise.

Twisted crunches

If you are now used to traditional sit-ups, you can also opt for twisted crunches. Great for the obliques:

  • Lie on the floor and bend your legs just as you would in traditional sit-ups.
  • Hold your arms behind your head.
  • You now come off the ground with your upper body, the same as with regular sit-ups. But when you come up, you turn your left elbow to your right knee and vice versa. Rotate up with one elbow, then keep the other side of your upper body on the ground. Do this alternately.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times in 3 sets.

Cable crunches

You often see this exercise done in gyms. It is a tough exercise to make your abdomen considerably stronger so you might want to wait a little bit before trying.

Steps for doing the cable crunch:

  • Attach a rope to a cable device and set your weight.
  • Sit with your knees on the floor (preferably on a mat) and bend forward slightly.
  • Hold the rope behind (above) your head securely with both hands.
  • Now come up with your elbows to your knees and then back up gently.
  • Repeat the number of reps desired.

Don’t start with too much weight right away, but build it up gradually, especially when doing this for the first time.

Side crunches

This one works the same way you do the twisted crunches, only you lift your legs as well with this exercise.

Begin by lying down with legs extended on the floor. Then come with your elbow again against the knee of your opposite leg, which you now also pull up with each rep, instead of keeping your foot on the ground.

Bicycle exercise

You don’t need a real bike for this abdominal exercise. You can just perform it on the floor.

This will allow you to perform the bicycle exercise correctly:

  • Lie down on the floor in the same way as the other sit-ups exercises. Place your hands behind your head. Possibly by your side is also possible.
  • Lift both legs off the ground and bend your knees.
  • Bring your left knee as close to your chest as possible and keep your right leg at a distance.
  • Now lift your right leg to your chest, now simultaneously bring your left leg to the position where your right leg was a moment ago
  • Keep doing this in a cycling fashion and repeat it a few times.

Tip: For a more in-depth explanation of this exercise, check our other post Air cycling exercise as abdominal workout: How-to tips

General tips for abdominal exercises

It is essential to train your abdominal muscles in the best possible manner if you’re striving for a six-pack.

That means proper execution, muscle loading, and following the tips below, so you actually achieve your goals.

Make sure you have a good muscle load

As with other muscle groups, it’s important to actually seek out that muscle load with abs.

Get the most out of your abdominal exercises and make sure you have a good contraction. You can also tighten your abdominal muscles between sets for even more muscle strain.

After training, take the necessary rest to allow them to recover.

Alternate abdominal exercises

Don’t just do sit-ups, do other abdominal exercises so as to load your abdominal muscles differently every time.

Use an abdominal trainer one time and do abdominal exercises without equipment the next. This provides variety, but it also keeps it fun that way.

Abdominal exercises and fat burning

Exercising your abdominal muscles will make them stronger and more prominent. However, if you are overweight, you will not start seeing them right away.

If your fat layer is too thick, you will also need to increase your fat burning. You do this by maintaining a good diet in addition to abdominal exercises.

Depending on your starting point and goal, you may also need to lose a lot of weight for a visible flat and tight belly.

We’ll give you some nutrition tips for more visible abs further on for increased fat burning.

Five tips for the best abdominal workout

Train all the muscles of the abdomen

Upper abdominal muscles

These are most commonly trained with the familiar sit-ups and crunches and can be seen in well-trained people as a six-pack.

Try to engage all of your abdominal muscles properly with different types of exercises to get a strong core.

Middle abs/obliques

You often train these along when you do the other exercises.

To address them in particular, you can do side crunches.

Lower abdominal muscles

These are often forgotten and are the most difficult to train. There are several exercises that you can do with and without aids.

It is crucial to train the entire belly to get a nice flat stomach and tackle visceral belly fat.

Make your workout versatile

Abdominal exercises are good, but you achieve even more if you combine this workout with cardio and strength training.

This way, you also burn fat and use other muscles. It keeps your body and muscles active and improves your fitness.

