Many gymgoers wonder about how to train abs to get the best results. After all, many of us want to achieve that six-pack washboard look.
So how often should you train abs? Is once a week good, or should you train them more often than that? This article will cover everything from optimal ab training frequency to some of the best ab workouts you can do. Stick around to get the Zoppler lowdown!
The Importance of Having a Strong Core
First, let’s dig into why you should optimize your ab workouts in the first place. As you’ll see, having a strong core is pretty important. Here are some of the main benefits.
A Strong Core Prevents Injuries
You naturally brace your core to stabilize your body when lifting weights or doing other physically-intensive exercises.
However, if your core isn’t strong enough, it can struggle to keep up. If this happens, you’ll commonly feel your form become unstable or break down in patterns that could cause low-back injuries or damage to other delicate areas of the body.
Prevent or Reduce Pain
Core strength training also has a proven ability to prevent or reduce pain.
One 4-week study found that core stability and strengthening exercises significantly improved low back pain symptoms, with 38% of participants seeing complete relief from pain after just 4 weeks of consistent training.
Now think about how much core training accomplishes with consistent effort.
Core Training Improves Posture
Your core is often active to keep you stable and upright. Whether you’re walking, bending down to pick something up, or working out, your core muscles are always at work. However, the amount we sit during the day looking at computer screens, staring at our phones, etc., can all negatively impact posture.
You can combat that with core strength training. It builds key postural muscles, keeping you standing upright and combatting pain and soreness associated with sitting for extended amounts of time.
Although it should be noted that implementing a complete strength-training program in addition to core workouts will help you get the most benefit.
Increase Strength on Other Exercises
As mentioned earlier, you use your core in pretty much every exercise at the gym. It only makes sense that building your core muscles would help you lift more weight on other exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
Studies have also found improving core strength has moderate benefits for performance in sports like football, swimming, golf, and more. For example, one study on core strength training for golfers led to a 3.2% increase in swing speed and an 8.2% reduction in accumulated fatigue over an 18-hole round of golf. So it’ll build overall functional strength and athleticism.
Improved Aesthetic Appearance
Doing core exercises will also improve physical appearance. While losing fat through eating in a calorie deficit and getting active is key to getting visible abs, strengthening those muscles will help them pop more once you get lean enough. Plus, doing these exercises will burn calories and fat, which will help you stay slim and healthy long-term.
How Many Times a Week Should I Train Abs?
Ideally, you should train abs 3-6 times per week, depending on personal preference and ability.
You don’t have to worry much about working your abs too hard. Since you use those muscles throughout daily activities, they’re used to working and can recover quickly. So rest assured, knowing it’s safe to train abs more than once per week.
If you’re a beginner, start at 3 days per week. Then, as you start to feel comfortable in the gym, you can increase training volume every 1-3 months until you get to a full 6 days per week.
Should I Dedicate an Entire Day to Abs and Core?
For many lifters, dedicating an entire day to abs and core won’t be the most efficient, especially if you’re training them in the optimal range of 3-6 days per week. Most find it better to train abs before or after a full workout, however, it depends on personal preference. If you want to do a really intense core workout one day each week in addition to a couple of lighter core days after regular workouts, that can also be a successful method. Experiment with different types of training and see what works best for you!
Should I Workout My Abs Before or After My Workout?
Many gymgoers find they prefer to train abs after their regular workout routine.
Since you use your core on every compound movement, it can make those lifts more taxing if you work your abs beforehand. So you may find you have to reduce your weight on exercises like squats and deadlifts if you go that route.
Once again, however, it comes down to personal preference. Some people find they enjoy working core right away as a nice warmup.
Best 5 Ab Workouts to Get a Stronger Core
To get all the benefits from working your core, here are the top 5 exercises you can implement into your routine.
1. Leg Raises
- Abdominal muscles worked: Lower abs
- Optional equipment: Captain’s chair machine, pull-up bar, or dip bars
- Recommended sets & reps: 4 sets of 10-25 reps
Leg raises are one of the best lower abs exercises. They’re very beginner-friendly, and you can do them almost anywhere with a variety of equipment and difficulties as you progress.
