The envious six-pack, the cheese-grater stomach – whatever you want to call it, achieving a lean stomach with visible abdominals usually sits near the top of many gym-goers fitness goals.
But training your abs just for aesthetics is the wrong way to go about things.
From heaver squats and deadlifts, to greater functional stability and faster 5k times. Developing strength within your abs will transition to improved performance across other exercises, activities, and daily life.
In this article, we'll give you a brief overview of the abdominals, and what they do, along with six of the best exercises to build abdominal and core strength.
Oh, and we'll also answer some common questions about ab exercises, so you can feel confident heading into your next ab workout!
What Are Abs Muscles?
Abs refer to your abdominal muscles, located around your stomach area, covering the internal organs and providing stability and movement to the trunk.
The abdominals are broken down into four main groups, these include;
Together, the abdominal muscles allow the trunk to rotate and flex, stabilizing the body through various movements.
Remember: Train to improve core strength and performance, not just aesthetics.
(must-read: The 5 Best Chest Exercises)
How Long Does It Take To Get Abs?
First off, let's be clear, you have abs. Whether they mimic a cheese-greater or not, the fact is you already have abs.
So, how long does it take to get 'visible' abs? Well, this totally depends on the individal, and many factors such as diet, body fat, training routine and frequency will all play a key role in the time it takes to get abs. But just remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.
How Often Should You Train Abs?
Due to the nature of the abdominals, training frequency can be relatively high, 1-2 days per week for a beginner, and 3-4 days per week for a more advanced athlete should provide enough stimulus for muscle development.
Don't forget, just like other muscle groups in the body, your ab muscles need adequate time to recover between sessions to ensure the muscle fibers can rebuild and strengthen. So hitting them twice a day seven days per week may sound like a good idea at first, but you could be limiting your progress.
What Exercises Give You Abs?
Any movement that engages the core, and, abdominal muscles will help develop strength within the abdominal muscles. From trunk flexion, such as crunches, to rotation, such as cable rotations. Even squats and deadlifts make for great abdominal exercises.
In this article, we've put together the six best abdominal exercises, so be sure to continue reading to find out what these are...
The Six Best Ab Exercises
We know, there are literally 100's of ab exercises out there, some weird, some wonderful.
So we thought we'd put together some of the staple core exercises you can include in your ab workouts to help develop stronger abdominal muscles.
Toe Touch Crunches
A core staple, the Plank exercise is excellent for placing your core, and abdominal muscles under constant tension. The Plank is an isometric exercise, meaning that the muscle does not lengthen, instead remaining static throughout and is one of the best core strengthening exercises.
The Plank requires engagement from the entire body to ensure the correct position can be held for the set length of time.
To progress the Plank, you can increase the time in which you hold the position, lift one foot in the air or add weight to increase resistance.
TIP: As you fatigue, focus on keeping your hips elevated, to prevent them from dipping and placing strain on your lower back.
Not a leg exercise. Leg Raises help increase strength and muscular control throughout the core, with an increased focus on the lower section of the rectus abdominis making it one of the best lower ab exercises.
Leg raises can be performed flat on the floor, on an incline bench or hanging from a bar, dependent on the individual's strength and experience.
TIP: A common mistake with leg raises can be poor control during the eccentric part of the rep, be sure to lower your legs slowly and avoid your feet from touching the floor.
Toe Touch Crunches
Toe Touches is one of the best core exercises for isolating the abdominal area. Holding your feet in a vertical position reduces the ability to 'cheat' whilst performing the exercise, challenging the Rectus Abdominis intensely.
TIP: When completing the exercises, keep your scapula retracted and avoid a 'rocking' motion. Control each rep, engaging your core throughout.
Another weights room classic, and for good reason. The Russian Twist places constant tension on the abdominals while the obliques help maintain balance and rotation of the torso. Russian Twists are one of the most challenging ab exercises to perform correctly.
To increase difficulty, hold a weight or cable extension and perform Russian Twists slowly, focusing on muscular engagement and balance.
TIP: To help balance, cross your feet and try to hold your legs in the centre of your body, avoiding swinging when rotating your torso.
The Abdominal Crunch, easily the most common abs exercise to grace the gym mats. However, this one is often confused with the sit-up.
A much smaller movement than many think; the aim with the abdominal crunch is to curve the spine, lifting the top half of your back off the floor, before controlling the movement back down to the start position.
The sit-up, however, requires the entire back to lift up off the ground, often worse for those with lower back issues.
TIP: To increase the difficulty of the Crunch, hold a small weight and increase the time you hold the crunch for at the top.
A hugely underrated core exercise for overall stability and mobility, when performed correctly, the Cable Rotation exercise engages the abdomen and obliques.
Superset cable rotations with russian twists for an effective way to target the obliques.
TIP: When performing cable rotations, focus rotating your upper half of the body, twisting the torso away from the cable, keeping your arms straight and thighs facing forwards.
Myths About Abs
Now that we've gone through the best ab exercises, allow us to debug a few myths that many of us come across while pursuing a lean, strong, chiseled stomach.
You can't spot-reduce body fat...
Training your core has many benefits, but don't fall into the belief that the result will be a direct reduction of body fat in that area. You might have one of the best ab workouts in the world, but ultimately, your body decides where it stores extra calories, and where it takes that energy from.
So, during your pursuit for stronger, more defined abs, don't forget about the other major muscle groups that help you perform at your best!
You can't get abs if you eat carbs...
The devil's food, right? Not quite.
Eating carbohydrates has no effect on whether you have visible abs or not. Instead, consider your eating habits and calorie consumption. Eating in a healthy deficit will reduce overall body fat, increasing the visibility of abdominal muscles and promoting a leaner physique in general.
You need to train your abs every day...
Let's be real here, you don't need to do 500 sit-ups every day.
Train your abdominals as you would any other muscle group, and focus on your core as a whole. Giving your muscles time to rest is key to ensuring they return stronger than before, and if you're training abs purely for aesthetics, you need to ensure your diet is on-point, too.
With those myths out the way, training your core is a must. Our abdominal muscles are constantly utilised throughout the day, from deadlifting to maintaining correct body posture; a strong, conditioned core isn't just about looks, but helps us in our day-to-day life too.