14 Best Isometric Ab Exercises (Workouts Without Crunches)

Isometric core exercises focus on your abdominal muscles as you hold a position and squeeze your core muscle group.

One of the most recognized isometric ab exercises is the plank, but we think you can do even more.

In this review, we look at how to perform the 14 best isometric ab movements to shock your core and get a real burn on your next workout session.

The best part is, with these exercises, you don't even need to go to the gym. You can do them in your office, living room, or just about anywhere.

You don't even need a personal trainer, though they can help push your iso holds longer.

Working your core means working your abdominals and glutes. What you may not realize, though, is that there are different exercises that will focus on the three main ab groups[1]:

Rectus Abdominis Group: These are the coveted “6-pack” abs everyone is looking for.

Obliques (Internal and External) Group: 
These are the V-shaped muscles that taper your waistline.

Transverse Abdominis Group: 
These are the rear muscles that pull your stomach in and keep it flat.

With our list of the best isometric exercises for abs, you can achieve that washboard stomach right from the comfort of your own home.

Or you can incorporate these movements at your next gym session when working your core. Iso exercises can increase upper body strength while you also prevent injury.

1. Pallof Press Hold

The Pallof Press abs exercise can be done with a standing rack, or in your home with a resistance band and a door frame.

With this move, you add resistance that attempts to pull you to the side while using your core and glutes to remain still.

  1. 1
    Slowly lower the cable machine to chest height with enough resistance to be comfortable but challenged.
  2. 2
    Stand sideways, feet shoulder-width apart, with the right side facing the machine. This is your neutral position.
  3. 3
    Grab the D handle with both hands and far enough away to put tension on the cable.
  4. 4
    Hold the handle at your sternum and inhale.
  5. 5
    On your exhale, press the cable out directly in front of you, and hold for a two-count.
  6. 6
    Inhale and return the cable to your chest.
  7. 7
    Repeat for desired reps, then swap directions for the other side.
Pallof Press Hold

2. Bird Dog

The bird dog is another core-strengthening exercise focused on the obliques and rectus groups. It is also a standard yoga position, so you may already be familiar.

In this one, you are on hands and knees with a straight back, and you extend one leg and one arm (opposite sides) with a hold before switching.

  1. 1
    Begin on hands and knees with knees below your hips and hands below your shoulders.
  2. 2
    Extend your left arm and right leg out straight, keeping the rest of your body still, and remain tight.
  3. 3
    Hold for a 10-count and return to the starting position.
  4. 4
    Extend the right arm and left leg out straight.
  5. 5
    Hold for a 10-count and return to the starting position.
Expert Tip: Keep your head aligned with your spine, and do not rock your body.
Ensure your extensions are slow and controlled, and don't start counting until fully extended. Remember to breathe through the entire motion.
Bird Dog

3. Hollow Hold

With the Hollow Hold, as with many abdominal hold exercises, you are working your rectus and transverse core muscles.

In this yoga pose, you want to lift as much of your shoulder blades and body off the ground as possible while maintaining control.

Arms and legs lift up, leaving your buttocks and lower back on the ground, and you use your core stability to control your balance.

  1. 1
    Lie flat on your back with your legs straight out and your arms extended over your head, so you are lying in one straight line.
  2. 2
    Lift into the “hollow” position by raising your legs and arms towards the ceiling.
  3. 3
    Press your lower back into the ground and keep your core engaged.
  4. 4
    Hold for a 10-count while maintaining your breathing.
  5. 5
    During the hold, do not rock or twist.
  6. 6
    For an added challenge, point your toes without your feet touching and hold for longer.
Hollow Body Hold

4. V-Sit Hold

The V-Sit Hold is a variation of an ab exercise routine where you reach up from your back and touch your ankles.

In this variation, though, your rep is a hold at the top of the move instead of a short rest on your back. This works all three ab muscle groups and your hip flexors.

  1. 1
    Start by laying on your back with arms overhead and legs out, feet together.
  2. 2
    Raise your feet until they are about 45 degrees from the floor.
  3. 3
    Raise your arms together until they are also 45 degrees off the floor. Your body should look like a V shape.
  4. 4
    Hold this position, pulling your core tight and squeezing your glutes.
  5. 5
    Keep your chin tucked and your spine neutral for a 10-count.
  6. 6
    Work to get to a 30-count or more as you get stronger.
V-Sit Hold

5. L-SIT

The L-Sit can be done in a chair, using a handhold or dip bars on an ab-raise machine.

You are working your core muscles with all three ab groups, hip flexors, and hamstrings. It also incorporates your triceps and shoulders.

See Related - Best Dip Bar Exercises

  1. 1
    Begin by grabbing the dip handles and lifting your body up until your arms are straight.
  2. 2
    Slowly bring your legs up, straight until they are parallel with the floor.
  3. 3
    In this position, your body should look like an “L.”
  4. 4
    Hold for a 30-count and lower your feet towards the ground.
  5. 5
    Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
L-Sit

6. Wall Sit

This isometric ab exercise incorporates the rectus abdominal muscles as well as the hamstrings and glutes.