If you’re a beginner, starting with lying leg raises is best. You would lay on the floor and (keeping your legs straight) lift them until they’re pointing at the ceiling. If you’re struggling to do them with straight legs, try bending your knees to make it easier.
To progress further, there are additional variations you can do.
The next one would be using the captain’s chair machine. It’s the same motion, just upright and holding your body weight up in the stand.
After that, you can progress to hanging leg raises from a pull-up bar and leg raises while bracing your body weight up on dip bars as the most advanced movement.
Working out your lower abs is great because it’s the most difficult abdominal region to target, they make a huge impact on your aesthetic, and you are also working other regions of your core when you do lower ab exercises.
2. Side Planks
- Abdominal muscles worked: Obliques
- Optional equipment: Dumbbell
- Recommended sets & reps: 3 sets of 30-60 second hold
Side planks work your obliques, which are the abdominal muscles on the side of your body. Obliques can often go neglected since they aren’t the main “show” muscles, but they’re just as important for core stability and support.
To do a side plank, you’ll start lying on your side with your elbow beneath you. You’ll then raise your hips up, bracing on that elbow and keeping your core tight.
To progress, there are a couple of variations you can implement.
The first option would be curl under side planks. You could even use a dumbbell for this movement, so we will give you the instructions with the DB included. You get into the side plank position holding the dumbbell on the side furthest from the ground. You then raise the dumbbell straight up, pointing at the ceiling, and then curl it under below your body as you reach for the other side of your hip for one rep.
The other variation can add difficulty without using any equipment. It’s called side plank dips. You would hold the side plank position and dip the side closest to the ground down until it almost touches and bring it back up for a full rep. Just make sure to focus on keeping your body straight for optimal targeting.
3. Weighted Crunches
- Abdominal muscles worked: Upper abs
- Optional equipment: Dumbbell, weight plate, medicine ball, ab machine, or cable machine
- Recommended sets & reps: 4 sets of 10-25 reps
If you’ve been in the gym at all, you’ve probably done some form of crunches before; they’re a great exercise to target your upper abs effectively. Plus, there are many variations to try. You can do them holding a dumbbell, weight plate, or medicine ball. Or you could do machine-based crunches instead.
To perform the exercise, you start lying on the ground with your knees bent and holding your weight of choice. Then, keep your head and neck relaxed as you lift your upper body 30-45 degrees off the ground.
4. Bicycle Crunches
- Abdominal muscles worked: Upper abs, lower abs, obliques
- Optional equipment: Dumbbell or medicine ball
- Recommended sets & reps: 4 sets of 15-25 reps
The bicycle crunch is excellent since it works all your abdominal muscles in one movement. If you’re looking for something efficient to add to your workout, this would be the exercise to add into your rotation.
You’ll start lying on the ground with your hands placed behind your head and lift your legs up with your knees as close to your chest as possible. Next, straighten out one leg while keeping the other close to your chest, and then twist your upper body to the opposite side so your right elbow is touching your left knee. Then alternate for the other side.
For a more advanced version, try doing these while holding a dumbbell or medicine ball.
5. Plate Side Bends
- Abdominal muscles worked: Obliques
- Equipment needed: Weight plate
- Recommended sets & reps: 3 sets of 15-25 reps
Plate side bends are another excellent exercise for the obliques. It’s a simple movement where you would stand upright, holding a weight plate to one side. Then bend down at that side until you feel a stretch in your obliques and come back up.
Make sure your feet are about shoulder width apart, and focus on using your obliques to pull the weight up as opposed to your back or arms.
You could also do these with a dumbbell or cable machine if you don’t have access to weight plates.
There you go! That’s everything you’ll need to know to get started implementing effective ab workouts.
Remember, the best way to see progress is through progressive overload. That means adding additional sets, reps, weight, or progressing to more difficult variations of exercises over time.
Also, doing these within a complete training program, where workout other muscle groups along with cardio, will help you get the best results. Remember, the secret to getting great looking abs is not what happens inside in the gym, but rather what you eat on the outside.
Keep training consistently, and you will see results!
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