Without fail, it seems like a “new” ab exercise is invented every week, along with an expensive gimmick that claims to help you get a six pack in no time at all. But in reality, many people don’t know a ton about the abdominal muscle group.
What’s worse, there’s plenty of info out there about how often abs should be trained. In fact, it might be one of the most misunderstood groups of muscles. One of the most challenging aspects of training abs is determining how to best incorporate training into your current workout program.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused about how to best train abs and how often to train them. Fortunately, there are a few simple things to keep in mind to help you stay on track.
Your abs generally recover faster than other muscle groups mainly because they’re at work every day. Your core muscles help you stand up, sit tall in a car, move, and bend. As support to your spine, your abs are constantly being forced to stretch and grow. Because of this, you can generally train your abs more often than other muscle groups, but every day is still too often.
In the most oversimplified way to say it, the stronger your abs, the stronger the rest of your body. A strong core is the basis for every movement that you make every day and can help you perform better in a variety of exercises.
The frequency with which you train your abs is like most other things in the exercise world – it’s going to depend on a lot of personal factors. Overall diet, lifestyle, and fitness levels all come into play when creating a program for your abs. The other thing to consider is your personal level of recovery. So the most blanket statement is to start with training abs every other day and assess your personal level of tolerance.
What Are Abs?
The abdominal muscle group can be broken down into four major groupings. As a fifth group, hip flexors are often included in anatomical muscle group instruction because of their responsibility in many abdominal related movements.
The most well-known and popular muscle in the ab group is the rectus abdominus. This is the long flat muscle that extends vertically between the pubis and the fifth, sixth, and seventh rib bones.
Anatomically, there’s a white line called a linea alba that divides the rectus abdominus down the middle. There are also three horizontal tendon sheaths that help create that six-pack look that’s so coveted among fitness enthusiasts. The rectus abdominus helps you flex your spinal column, and helps you to bend side to side as well as stabilise the trunk of your body during heavy movements.
The external obliques are located on the side of the rectus abdominus and have muscle fibres that run diagonally downward. In very lean athletes, well defined obliques create a V-shaped taper. This muscle pair allows for the movement of the spine, torso rotation, sideways bending and abdominal compression.
Internal obliques are deep muscles that sit below the external obliques and form right angles from one another. Together, the internal and external obliques are called opposite-side rotators. When the trunk rotes left, the external right side obliques contract.
The transverse abdominus is the deepest layer of abdominal muscle. It wraps around the torso from front to back. This muscle helps with respiration and breathing by facilitating forceful expression of air. It helps to stabilise the spine and compress internal organs.
How Do I Get My Abs to Show?
The only way to achieve that six pack is to address your diet and decrease your intake and focus on full-body strength training. During a workout, fat in your body is burned as fuel. The most effective way to get your abs to show is to do whatever it takes to burn the most calories. That means that you can’t see your abs if they’re covered in fat. It doesn’t matter what your training program is or how often you lift. The bottom line is that your diet is going to directly relate to how well your abs show. This means it doesn’t matter the muscle group that’s being trained.
Of course every person is going to have different results on what works best to get abs to show. Universally, the best way to burn lots of calories is to focus on compound lifts that work the major muscle groups in your body. The big three – squat, dead lift, bench – have survived for so long because they’re effective and they challenge the biggest muscle groups in your body. At the same time, when you perform a compound lift, you’re engaging plenty of other smaller muscles for balance and support.
In addition to focusing on compound lifts, you should consider adding in direct strength training to your abs to get them to show. A progressive overload approach is going to work well with ab training just like with any other muscle group training. Breathing is equally as important when you’re training abs. Being able to fully contract your core muscles with an exhale on the eccentric movement and an inhale on the concentric will help with range of motion and trunk flexion.
Will I Get Rid of Abdominal Fat by Doing Ab Exercises?
It’s a hard truth to accept, but if you have belly fat, it doesn’t matter how many GHD sit ups or toes to bar you do. You’re never going to get your abs to show. The only way to make this happen is to address your diet and burn fat all over your body.
“Spot training” is the idea that you can focus in on one specific area in your body and train just that area. This myth prevails in the fitness community, even though countless studies show that it’s simply not true. During a workout, your body pulls fat to use as fuel from all over your body, which negates the idea that doing a bunch of ab exercises will get your abs to show.
More Ab Training Myths
A common ab training myth is that training can counterbalance a bad diet. The truth is you can’t out train a bad diet. To get the abs that you want, your diet is going to be a key deciding factor in getting them to show.
Many people think that doing several hundred ab exercises at once is a good idea. The reality is that since abs are just like every other muscle group, you should train them just like you do everything else. Performing 8-15 reps per set will help for optimal strength and endurance.
There is some benefit to upper and lower ab targeting. Depending on what type of exercise you do, you’ll be training either the upper or lower portion of the abs, but if you do the ab exercise with perfect form, you’re likely to feel the entire muscle working.
Products aren’t needed to train your abs. There are plenty of gimmicky devices that are on the market that people think are required to train abs. Gadgets aren’t needed to get in a good workout. Good form and proper breathing will go a lot further than a piece of plastic.
What are the best abdominal exercises?
The best abdominal exercises are going to vary based on your own personal fitness level and mobility. The most important thing to remember is to work on multiple angles to target all areas of your abs.
Now that you have a working understanding of the main muscle groups, it’s simple to design a program to target each of these muscles. Remember that all abs should trained in more than just one angle. When creating a program, use the acronym SRES to create a well rounded approach to training abs. SRES stands for spinal flexion, rotation, extension, and stability.
Select five to ten exercises and maintain good breathing and proper form throughout each set.
- Ab crunch on exercise ball
- Long arm crunch
- Reverse crunch
- Basic crunch
- Bicycle twist
- Russian twists
- Seated twists with medicine ball
- Bird dogs
- GHD raises
- Bridge exercises
- Reverse plank
- Side plank
Muscles Need Rest
One thing everyone seems to forget is that abs are a muscle group just like quads, hamstrings, or biceps. So that means they need to rest and recover just like every other muscle group. When you train your abs, you’re damaging them to a slight degree that helps the muscles grow. But the key here is that rebuilding can’t take place if you’re training your abs too often.
That’s why more frequent training isn’t necessarily better. Denying your abs a proper recovery time, same as you would after a heavy squat day, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
The Bottom Line
Every body is different, as is every fitness level and caloric requirements. Regardless of these variables, the bottom line is this. Decreasing calorie intake (try a cutting diet), focusing on big compound lifts, and dedicated ab training every other day are the only way to get those abs to pop. Remember that to lose body fat and reveal that sought-after six pack, you need to be doing more than just training abs.