Wondering what the best way to get abs is 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.
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.
You'd have to do a lot more than a few sets of planks to get abs like that...
So how often should you train your abs? Two or three exercises two or three times per week 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.
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.
Sample Ab Workout
Here is a sample ab workout you can use. Just add these exercises to 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 of 8-15 reps
Ab Workout 2 - Definition/Development Focus
Roman Chair Leg Raises - 2-3 sets of of 8-30 reps
Cable Weighted Crunches - 2-3 sets of 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.