Your gym buddy says he wants to do some “core” exercises. What comes to mind?
If you exclusively think about your stomach, you’re not alone. But here’s the thing: Your core is made up of more than your stomach. Sure, your stomach is a part of your core but it’s not the core. Starting to get it?
If your goal is to flatten that stomach and start to see some definition or if you want a full-on six pack, that’s a good start. But we want you to look beyond your stomach.
Strengthening your entire core will help you get that flat stomach, but you’ll also see improvements in proper movement patterns while you lower your risk of injury. And in order to do that, we want you to use one of the best pieces of weightlifting equipment out there: the dumbbell.
Let’s take a look at the best dumbbell core exercises and we’ll also make sure you have some dumbbell core workouts to get you started.
Muscles That Make Up Your Core
Before we discuss the best dumbbell core exercises, it’ll be important to breakdown all of the muscles that make up your core. (Remember that it’s more than your stomach). Understanding the core musculature will strengthen your mind-to-muscle connection. That can translate into better performance, which means better results.
Rectus Abdominis: Everyone knows the rectus abdominis. In fact, you might think that this muscle alone makes up the core. The rectus abdominis is commonly called your abdominal muscles or your abs. This muscle is front and center, starting at your solar plexus and running the length down to your groin.
Transverse Abdominis: Sitting beneath the rectus abdominis, you’ll find a layer of deep muscle tissue known as the transverse abdominis. It doesn’t get as much time in the spotlight as the rectus abdominis (although we think it definitely should) despite playing a key role in rotational movements and abdominal contractions. Learning how to activate and control this muscle can make an insane difference in your results.
External Obliques: Put your hands on your ribs. These are your external obliques. Sitting on the sides of your torso, your obliques are responsible for assisting with rotational movements. They are just as important for anti-rotational movements or fighting against the pull toward a certain direction. A great example of this is when you perform a one-handed standing cable fly.
Internal Obliques: Just like with the rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis, the external obliques are the ones that hog the attention. Meanwhile, underneath the external obliques, you’ll find the internal obliques. Similar to their external counterpart, the internal obliques take care of basic twisting and turning movement patterns as well as anti-rotational movements.
Erector Spinae: Finally, we have the erector spinae. These muscles are located in your back and they run up the spine. They complete the core, providing balance and stability to rotational movements.
Okay, feel like you could pass an anatomy course now?
Here’s some homework: Pop the shirt up and take a look in the mirror. Study your entire core and practice flexing each muscle group we covered. When you strengthen your mind-to-muscle connection, you can improve your overall performance. And as we mentioned above, the better your performance, the more you activate the target muscles, the better results you can get.
Best Dumbbell Core Exercises
Below, you’ll find a list of the most effective dumbbell core exercises. To make it easier for you to build your own core workouts, we’ve separated the dumbbell exercises for a flat stomach according to the muscles they target. Below this, we’ll discuss how to put all of these moving parts together to build your own core workout.
- Dumbbell V-Up
- Lying Dumbbell Crunch
- Reach and Tuck
- Lying Leg Raise
- Dumbbell Reverse Crunch
- Woodchopper (Listed twice because it targets the rectus abdominis and obliques)
- Dumbbell Dead Bug
- Dumbbell Bird Dog
- Dumbbell Hollow Body Hold
- BOSU Dumbbell Sit-Ups
- Vacuum (Not a dumbbell exercise but this is the king of transverse abdominis exercises.)
- Dumbbell Deadlifts
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Dumbbell Back Extensions
- Dumbbell Superman
- Dumbbell Suitcase Carry
How to Create Your Own Dumbbell Core Workouts
Here are some tips if you want to build your own ab workouts based on the exercises we’ve listed above.
Pick Your Exercises
This will depend on how many times each week you want to target your core. We recommend either having a standalone “Core Day” or incorporating exercises into existing workouts three times per week.
