A functional abs workout to build a stronger core

Forget the endless crunches and sit-ups! Achieving a strong, defined core goes far beyond isolated ab exercises. Functional abs training emphasizes movements that engage your entire core, mimicking everyday life and activities while improving overall strength, stability, and performance.

woman on yoga map doing kneeling woodchop

A stronger core is the foundation to a fit and healthy body. Functional core training will help you build core stability and core strength.

What is a functional abs workout?

Unlike traditional ab routines focused on single-joint movements, functional exercises recruit multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Think planks, squats, lunges, and carries – movements that challenge your core to stabilize your spine and support your body during everyday activities, from lifting groceries to playing with your kids.

Functional core exercises are similar in they involve compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups at the same time. This approach not only trains the core muscles to work together more effectively but will improve daily activities.

Why functional training is key for your core:

  • Improved strength and stability: A strong core is essential for proper posture, balance, and preventing injuries. Functional exercises strengthen your core muscles, leading to better stability during everyday movements and athletic endeavors.
  • Enhanced performance: From running to jumping to lifting, a stronger core translates to improved performance in various physical activities. Functional exercises train your core to work in collaboration with other muscle groups, enhancing your overall power and explosiveness.
  • Boosted metabolism: Engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously burns more calories, contributing to a more efficient metabolism and aiding in weight management.
  • Reduced back pain: A weak core can contribute to back pain. Functional core training strengthens the muscles that support your spine, improving posture and reducing your risk of back pain.
  • Full body engagement: Functional core workouts often involve compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups, resulting in improved overall strength and coordination.

Muscles of the core

Transverse abdominis: This deep layer wraps around your torso like a corset, pulling your navel in and stabilizing your spine. Imagine it like a natural weight belt!

Multifidus: This tiny muscle runs along your spine, helping to maintain good posture and preventing back pain. Think of it as your built-in shock absorber.

Rectus abdominis: This is the “six-pack” muscle, responsible for flexing your trunk and crunching forward. It’s important for activities like sit-ups and lifting.

Internal obliques: These muscles run diagonally across your abdomen, helping you twist and rotate your torso. They’re also involved in side bending and coughing.

External obliques: These muscles sit on top of the internal obliques, running in the opposite direction. They help you bend to the side, rotate your torso, and compress your abdomen.

Erector spinae: This group of muscles runs along your back, from your pelvis to your neck. They’re responsible for extending your spine, arching your back, and tilting your pelvis. Strong erector spinae muscles are essential for good posture and preventing back pain.

Functional abs exercises


inchworm starting position
moving inchworm
inchworm plank position
  • Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Hinge at your hips and bend forward at the waist, reaching your hands toward the floor.
  • Keep your legs straight but avoid locking your knees.
  • Walk your hands out away from your body until you are in a plank position.
  • Engage your core to maintain a straight line from head to heels.
  • Begin walking your hands back towards your feet until you are to your starting position.
  • Repeat.


forearm plank in a function ab exercise
  • Lie facedown in a push-up position with your feet shoulder-width apart and legs fully extended.
  • Push your body up and support it on your palms and the balls of your feet.
  • Keep your back straight; You should be making a perfect straight line from head to heels.
  • Keep the abs engaged by sucking the belly button in.

Plank variations: side plank, up down plank


superman functional ab workout
  • Start face down on the floor, with your arms extended in front of you.
  • Raise your head, your right arm and left leg about five inches off the floor. Try not to raise your shoulders too much.
  • Hold for a count of three, then lower. Repeat with your right arm and left leg.

Kneeling woodchop

woman on yoga map doing kneeling woodchop
woman on yoga map doing kneeling wood chop
  • Kneel on one knee, other leg extended behind you. 
  • Hold a weight or medicine ball with both hands at your chest. 
  • Rotate your torso and diagonally swing the weight down towards the extended leg, mimicking a wood chopping motion. 
  • Engage your core and obliques throughout the movement. 
  • Repeat on the other side.

Bear crawl

woman on all fours doing bear crawl exercise
woman on all fours doing bear crawl exercise
  • Start on all fours and lift your knees so they’re at a 90-degree angle and hovering an inch off the ground. Keep your back flat, your legs hip-width apart and your arms shoulder-width apart.
  • Move one hand and the opposite foot forward an equal distance while staying low to the ground.
  • Switch sides, moving the opposite hand and foot.
  • Repeat the movement while alternating sides.


dead bug functional abs
add dead bug in functional abs workout
  • Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat. 
  • Extend one arm overhead while lowering the opposite leg, keeping your lower back pressed into the ground. 
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Switch to the other side to lower arm and the opposite leg down.
  • Keep repeating.

Bird dog

add bird dog in functional abs workout
  • Start on all fours, hands shoulder-width apart, knees hip-width apart. 
  • Extend one arm opposite leg, keeping your back flat and core engaged. 
  • Return to all fours.
  • Switch sides.

Farmer carry

farmers carry is a great function ab exercise
farmers carry is a great function ab exercise
  • Choose two heavy dumbbells or kettlebells of equal weight.
  • Ensure the weights challenge you but are manageable for the intended distance.
  • Stand upright holding one in each hand
  • Tighten your core muscles to stabilize your spine.
  • Start walking forward in a controlled manner.
  • Take small steps and avoid swinging the weights or bending in either direction.
  • Walk for a predetermined distance or time, maintaining good posture and control.

Paloff press

  • Stand with a cable machine or resistance band attached to a low anchor point.
  • Hold the handle with both hands at chest level.
  • Press the handle away from you, keeping your core engaged and resisting any rotation.

Functional abs workout

Farmers carrydistance
Kneeling woodchop15
Bird dog15 per side
Plank1 minute

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