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Lunging woodchop core exercise

10 Weighted Core Exercises That’ll Challenge Your Abs In a Whole New Way

Build a strong and stable core by adding weight to your core moves.

By Lauren MazzoMarch 7, 2024

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Sometimes, bodyweight ab moves just aren’t enough. Maybe you’re bored with traditional crunches and planks or want to break out of a five-minute ab routine you’ve had on repeat for years. Weighted ab moves can help you do that. 

Adding resistance to your core work can target muscles in a way that’s just not possible with your body weight alone, and add a challenge for more advanced exercisers. There are plenty of benefits to adding weights to your ab routine, says Peloton Instructor Rad Lopez—namely, a stronger core, which translates to more efficient movement of every kind.

That said, you’ll want to tackle weighted core work intentionally (and with correct form) so you come away with abs of steel, not an injury. Where to start? We’ve collected some of the best core exercises with weights, as well as tips from pros on how to make them count.

Why Add Weights to Your Ab Workouts?

Adding weight to an ab move can simply make it more challenging, just like adding weight to a squat. Other times, it can change the way a move works your abs, or even make targeting your core possible in the first place. Take Pallof presses and suitcase carries, for example, says Schuyler Archambault a physical therapist at Arch Physical Therapy and Fitness. “They’re anti-rotation and anti-side bending exercises, so you need to add weight to have something to resist against,” she explains. 

What Equipment Is Needed for Weighted Ab Workouts?

You can use a range of workout equipment to add weight to your ab workouts, including ankle and wrist weights, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, and medicine balls. For most weighted core moves, you can easily swap between any of these free weights, and use what you have available. You may even be able to use household items like a loaded duffel bag or water jug. For other moves, like Pallof presses, you’ll need a cable machine or resistance band to provide weight or resistance to work against.

What Weight Is Best for Ab Workouts?

Start small—as little as one or two pounds, depending on the move—and work your way up. “Make sure you’re using weights that are adequate for your capabilities,” Rad says. “Don’t be a superhero.” 

Benefits of Weighted Abs Workouts

Weighted ab workouts can help add an element of challenge and variety to your core training compared to unweighted core exercises, says physical therapist Eni Kadar. Continually increasing the challenge by adding weight, reps, or time under tension (a principle called progressive overload) helps avoid plateaus so you continue to see results. “Our body adapts to the demands placed on it, so if you’re doing core exercises that aren’t challenging, you’re not going to see changes,” Archambault explains.

Weighted moves also allow you to work your muscles in a slightly different way. For example, “weights will challenge your stabilizer and intercostals a lot more than most bodyweight core exercises,” Rad says. Using weights allows you to place more resistance in your extremities (for example, at the end of your arms or legs), so the move induces a different effect.

“Weighted core exercises are also helpful because they can mimic the types of loads we encounter in our daily life (carrying groceries, shoveling snow) whereas unweighted exercises can only challenge you to a certain extent,” Kadar adds. Training these types of movements in the gym can keep you prepared to safely do those movements IRL.

All this adds up to a stronger core, which has cascading benefits for your body. “A stronger core (and being able to properly recruit the right muscles) is a key piece of injury prevention as well,” Kadar says. “We use our core in every movement of our day, from getting out of bed to lifting kiddos.”

What Are the Best Ab Exercises Using Weights?

Functional movements (like many of those below) are king, because their effects carry over into real life and athletic performance, Kadar says. “Rarely are we using our core muscles in supine (laying down, face up) or static (not moving) positions,” she says. “We're using our core in motion—while running, lifting, carrying, and playing sports that require speed and movement in the 3D plane. Functional core moves strengthen your core dynamically while you're in motion and challenge your core muscles from a 360-degree lens.”

Reminder: Your core isn’t just the six-pack muscles (the rectus abdominis) on the front of your stomach. “In reality, it's everything from your neck to your hips,” Kadar continues. “Your pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, obliques, rectus abdominis, and back muscles all work together to provide stability for your back and hips while you move, so our training should reflect that.” These weighted core moves will help you tap into all those muscles and train them for life.