It appears simple since you have plenty of contact points, but the longer you go, the harder it becomes to hold and maintain your breathing.

See Related - Wall Sit Benefits & Techniques Explained

  1. 1
    Start in the standing position with feet flat and hip-width apart.
  2. 2
    Lean back into the wall and lower yourself until your knees and hips make 90-degree angles; your thighs should be parallel with the floor.
  3. 3
    Hold this position as long as possible. Aim for at least 1 minute.
Expert Tip: For an added challenge, hold lightweight dumbbells in your hands and hold them straight out in front of you, arms parallel with the floor.
Woman Doing a Wall Sit Exercise

7. Dead Bugs

In this variation of the Hollow Hold, you also include some movements to add tension to your obliques.

Instead of just holding your feet and arms straight out, you will bring one arm and one leg to tabletop position (bent knee above hips, hand above shoulder).

  1. 1
    Begin by laying flat on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. Arms extended overhead and legs straight out.
  2. 2
    Move your arms and legs into a reverse tabletop position. Your hands should be reaching to the sky, and your legs should be bent at the knee over your hips as if you were crawling on the ceiling.
  3. 3
    Lower your right arm next to your head and off the floor. Next, extend your left leg, straightening the knee and lowering the leg toward the ground and off the floor.
  4. 4
    Hold in this position for a 10-count.
  5. 5
    Return to the starting position and repeat by extending the opposite limbs.
Dead Bug Exercise

8. Forearm Planks

The plank is one of the all-time basic strong core holds, and sometimes keeping it simple is the best option.

The plank works your rectus and transverse abdominal groups, but it is important to remember to breathe throughout the hold.

  1. 1
    Start in a push-up position and drop to your elbows: your palms facing down with forearms on the floor in a straight line, elbows under your shoulders.
  2. 2
    Lift your body off the ground, so you are only on your toes and elbows (forearms and hands, too).
  3. 3
    Dome your shoulders and squeeze your core and glutes to maintain a straight spine.
  4. 4
    Hold for a 30-count, working up to 1 minute as you get stronger.
Expert Tip: Maintain the push-up position instead of dropping to your elbow at the start for a High Plank variation. Or alternate and move between a High Plank and a Forearm Plank "up" position for an added challenge.
Forearm Plank

9. Side Plank Hold

The Side Plank Hold is a Forearm Plank variation that adds obliques to the workout.

You will still perform the forearm plank as outlined above, but then you will rotate your body, raising one arm in the air.

  1. 1
    Begin in the forearm plank start position and rise to the up position and hold for a 10-count.
  2. 2
    Instead of lowering your body to the ground, rotate out, swinging your right arm overhead and turning so your one foot is resting on top of your other foot, with the outside edge of your bottom foot on the ground. Keep the top leg still and tighten your core.
  3. 3
    Hold for a 10-count.
  4. 4
    Return to the forearm plank position and hold for a 10-count.
  5. 5
    Swing the left arm up overhead, switching to the other side
  6. 6
    Hold for a 10-count and return to the forearm plank position.
Side Plank Hold

10. Tabletop Hold

The Tabletop Hold is very similar to the Dead Bugs, but it is designed for a beginner that needs stronger core strengthening before adding extra moves to their rep.

This move works the rectus and transverse ab groups and the hip flexors.

  1. 1
    Start by laying flat on your back with your feet together and legs extended out in a straight line.
  2. 2
    Lift your knees until they are above your hips and bend them, so your calves are parallel to the floor.
  3. 3
    Lift your head off the ground like you are doing crunches. Your arms can be behind your head or across your chest.
  4. 4
    Instead of crunching, hold this up position for a 10-count.
  5. 5
    Aim to increase the count as you get stronger.
Tabletop Hold

11. Bear Plank

The bear plank is a tabletop plank variation that is a strength training yoga move designed for full-body inclusion.

You will need all three abdominal groups, glutes, arms, and legs involved here. This move seems simple as you are only lifting your knees off the ground.

  1. 1
    Start on your hands and knees, with hands below shoulders and knees below hips in tabletop position.
  2. 2
    Pressing your bodyweight into your hands and toes, lift your knees (bent) 2 inches off the ground.
  3. 3
    Maintain your breathing while pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
  4. 4
    Hold for a 10-count and lower knees back to the ground.
Expert Tip: Aim for longer and longer holds and keep your head in line with your spine and back straight. For added difficulty, have a partner place weight plates on your upper back.
Bear Plank

12. Hanging L-Sit Hold

Just like the L-Sit, the hanging L-Sit Hold works your hip flexors, all three ab groups, and your hamstrings.

It also incorporates your forearms and triceps. The only difference here is that you are hanging from a bar instead of pushing up from a hand hold.

  1. 1
    Reach up and grab hold of the bar, arms at or just wider than shoulder width.
  2. 2
    Slowly bring your feet up, keeping heels and toes together and legs straight.
  3. 3
    Aim for your legs to be parallel to the floor or higher.
  4. 4
    Hold for a 10-count but aim for longer as you get stronger.
  5. 5
    Control the drop of your feet.

