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How to Build Abs? Here Is How To Train Them

Wondering what the best way to get your abs ready for your summer beach trip?

You are not alone.

I've been helping people get abs for years, and this is one of the most frequent questions I get.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding ab training, particularly on how much to train them and how often.

But it does not need to be so complex.

So, in this article, I am going to explain how many ab exercises you need and how frequently you should be training them, for definition and development, without getting bulky or blocky.

What Creates a Six-Pack?

Wanting a six-pack is a goal shared by many gym enthusiasts, but few people know how to build abs the right way. There are too many outlying variables and questions, like “How long does it take to get a six-pack?” and “Can you do abs everyday?” Then, there’s this common query, “Should you do abs everyday?”

The answers might vary depending on your other training goals, but there are some universal truths to developing the washboard abs of your dreams. 

One of your first goals should be to reduce body fat. Lowering your overall body fat through diet and following your other fitness goals automatically makes your muscles look more defined. Figuring out how to build abs won’t matter if no one can see them!

Not having noticeable abs doesn’t mean you have a weak core, but there’s basically no way to show people your hard work if you have too much subcutaneous belly fat. 

Visceral fat, which is located beneath the subcutaneous layer, has a much greater effect on your overall health. However, it won’t have much impact on whether you have a visible six-pack. Reducing both is the key to showcasing a stellar six-pack and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so focusing on diet is a win-win!

There’s an unfortunate reality to who gets a six-pack and why — sometimes it comes down to genetics. Your genetic makeup influences where you store fat, so it might be harder for some people to eliminate belly fat than it is for others. But it’s not all gloom and doom; you can still achieve your six pack goals, you may just have to get a little leaner to see them.

Every person is different, so there’s not just one answer to a question like “How many times a week should a woman do abs” vs. “How many times should a man?” That’s why the best way to create a six-pack is to get a personalized training program from a professional who understands what your body needs and what it’s capable of achieving, or experimenting with different volumes and frequencies to see what yields the best results for you (more coming on that).

Get abs ripped

Extreme Ends of Ab Training

People typically either believe one extreme or the other, that abs need to be trained every day all the time or that ab training is not necessary, and should never be trained to avoid making your waist bulky. Both of these ends of the extreme are wrong, and will not get you the best ab definition. Too much ab training is just wasting time, and too little or none will make it hard to bring out the best ab definition.

Abs: All Day Every Day?

First, we'll address the abs-should-be-trained-every-day-all-the-time camp. People in this camp will attend ab classes where all you do is train abs several times a week, dedicate several workouts to abs each week, or do 100s of crunches every day. This is not necessary, and here is why: once you have maximally stimulated muscle growth, you aren't going to get any more out of additional ab exercises. Continuing to train abs (or any muscle) after it is already sufficiently trained just fatigues it further without any additional gains. This is also known as 'junk volume'.

Thousands of crunches and multi-hour ab workouts are not necessary to stimulate abdominal muscle growth. It could even cause your physique to suffer by wasting time on junk volume that could be better spent working out other muscles. So if you are overdoing abs at the expense of the rest of your body, you are just going to make the whole process harder on yourself.

Abs: Not Even Once

The other camp will typically claim that training your abs will make you waist big and your stomach look bulky, and as a result ab training should be avoided entirely. I've even heard of people recommending against squatting and deadlifting to avoid any ab growth whatsoever. This is total nonsense, as these exercises don't even develop obliques and abdominals significantly.

While training abs will certainly help develop them, it is unlikely that you'll gain enough muscle to make your stomach look too big. The bodybuilders in the photo below have bloated stomachs due to PED abuse and eating a huge volume of food to maintain their size. Not from doing a few sit-ups.

two men with bloated abs

You'd have to do a lot more than a few sets of planks to get abs like that...

Do Abs Need Rest Days?

You may say you’ll do whatever it takes to get those stone slab abs, but is it bad to do abs everyday? Or can you really push yourself to the limit and focus solely on your core?

It doesn’t matter which muscle group you’re working on or your fitness goals. Everyone needs rest days. Muscles need time to heal from workouts — it’s during this time that they grow back bigger and more noticeable. If you’re always going as hard as you can with your abs, they’ll never get the time they need to regenerate and come back better, faster, and stronger.

Rest should actually be a significant player in your fitness goals. You want to ensure you’re getting enough sleep, at least seven to eight hours a night. Sleep is the most regenerative time for the body and helps stave off weight gain as well.

However, your abs won’t require as much rest time as other muscle groups. Your core is somewhat used to constant work since you engage it to support your posture. That means you can probably sneak in some extra workouts that you otherwise wouldn’t if you were focusing on your chest or legs. 

Still, if you feel like your muscles have been working overtime, they probably have and could use a break. Incorporate rest days into your workout, even if that means you must concentrate on other workouts like cardio. You can focus on other fitness goals and still consider this a “rest day” for your abs.

Training Frequency

So how often should you train your abs? Training your abs two to three times per week with two to three exercises per workout is plenty to maximize development without overdoing it. If you are already working out three or four times per week, you can just add two or three ab exercises on to the end of your workouts.