Rebecca Kennedy doing dead bugs

1. Weighted Dead Bug

The dead bug builds core stability while you move your limbs. To add resistance, Kadar recommends holding a light weight in your hands and moving only the lower body.

How to Do It

  1. Start lying face-up on the floor with your legs in a tabletop position: knees bent at 90 degrees, stacked directly over your hips, with shins parallel to the floor. Hold a lightweight dumbbell or weight plate between both your hands directly over your chest. 

  2. Press your lower back into the floor and engage your core. Holding this position, slowly extend one leg to hover just off the floor.

  3. Return your leg to the starting position, then repeat on the opposite side. 

Muscles worked: Abs (transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques), hip flexors, pelvic floor, back (erector spinae)

2. Farmer’s Carry

Loaded carry exercises are a true functional move, as they replicate the challenge placed on your body when you’re carrying heavy things. During a farmer’s carry, your core is working hard to stabilize your torso so it doesn’t bend from the weight you’re holding. (Bonus: It’s also building grip strength.)

How to Do It

  1. Start standing with your feet together, holding a medium-weight dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand by your sides. 

  2. Engage your core, keep your neck long, and think about drawing your shoulder blades back and down. Maintaining this posture, walk forward 10 steps, or as far as you can in the space you’re in. 

  3. Turn around and walk back to the starting position, if needed.

Muscles worked: Core, forearms, upper back, legs 

3. Suitcase Carry

The suitcase carry (aka unilateral farmer’s carry) involves holding a weight in just one hand, and also trains you to stabilize your torso while you’re holding something heavy.

How to Do It

  1. Start standing with your feet together, holding a medium-weight dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand by your side.

  2. Engage your core, keep your neck long, and think about drawing your shoulder blades back and down. Maintaining this posture, walk forward 10 steps, or as far as you can in the space you’re in.

  3. Turn around and walk back to the starting position, if needed. Repeat on the other side.

Muscles worked: Core, forearms, upper back, legs

4. Pallof Press

For this anti-rotation core move, you’ll need either a cable machine or a resistance band, anchored onto something sturdy (like a railing) somewhere between belly button and chest height.

How to Do It

  1. Grab onto the resistance band or cable machine handle with both hands and step away from the anchor point until the cable or band is taught. Stand facing sideways so the anchor point is to your right. 

  2. Start with your hands together at your chest, then press the handle away from you until your arms are fully extended in front of your chest, resisting the pull of the band or cable machine.

  3. Slowly bring your hands back to your chest. Be sure to do the same number of reps on the other side. 

Muscles worked: Core, chest, shoulders, upper back

5. Half Turkish Get-up

Turkish get-ups are a stellar functional, full-body exercise, but you can trim it to focus more on the core. 

How to Do It

  1. Start lying face-up on the ground with your left knee bent and foot flat on the floor, and your right leg straight. Hold a light weight in your left hand directly over your left shoulder, and extend your right arm out to the side at a diagonal, palm pressing into the floor. 

  2. Keeping your left arm extended toward the ceiling and the weight directly above your left shoulder, engage your abs to roll onto your right forearm. Keep your gaze on the weight. 

  3. Brace your core and push up to your right hand, keeping the weight above your left shoulder and your eyes on the weight. Keep your shoulders away from your ears.

  4. Pause here for a count, then slowly reverse the motion to return to the starting positions. Be sure to do the same number of reps on the other side.

Muscles worked: Core, shoulders, upper back, chest 

6. Dumbbell Chop

This weighted core move drills rotation—a movement commonly left out of crunch and plank-heavy ab routines.

How to Do It

  1. Start standing with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in both hands. 

  2. Inhale and lift the dumbbell overhead and to the right, turning your shoulders to the right but without rotating your feet or hips. 

  3. Exhale and engage your abs to chop the dumbbell across your body so the weight ends up on the outside of your left hip, shoulders rotated to the left.  

