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Tone your core with these one-dumbbell ab exercises

Ready to kick your workout up a notch? Add a dumbbell to these core exercises to really feel the burn.
Young woman on the floor working out with dumbbell
The Russian twist works your upper and lower abdominals and obliques.TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour

You don’t need any fancy equipment to build core strength. In fact, bodyweight exercises alone are enough to strengthen your core and tone your midsection. But if you want to kick things up a notch, adding one dumbbell to your ab routine can help you feel the burn.

Adding a dumbbell helps to challenge your balance, which recruits more of your core muscles and improves strength and stability. And the added weight will help sculpt and tone not only your core, but your arms and legs, too.

Choose a weight that works for you. I suggest starting light with 3-pound dumbbells and gradually working your way up to a heavier weight. Now that you have your dumbbell in hand, add these 4 moves to your core routine:

Ab slam

Think of this move as a situp with a dumbbell component. First, lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Hold the dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest. Perform a situp, bringing the dumbbell forward and in between your legs, and tapping the floor to “slam” the dumbbell onto the ground. Pull your naval in towards the spine the entire time. This move should feel slightly more difficult than an ordinary situp, and it will increase power and core strength.

Dumbbell burpee

Burpees are a full-body exercise that require a lot of energy, and adding a dumbbell challenges your balance even more. If you aren’t comfortable performing a burpee, don’t worry, there are modifications for every step:

  • Instead of jumping into and out of plank position, slowly step your feet behind you and back to meet your hands.
  • If pushups are intimidating for you, drop your knees to the ground and do a modified version.

For the dumbbell burpee, start in a standing position and hold the dumbbell in your right hand, letting it hang by your side. Perform a squat, and as you return to standing, press the dumbbell up over your head into an overhead press. Then, bend the knees and place your hands on the ground (your left hand will be on the ground, your right hand will hold on to the dumbbell which will rest on the ground) and hop or step your feet back to plank. Perform a pushup or drop to the knees for a modified pushup. Then step or jump your feet towards your hands, slide the weight to the left and pick it up with your left hand, and return to standing. Repeat on the left side. Repeat this 5 times on each side.

Weighted side bend

This move is a great way to work your obliques and improve core strength. Start with the dumbbell in your right hand hanging down by your side. Place your left hand behind your head with your elbow pointed out towards the side. Bend at the waist to your right, reaching the dumbbell down the right side of your body. Then, with the dumbbell weighing you down, use your left obliques to pull yourself back up to a standing position. Repeat this 20 times, then switch the dumbbell to the left hand and perform on the opposite side.

Russian twist

The Russian twist is a great addition to any core workout. By lifting your feet off the ground, you’re giving your abs an extra challenge, and adding a dumbbell takes it one step further. (For a modification, place the feet on the ground.) The twisting motion also works your obliques, so you’re activating multiple core muscles at once.

Sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet either hovering above the floor or resting on the ground. Tilt your upper body backwards to a 45-degree angle (this will feel like you are at the top position of a situp). Hold the dumbbell in both hands, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your shoulders away from your ears. Keeping the dumbbell in front of your chest, twist your torso to the right tapping the dumbbell on the floor, then move back through center and twist to the left, tapping the dumbbell on the floor. Repeat 5 times on each side.