Photography Paul Buceta

Of all the muscle groups, the abs are arguably the most often overcomplicated when it comes to training. The key to achieving chiseled-in-granite abdominals isn’t in the length of your workout, the complexity of the moves or even the volume of reps, but rather the intensity and effectiveness with which you’re performing them. In other words, it’s the quality of each rep not the quantity that matters. 

“The abdominal muscles are most engaged during the time they are under tension,” explains Margherita Di Bari, CPT and IFBB Bikini Pro. “Short but intense bursts of exertion, coupled with perfect form and strong contractions, pushes the abdominals past their threshold.” Deliberately feeling the abs work with each rep will more effectively kick-start gains in strength, conditioning and endurance than long, sloppy sets in which momentum takes over.

The following circuit routine is designed to be performed three times in about 15 minutes with just one minute of rest in between. The rep volume might not seem like much, but if performed correctly it will have your abs screaming. For one, it’s designed to hit every muscle in the abdominal group. It also starts with the most difficult moves then progresses to the easier ones so that you’re still able to hit the target rep range as your muscles fatigue. “The shortened rest times between sets will also keep your heartrate up and working tension on the muscle throughout the workout,” says Di Bari.  

Here, Nadege Ndjebayi demonstrates these simple-yet-effective moves so you can try them for yourself!


Begin with a few minutes of moderate intensity cardio to get the heart rate up, such as  a few rounds of sprints.    

15-Minute Abs Blast

Exercise #1: Plank (30 seconds)
Rest 30 seconds

Exercise #2: Bicycle Crunch (10–15 reps per side)
Rest 30 seconds

Exercise #3: Lying Leg Raise (10-15 reps)
Rest 30 seconds

Exercise #4: Single-Leg Jackknife (10-15 reps)
Rest 30 seconds

Exercise #5: Standing Elbow-to-Knee Crunch (10-15 reps per side)


How to do it: Take a face down position with your body fully extended and supported on your forearms and toes. Keep your body as straight and parallel with the ground as possible as you hold the position.

Why it’s effective: “When you hold a plank, your whole core engages and it requires muscles from the mid- and lower back as well,” says Di Bari. “This helps your overall core strength build over time.”

QUICK TIP: “To help make sure your abs are fully engaged when in the plank position, pretend you’re pulling your hip bones towards your ribcage. Keep your shoulders directly over your hands throughout the movement.”


How to do it: Lie on a mat with your lower back flat and your hands behind your head. As you raise your shoulders off the floor towards the ceiling, bring your left knee towards your chest until it is at a forty-five degree angle. Touch your right elbow to your left knee, then return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Why it’s effective: “This is a great move for targeting the transverse abdominus, the deepest layer of the abdominals and will help build the much sought-after “V” lines that trace the hips of a lean core,” says Di Bari.

QUICK TIP: “Do your best to try and connect elbow and knee each rep,” says Di Bari. “This will ensure your shoulders are high enough off the ground to get the most out of the movement.”


How to do it: Lie flat on the floor with your arms extended towards your legs. Without raising your upper body in any way, lift your legs off the floor until your feet are pointing straight up and your body forms a ninety degree angle. Hold for a count then slowly return to the starting position.

Why it’s effective: “This is a very effective move for targeting the lower abs, or what most people point to as their abdominal ‘problem area,'” says Di Bari. 

QUICK TIP: “Keep your legs completely straight and hovering as low as you can without touching the floor,” says Di Bari. “Create a mind-muscle connection as you envision your lower abs pulling your legs up and directing the movement.”

 “Well-developed lower abs don’t just look great, they also improve posture and alleviate lower back strain.”


How to do it: Lie flat on the floor with your arms extended behind your head. Raise your torso upwards while at the same time raising your left leg, and reach for your toes. Return to the starting position and repeat with the left leg.

Why it’s effective: This move targets the rectus abdominus, which runs the length of the abdomen from the rib cage to the pelvic bone. It also hits the lower back and quadriceps.

QUICK TIP: "To help keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout the set, avoid fully lowering your legs at the bottom of the movement.
To make the move more challenging, perform with two legs at the same time holding a medicine ball between your ankles."


How to do it: Stand upright with your hands at your ears and your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Lift your right knee to the side as high as it will go while at the same time bending your torso to the right. Bring your elbow as close to your knee as possible before returning to the starting position and repeating on the opposite side.  

Why it’s effective: “Standing crunches are a welcome break from lying on the ground,” says Di Bari. “They also effectively hit the target muscles while placing less strain on the neck and lower back.”

QUICK TIP: “Even though this is the last move in the circuit, resist the inclination to rush through it and focus instead on getting a good contraction,” says Di Bari. “As your core strength improves, try using ankle weights to make it more challenging.”

Alex Zakrzewski
Alex is a Toronto-based freelance writer and fitness enthusiast.