Base the exercises you choose on the exercises you’re already doing that day. For example, if you’re focusing on legs, you’re probably doing hamstrings so you can easily throw in dumbbell deadlifts. Break this down so you do one or two core exercises within a few of your current workouts. Try to stagger different muscles of the core on different days.
The other option is to dedicate an entire day or most of a workout to your core. Then you’ll be able to perform one to three exercises for each part of your core.
Sets and Repetitions
This depends on how much weight you’re using. In general, if you use more weight then you’ll perform fewer repetitions with more sets. The less weight you use, the more repetitions and the fewer the sets. Heavier weights are better for building the core musculature. Lighter weights are better for definition.
Choose Your Rest Time
If you want to burn more calories and keep your heartrate up, you’ll want to shorten your rest breaks but not so much that it negatively impacts your posture and form.
Resting for 60 seconds is standard. But if you’re using heavier weights, consider resting between 90 and 120 seconds.
Pick Your Methodology
If you have a good deal of weightlifting experience, we recommend switching up the methodology of your workouts.
For example, you can superset one of your current exercises with a core exercise such as Romanian deadlifts with a dumbbell sit-up.
Read more about how you can upgrade your workout with different methodologies in our article on how to break out of a weightlifting plateau.
Dumbbell Core Workouts to Get You Started
Even though you have the know-how to make your own dumbbell core workouts, we want to help you get started. Below, you’ll find three different dumbbell ab workouts that you can start using today. Like we said above, each workout can be done as a standalone or split between two upper body workouts.
Beginner Dumbbell Ab Workout
This is a basic, no frills core workout. We want you to focus on performing the exercise perfectly for each repetition.
These movements will help you build a foundation that will help you get stronger and take on more advanced abdominal and core exercises. Perform all of the repetitions for each set. Give yourself between 90 to 120 seconds of rest with each set.
- Lying Dumbbell Crunch: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
- Dumbbell Reverse Crunch: 2 x 10 – 15
- Dumbbell Bird Dog: 2 x 10 – 15
- Dumbbell Side Bend: 2 x 10 – 15
- Dumbbell Superman: 2 x 8 – 15
Intermediate Dumbbell Core Workout
Same idea as the beginner workout except we’re using more challenging exercises and shortening your rest break. Try to only rest for 60 seconds between sets.
- Lying Leg Raise: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
- Dumbbell Bird Dog: 2 x 10 – 15
- Vacuum: 2 x 10 – 15 seconds
- Dumbbell Side Plank: 2 x 8 – 15
- Russian Twists: 2 x 10 – 15
- Dumbbell Back Extensions: 2 x 8 – 15
- Dumbbell Suitcase Carry: 2 x 20 – 25 seconds
Advanced Dumbbell Ab Workout
In this advanced core workout, we want you to use the supersetting methodology. This is when you perform one core exercise then immediately perform the next exercise with no break in between. It’s a high-intensity way to lift so if you get burned out, give yourself a longer break. We would rather have you rest longer than make a mistake and get injured because you’re too tired.
We’ve paired the exercises you’ll perform one after another and assigned them the same letter. But here’s an important catch: You’ll perform a heavy movement followed by a light movement. You can tell by the number of reps you’re assigned. Remember, fewer reps means heavier weight; more reps means lighter weight.
A: Dumbbell Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions
A: Woodchopper: 3 sets of 20 repetitions
B: BOSU Dumbbell Sit-Ups: 2 x 8 – 12
B: Reach and Tuck: 2 x 15
C: Dumbbell Side Plank Rotations: 2 x 8 – 15
C: Dumbbell V-Up: 2 x 8 – 15
Sculpt Your Stomach with Dumbbell Core Exercises
We’re big fans of dumbbells, especially when it comes to building a strong and defined core. If you don’t have any dumbbells, that’s okay. Many of the exercises listed above can be performed without a dumbbell. When you get a chance, be sure to throw a dumbbell into the mix to make it more challenging.