Muscles worked: Core, shoulders, upper back

7. Weighted Bird-Dog Row

To make bird-dog more challenging, wear wrist or ankle weights or add a row, Kadar says. 

How to Do It

  1. Start in a tabletop position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips, holding a light dumbbell in the right hand. Find a neutral spine and engage your core. 

  2. Extend your left leg backward at hip height, keeping your hips square to the floor. Holding this position, row the dumbbell up to your right ribs.

  3. Slowly lower the dumbbell toward the floor. Be sure to do the same number of reps on the other side.

Muscles worked: Core, back, shoulders, hamstrings, glutes

8. Weighted V-up

This is Rad’s favorite weighted ab move, and it’s not for the faint of heart. This V-up variation adds a light dumbbell or medicine ball to make it even harder.

How to Do It

  1. Start lying face-up on the floor with your arms and legs extended in opposite directions. Hold a light dumbbell in your hands overhead, biceps by your ears.

  2. Engage your core to lift your arms and legs. Reach your hands toward your toes so your shoulders come off the ground and you’re balancing on your glutes, forming a “V” shape with your body. 

  3. With control, lower your arms and legs to the floor to return to the starting position.

Muscles worked: Core, hip flexors

9. Plank Dumbbell Pass

This weighted core move drills core stability, asking you to keep your hips still and facing the floor even while pulling a dumbbell across your body. Modify by placing your knees on the floor.

How to Do It

  1. Start in a plank position with your palms directly under your shoulders and core engaged. Place a single dumbbell on the floor, parallel to your body, just below your right hand.

  2. Without moving your hips, reach your left hand underneath your chest to grab the dumbbell and drag it to the left side of your body. 

  3. Return your left hand to plank position, then repeat with the right hand.

Muscles worked: Core, shoulders, upper back

Renegade Row

10. Renegade Row

To level up a regular plank, Kadar recommends adding weights and a dynamic element. This move forces your core to stabilize to prevent your torso from twisting as you alternate hands. You can also modify by lowering your knees.

How to Do It

  1. Start in a plank position with a dumbbell next to each hand, parallel to your body.

  2. Without moving your hips, grab the right dumbbell with your right hand and row it up to your ribs. 

  3. Slowly lower the weight to the floor, place your right palm on the floor, then repeat on the other side.

Muscles worked: Core, shoulders, upper back

When to Add Weights to Your Core Workouts

Rule number one: Master the bodyweight version of a move before trying to add weight. “Once you have the technique down, you can gradually start to add weight. Start small and test out how heavy you can go without feeling uncomfortable,” Rad says.

“It's important to start with light resistance because it's easy to compensate with other muscles (neck, lower back) if you're not cognizant of the muscles you're recruiting and your form,” Kadar says. If you’re able to do a lot of reps (say, 20) of a certain core exercise with ease, you may be ready to progress.

How to Include Weighted Ab Exercises In Your Workout

There’s not one right way to add weighted core exercises to your workout plan. “I love to use functional weighted core exercises as a warm-up for bigger lifts like squats or deadlifts,” Kadar says. “You can do this by doing one or two sets of the exercise to connect ‘mind to muscle’ but being careful not to fatigue your core muscles prior to the main lift.” Alternatively, you can add any of these moves as a "finisher" to your workouts, she says.

To get started, Kadar recommends incorporating weighted core moves one or two times a week and building up from there, depending on your current fitness level. “I like to leave at least 24 hours between training specific muscle groups and leave at least one or two days of complete rest per week,” she says.

Safety Considerations for Weighted Ab Workouts

“Before adding weights to your core exercises, make sure you’re free and clear of any injuries that might prevent you from performing the exercises comfortably and without pain,” Rad says. 

And when you do the moves, “you should not feel any increase in pain when performing these or incorporating them into your routine,” Kadar emphasizes. If you do, stop doing that move and consider consulting a personal trainer or physical therapist for individualized help and programming. The only thing that should be hurting, within reason, is your abs.


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