For most people who go to the gym, killer abs is the goal.
Truth be told, though, most people have no idea how to create and execute ab workouts to quickly and efficiently reach that goal.
You see it all the time...
That guy in the gym who does a million crunches a week and still, somehow, doesn't have six pack abs.
So what gives?!
Well, for starters, there's a lack of accurate information out there about how to actually go about getting abs.
Some people say you should do bodyweight exercises only.
Others say you shouldn't even bother training abs directly at all.
But guess what? They're all wrong!
In this article, we're going to cover everything you need to know about PROPER ab training. By the end of it, you'll be armed with all the knowledge you need to begin developing the kind of abs that'll have you excited to take your shirt off at the beach.
Sound good? Okay, let's get started...
How To Actually Get Six Pack Abs
Like many things in life, getting six pack abs is simple, but not easy.
You have to put in some serious work to go from no abs to abs, but there are really only three pieces to the puzzle:
- Lose Fat
- Workout Your Core Muscles
- Directly Train Your Abs 2 or 3 Times Per Week
Now, let's talk about these three core tenants of ab training in a little bit more detail...
1 | You Have To Lose Belly Fat
Everyone has abs. Most people just can't see them because they're covered in a thick layer of fat.
For men, 10-12% body fat is where you start to see abs emerge.
For women, 18-20% body fat is where you start to see lines and definition.
Once you drop below those body fat percentages, your abs become more and more visible and defined.
You can do all the ab exercises you can possibly think of, day after day, week after week, but if your body fat percentage isn't low enough, you'll never have a six pack.
That's just the plain and simple truth.
You'd actually be surprised how many ripped bodybuilders spent little to no time directly training their abs. They know their abs will be visible as long as they maintain a low enough body fat percentage.
Of course, if you REALLY want a rigged, defined six pack, you're probably going to need to do SOME direct ab work as well as strengthen your core muscles.
2 | You Have To Workout Your Core muscles
Your core muscles include your abdominal muscles, but also your obliques, lower back, and glutes.
The importance of proper core training is often over-looked but, without a well-developed core, you're not going to have a well-developed six pack.
Fortunately, you don't have to do a bunch of weird 'core exercises' to develop your core. Your far better off doing lots of heavy, compound exercises such as:
- military press
While it may not seem like it, these exercises place a tremendous amount of tension on your core which is then forced to become stronger and more muscular to keep up with the heavy weight.
Don't get me wrong...
You probably still need to train your abs directly if you want that full, chiseled six pack, but a well-developed core isn't built through ab exercises alone.
You need to work out your ENTIRE core, not just your abs.
If you don't, at the very least, you'll have a disproportionate physique. Worst case, you'll sustain an injury (like a lower back injury) which will only further hinder your ab development.
3 | You Should Do 2 Or 3 AB WORKOUTS Per Week
If you're not used to training abs on a regular basis, you may notice that you get pretty sore at first, but after a while, you hardly get sore at all.
The abs are a small, but resilient muscle group.
Smaller muscle groups tend to recover faster than larger muscle groups, so you can do more weekly volume (total reps) without getting injured or over-training.
That's why I generally recommend you train your abs directly every few days (2-3 times per week).
Now that we've established the three things you need to do to actually get abs, let's talk anatomy.
The Anatomy Of Your Abs
Typically, when we refer to our abs, we're talking about the rectus abdominus.
Here's what that muscle group looks like:
Every ab exercise we're going to discuss in this article targets this muscle group, and if you develop it well, while maintaining a low enough body fat percentage, you'll end up with six pack abs.
That said, there are other important muscles to pay attention to as well.
Here's what they look like:
It's important to understand that, while these muscles do need to become fully developed to shape the edges of your six pack and provide the definition and striations we all want, you shouldn't train them the same way you train your rectus abdominus.
In fact, the workout we're going to construct later on focuses very little, if at all, on the obliques or serratus.
Well, two reasons...
- Heavy compound exercises develop these muscles
- Large obliques will give you a thicker waste
You can't be truly ripped unless your obliques and serratus are visible, but there's no need to go crazy developing these muscles.
Okay, now that we've established which muscles you need to keep in mind when sculpting your six pack, let's run through some of the very best exercises for doing so...
The Absolute Best Ab Exercises
There are literally dozens upon dozens of ab exercises, as well as hundreds of variations to choose from.
How, then, do we chisel down the list to end up with a handful of the absolutely best?
Well, for starters, you should do exercises that allow for progressive overload.
Progressive overload simply means adding weight to your lifts over time. It is a fundamental underlying principle of strength training.
If you're not focusing on getting stronger--by progressively overloading your muscles--you're not going to build muscle.
This is as true for your chest as it is for your abs.
You can technically have abs if you just lower your body fat percentage enough and do some light-weight, high repetition ab work, but if you REALLY want a ripped six pack that turns heads, you need to do some weighted ab training, not just body weight stuff.
With that said, let's talk ab exercises:
Cable crunches are a highly effective exercise for targeting the entire rectus abdominus and allowing for sufficient progressive overload.
A few things to keep in mind when doing cable crunches are:
- Don't try to keep your back arched when you contract your abs. It's not possible.
- Don't bend or arch your neck. Maintain a neutral position.
- You can use whichever attachment you feel comfortable with (rope, ez curl bar, v-bar, etc.).
This is probably the single most effective ab exercise you can do because you're able to go very heavy while still maintaining proper form.
In fact, if I could only do one ab exercise forever, this would be it.
Hanging Leg Raises
Hanging leg raises are great for building the lower abs in particular.
The hardest thing about hanging leg raises is trying not to swing.