Strength training at home (such as squats or planks) will give you stronger arm, leg, and back muscles.

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest. So that means you’re going to burn even more fat.

Related postCan fat be turned into muscle? Myth debunked + Tips to build muscle

Pay attention to your breathing

Because you are tightening your abdominal muscles during abdominal exercises on the abdominal trainer, paying attention to your breathing is essential.

In abdominal training, it is best to tighten your muscles after exhaling since this is when you can bring your navel closest to your spine and thus maximize your abdominal muscle tightening.

In sit-ups, for example, this means that you exhale as you come up (during the effort) and inhale again as you bring your body back down.

Do it well instead of often

You will find plenty of stories of people who say they do countless sit-ups and endless repetitions of exercises every day.

Your body will get used to the repetitions so that over time you only build fitness, not strength.

Make sure you perform your exercises cleanly and adequately and that they continue to feel heavy. Then you are really training your muscles.

Make sure you feel your abs

Are you doing your exercises on the abdominal trainer but not feeling it enough? Then you’re not exercising as hard as you should.

Instead of more repetitions, it’s better to provide more resistance. Use weights around your ankles or do sit-ups with weights.

Your workout becomes more effective when you start feeling your muscles. Don’t move too quickly to make your exercise heavier.

If a few regular crunches start to hurt, the level is heavy enough for you. Respect your own boundaries.

Abdominal exercises and nutrition

It is also important to adjust your diet. In fact, a six-pack will actually become visible when you apply the right nutrition tips.

Some people really need to lose a fat belly (which improves sleep quality), while others just need to get rid of a layer of fat to get a washboard. Here are some nutrition tips:

Increase protein and take fat in moderation

Proteins increase fat burning and make you feel satiated faster.

They are harder for your body to process, requiring more energy and burning more fat.

Proteins are also needed to build muscle mass and protect it. Therefore, you will also start burning only fat.

Increase your protein, but everything in moderation. Consider eating some extra eggs, cottage cheese, chicken, or other products. A protein shake can also help you get some extra protein.

Feel free to include some more (healthy) fats as well. These have many favorable properties, even while losing weight. But again, be careful not to overdo it.

Ensure responsible calorie restriction

Fat burning and weight loss still work best with calorie restriction, so you need to take in less nutrition than you actually use at rest.

For example, ingest just around 400 calories less per day and don’t go on extreme crash diets.

Limit the number of carbohydrates in your diet

Carbohydrates and quick sugars can make you fat quickly.

They do not satiate quickly, cause spikes in your blood sugar which releases fat storage hormones and actually prevents fat-burning hormones.

Want to burn fat? Then take carbohydrates, but limited them. The best way to do this is with a low-carb diet.

Will abdominal exercises give me a six-pack?

You are indeed going to develop a six-pack by training your abs. But whether it will be visible is another question.

In fact, this requires more than just training your abs. Below we show you the most common misconceptions about getting a flat and tight belly.

Burning belly fat with abdominal exercises

You’re also not going to burn belly fat just by doing abdominal exercises. However, your abdominal muscles will become stronger and take on the proper shape.

For true fat burning, it is best to do some cardio as well.

Do daily abdominal exercises

You don’t have to train your abs every day either. Instead, train them the same way you train other muscle groups and take your rest every now and then.

Local fat burning is a myth

There are still people who think you can burn fat in only certain areas of the body.

Of course, this would be marvelous because you would tackle that beer belly first. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

You will always burn fat all over your body while losing weight, not just where you want it. Where you lose fat first or easiest depends on person to person.

15 Best ab exercises for overweight beginners: Conclusion

You now know the best abdominal exercises that will make your belly strong and shape it, but a six-pack requires more.

Therefore, be sure to include your nutrition in your game plan as well. It will also go a lot faster if you start exercising, e.g., by doing strength training and cardio.

Stay motivated, follow the 15 best abdominal exercises for overweight beginners, and you will soon have a nice washboard ab area.

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More