Ab Workout Duration

Training Duration 

When it comes to how long your ab workout should be, balance is key. A duration of 5 to 30 minutes allows flexibility based on core strength emphasis. If you want a more targeted session, 5 minutes is enough to engage the abs. For something more comprehensive, you can push that to 30 minutes.

Trainer helping client get abs

Top Ab Exercises

Some of my personal favorite exercises for development are decline sit-ups, cable crunches, and weighted abdominal crunch machines. Leg raise variants like hanging leg raises and weighted cable leg raises are fantastic as well for prioritizing the lower part of your abs.

The Most Important Part

Don't forget, if you want to see your abs, the most important part will be reducing your body-fat enough to see them. This almost always requires a significant focus on nutrition, so make sure that is taken care of and you have a plan that will get your body-fat down to 8-12% for men or around 15% for women for them to show. Otherwise, all the workouts in the world won't help.

How to Build Abs

Before you’re set loose with a renewed sense of purpose, let’s quickly review what you’ve learned about how to build abs. You can easily reference these tips to create a customized ab-building workout that makes sense for you and aligns with your body’s needs and limitations.

Set Clear Fitness Goals

Make your goals crystal clear. Go beyond telling yourself you want six-pack abs. Ask yourself important questions like: “How many ab workouts should I do?” and “Is the workout balanced around how often to workout abs so I don’t burn out?” Get as specific as possible regarding the number of reps, times of day, and other expectations.

Focus on Diet

A healthy diet and a caloric deficit is crucial if you’re going to see clear-cut results. A diet that creates a moderate caloric deficit and is high in protein is best for facilitating weight loss and maintaining muscle. This type of balanced diet will reduce your subcutaneous fat, which is key to making your abs appear more defined.

Perform Core-Strengthening Exercises

Your core is a muscle group that needs some focused attention to get stronger. Focus on building muscle within your core to get that really shredded stomach look you’re after. When it comes to how often you should do work out your core, two to three times per week is an ideal amount. You can supplement some of your ab exercises with an additional core exercise to round out your routine.

Include Compound Movements

Compound movements are the best way to get the most bang for your buck. They work out multiple muscles simultaneously, giving you a more well-rounded workout, and should generally be the foundation of your workouts. You also expend more energy performing them when compared to isolation exercises, which can help create a greater caloric deficit. Leg raises and planks can help you add muscle definition, but capitalizing on compound movements builds strength and is more efficient than other workouts. 

Use Progressive Resistance

The last thing you want to do when reaching your fitness goals is plateau. Don’t hesitate to challenge yourself by using progressive resistance. Increasing the resistance, reps, or weight as your strength improves is one of the best ways to consistently build muscle. 

Prioritize Proper Form

You can search all you want for “How many crunches to get abs” — no number will ever substitute proper form. Without good form, you won’t get the most from your workouts and could end up hurting yourself, delaying your results.

Don’t Forget About Cardio

Cardio is an exercise Swiss army knife; don’t neglect it just because you want to focus on muscle growth! A good balance of cardio and weight lifting is required if you want to see the most returns. Cardio will supplement your days off and help you with endurance and heart health. Cardio can also make it easier for you to have a calorie deficit, revealing those abs you’ve been working on a lot sooner!

Get Enough Rest and Recovery

Rest and recovery are just as important as keeping active. Don’t burn the candle at both ends and remember to get enough sleep. 

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is always important, but it’s even more so if you want to get those rock-hard abs. Staying hydrated will keep you from getting fatigued and help you stay at peak performance levels. It’s best to focus on hydration before, during, and after your exercise so your body gets the nourishment it needs.

Be Consistent

If you’re going to take anything away from this article, it should be this: stay consistent. Working out with a consistent schedule is key to succeeding with your fitness goals. The moment you start to drift away from your schedule, you’re already fighting an uphill battle to stay motivated.

Sample Ab Workout

Here is a sample ab workout you can use. If you’re curious about when you should train abs, just add these exercises at the end of two to four of your existing weekly workouts to maximize development. You'll notice there is very little emphasis on obliques (side abs). This is intentional because a lot of oblique training can actually make the waist look blocky and doesn't add much to the 'six pack' anyway. For health and balance, there is still one exercise included for them, though.

Ab Workout 1 - Definition/Development Focus

Decline Sit Ups - 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps

Cable Weighted Leg Raises - 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps

Ab Workout 2 - Definition/Development Focus

Roman Chair Leg Raises - 2-3 sets of 8-30 reps

Cable Weighted Crunches - 2-3 sets of 10-30 reps

Day 3 - Health/Core Stability focus

Side Planks With Rotation - 3 sets of 10-20 reps

This is enough to maximally stimulate growth for most people without overdoing it. It is not the end all be all of ab workouts, and is designed for development, not strength, stability, or performance. For more on those objectives, see this article. Start on the low side of the recommendations and adjust as needed.

Hope this helps you in your six-pack quest. If you have any questions feel free to send us a message or leave a comment below, we're happy to help.

Meet Your Fitness Goals With Chris Protein

There’s no easier way to meet your fitness goals than with help from a professional who can keep you motivated and on track. Chris Protein’s personal training program is designed to do just that. With a holistic approach to fitness, including getting a personalized nutrition and exercise program, round-the-clock support, and personalized goal tracking, there’s no objective you won’t be able to smash, including getting that six-pack for the summer! 

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