This requires some degree of general core strength which makes this a great exercise for developing not just your lower abs, but your entire core.
If you find that you can easily do 15 or 20 hanging leg lifts with proper form, add some weight by holding a dumbbell in between your legs or suspending a plate from a weight belt.
Decline (weighted) sit ups
Sit-ups are overrated, but weighted decline sit-ups are a fantastic exercise for targeting the entire rectus abdominus.
The reason decline sit-ups are so much better than ordinary sit-ups is that the decline angle of the bench allows you to achieve a fuller range of motion than if you were laying on the ground or a flat bench.
You want to take advantage of that by going all the way down.
Not half way. All the way!
V-Ups are one of the best body weight ab exercises you can do.
It's a pretty self explanatory movement.
Flutter kicks, sometimes referred to as 'scissor kicks', are great for getting that striaght-line separation down the middle of your abs because they essentially target one half at a time.
Unfortunately, most people don't do them right at all.
Here's how you should do flutter kicks:
What you see a lot of people doing is elevating their legs off the floor slightly and then kicking them back and forth.
You may 'feel the burn' doing it this way, but if you really want to make the most of this exercise in terms of total ab development, you want to use the same basic range of motion as hanging leg lifts.
When it comes to body weight ab exercises, nothing beats the ab roller.
Now, here' s the thing about the ab roller...
Most people, when starting out, can't even do one complete rep starting from a standing position.
If you try it and find that you can't do it, it's okay to start from a kneeling position where your knees are touching the ground instead of your feet.
This will make it quite a bit easier, allowing you to do multiple reps.
Once you find that you can do several reps kneeling, try it standing. The ultimate goal is being able to perform several complete reps (from a standing position).
Creating The Ultimate Abs Workout
Now that we've gone over the best ab exercises, it's time to put it together into a killer ab workout routine.
If you've read some of my other workout articles, you know that I'm a proponent of lifting heavy, around 85% of 1 Rep Max (1RM).
When you're doing compound exercises, like squats and deadlifts, you should stick with this level of intensity. At 85% of your 1RM, you'll be able to do about 4-6 reps.
Your abs are a little different though...
It's not that they don't require progressive overload. They do. It's just that you don't need to lift ULTRA-heavy to get them to respond.
For that reason, I recommend performing most of your ab exercises in the 12-15 rep range, at about 70% of your 1RM.
Perform either of these ab workouts at least 2 or 3 times per week...
Ab Workout 1
Ab Workout 2
Ab Workout 3 (Advanced)
Are Circuits Better For Ab Training?
If you've spent some time researching different ab routines, you've probably come across circuit training.
A circuit is simply a series of exercises performed back-to-back, without resting in between sets.
For example, a 3 exercise circuit would be something like:
- 1 Set Cable Crunches
- 1 Set Leg Raises
- 1 Set V-Ups
Rest for 1 or 2 minutes, then repeat for a total of 3 circuits.
While I don't recommend circuit training for the a majority of muscle groups, it actually makes sense to do it with abs.
You can do circuits between major lifts (like bench press or squats), using the major lift as a rest period for the circuit, or simply perform the circuit, rest for a minute or two, then perform another circuit.
There's no scientific consensus on whether it's best to perform circuits or just do 3 sets of each exercise. It's really up to you.
Experiment a little and see what feels right.
Can Supplements Help You Get Abs?
Here's the thing...
No supplement is going to magically give you six pack abs. You have to put in the work in the gym as well as structure your diet in such a way that's conducive to fat-loss.
Assuming you have those things taken care of, though, there are a few supplements which can help.
By itself, Caffeine is not miracle fat-burner, but it makes for a useful addition to any fat-burning stack.
Forskolin is the active component of the herb Coleus Forskohlii. It has an extensively history of use throughout ancient systems of medicine and is believed to convey a variety of benefits.
It works by increasing levels of Cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a signaling protein which tells the body to breakdown stored fat and burn it for energy.
Synephrine is a mild stimulant which has inherent fat-burning properties.
In fact, when combined with Naringin and Hesperidin--two molecules found in citrus fruit, research indicates Synephrine can increase the metabolic rate by more than 180 calories!
That's why I included precise clinical doses of each of those ingredients in my all-natural fat-burner, Formula 56.
Formula 56: The ultimate fat-burner
Formula 56 contains clinical doses of ingredients which have actually been proven help you burn fat and lose weight, while providing a steady stream of energy and mildly suppressing appetite.
Most fat-burners just work by jacking you up on stimulants and crushing your appetite, but Formula 56 makes use of powerful synergies--such as the synergy between Synephrine, Naringin, and Hesperidin--to:
- Increase your metabolic rate
- Curb your appetite
- Enhance energy and focus (without the crash)
If you're looking for a more well-balanced, effective fat-burner, there isn't one.
Formula 56 won't magically give you abs, but it can definitely help you lose the fat that's covering them up.
If you've got your diet under control and you're taking your ab workouts seriously, adding Formula 56 into the mix can definitely enhance your efforts.
Nothing works unless you do.
The Bottom Line On Ab Workouts
If you're trying to get ripped, six pack abs, all you need to do is:
- Lower your body fat percentage (below 10% for guys, below 20% for girls)
- Strengthen your core muscles with exercises like heavy squats, deadlifts, and military presses.
- Directly train your abs 2 or 3 times a week, doing the right exercises (with proper form).
If you do these things, you WILL have abs eventually.
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Matt Theis is the Co-Founder and CEO of Momentum Nutrition. Among other things, he is chiefly responsible for product formulation and has spent years researching, testing, and developing supplements.