Also Check Out - 10 Pull Up Bar Ab Workouts

Hanging L-Sit Hold

13. Cable Crunch Hold

This move involves using a cable machine and the low pulley as well as a normal crunch, but with a hold and weight resistance.

You want to lay on your back, head toward the cable machine, holding on to the D-handle at resistance.

This works your rectus and transverse abdominal groups as well as shoulder muscles and hip flexors.

Related Article - Best Cable Exercises For Abs & Obliques

  1. 1
    Start by laying flat on your back, legs together, fully extended, and arms extended, holding the D-ring or rope attachment on the bottom pulley.
  2. 2
    Tension should already be on the pulley, with the weight lifted slightly.
  3. 3
    Bring your knees (bent) up toward your chest and hands down toward your knees in a standard crunch position.
  4. 4
    Hold the crunch, engaging your core and holding the weight steady.
  5. 5
    Hold for a 30-count and return to the starting position.

This exercise is an excellent substitute for regular cable crunches as the isometric hold creates more tension on your muscles.

Cable Crunch Hold

14. Ab Wheel Rolling Isometric Hold

The ab wheel is a great tool to help you increase your core strength.

Adding an isometric hold into it will increase the difficulty and engage your rectus, transverse and oblique groups as well as shoulders, hip flexors, and forearms.

This is an advanced move for those comfortable using an ab wheel. If you're not as confident, check out our guide to the best ab wheel rollout alternative exercises.

  1. 1
    On your knees, push the ab wheel rollout in front of you.
  2. 2
    Squeeze your entire core and roll forward until your arms are straight and fully extended.
  3. 3
    Maintain a neutral, straight spine and keep your head up, in line with your spinal cord.
  4. 4
    Hold for a 30-count.
  5. 5
    Roll back to the starting position.
Ab Wheel Rolling Isometric Hold

Isometric Abdominal Training (IAT): Benefits Explained

Isometric ab training (IAT) is a system of engaging your muscles without movement.

Similar to clenching your gut to prepare for a punch that never comes, these exercises force you to tighten and hold various muscle groups to build strength.

There are many benefits to these types of exercises, including the following.

  • Effectiveness:
    Studies show that 7 to 15 seconds of isometric exercise can build strength.[2]
  • Safety:
    Because you don’t need to lift heavy weights or move equipment to build muscle, IAT is safe to perform.
  • Reduced Risk Of Injury:
    While not 100% risk-free, you greatly reduce the risk of injury compared to other workout options.
  • Convenient:
    You can work out with isometric exercise virtually anywhere, at any time.
  • Muscle Coordination And Balance:
    Iso exercises force your neurotransmitters to fire, causing your muscles to engage.[3] This coordination travels throughout your body, working to increase balance and control.

Isometric Ab Workout Routine For Beginners

As a beginner, you want to learn more about the positions, holding times and breathing before you take on more advanced exercises.

It is recommended to start with 3 to 5 positions and learn them well, holding for 30 seconds or longer each rep. Then you can move on to more advanced stuff.

On your next core workout day, try adding these five best isometric ab exercises into your routine and see how it makes you feel afterward.

If you want visible six-pack abs, start adding isometric abs exercises into your routine. 

  • Forearm Plank. 3 sets, 10 reps, 10 second holds
  • Side Plank. 3 sets, 10 reps, 10 second holds
  • Wall Sit. 3 sets, 3 reps, 30 second holds
  • Bird Dogs. 3 sets, 10 reps (each side), 10 second holds.
  • Hollow Holds. 3 sets, 5 reps, 30 second holds.

Frequently Asked Isometric Ab Exercises Questions

Do isometric exercises build six-pack abs?

Abdominal exercises will work out your core, of course, but being able to see your abs and the coveted 6-pack starts in the kitchen. Your diet must be spot on to burn the outer layer of belly fat that allows these muscles to show through. Once that is sorted, though, yes, isometric exercises will help the abs get stronger, larger, and more visible.

How long should you hold isometric exercises?

You want to improve your hold times as your fitness level grows, and there isn't an upper limit except what you set for yourself as a goal. The longer you hold, though, the less reps you need to complete. For beginner effectiveness, you should aim for 5 to 10 second holds.

Can you do isometrics every day?

If you are not adding weights or resistance to your isometric exercises, then yes, you can perform them every day. Known as submaximal isometrics (no weights), you are only engaging the muscle contractions and not tearing muscle fibers that need recovery time to heal.

How many sets of isometrics should I do?

Isometric sets should be limited to three at most. Two is more ideal if you are maintaining longer holds. You also want to rest a full 60 seconds between sets.

Do isometrics burn belly fat?

Burning fat starts with your diet, but the right exercise can help you burn calories that will eventually shed fat. Core isometric exercises will help burn belly fat, but only if you are eating right in the first place.


Conclusion

Core isometric exercises may seem easy enough, until you actually start to hold those positions.

It takes a lot of willpower to maintain the hold when your muscles are burning and you want to give up.

Adding a few of the listed movements into your routine can get a great core workout any day of the week. Rotate the options to prevent plateauing, and your goals will be reached in no time.

References: 

1. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/abdominal-muscles
2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-019-04099-5
3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30059701/

Last Updated on December 3, 2022