What You Should Know About Ab Workouts
On this page you will be able to find several ab workouts that will help strengthen your core. But before you get started, it is important you understand targeting your abs through core specific training is only one part of the equation.
Just because you regularly do ab exercises doesn't mean that you’ll be able to develop a six pack. Building six pack abs requires far more work than simply doing crunches and sit ups every day.
When it comes to having visible abs, the most important thing is getting to a body fat percentage low enough for them to actually be seen. The body fat percentage needed to have visible abs will differ person to person. Most men will be able to see their abs while being between 6-15% body fat, while women will see definition in their abs between 10-22% body fat.
6 Tips for Visible Abs
Don’t know how to lower your body fat percentage? Here are 6 quick tips to help you be able to showcase your 6-pack:
1. Count Your Calories: You have to be in a caloric deficit to lose body fat and you have to know how many calories you’re eating to be in a caloric deficit.
- Use our BMR calculator to find out how many calories you need daily to maintain your current weight and subtract ~250-500 from that number to be in a calorie deficit.
- Fat loss takes time. It requires consistent effort to get to a body fat that allows your abs to show.
2. Don’t Drink Your Calories: Aside from some protein powders, liquid calories aren’t very satiating. Thus, you could consume excess calories throughout the day and never be able to see your abs.
3. Find the Right Macronutrient Balance: Everyone’s body responds differently to protein, carbs, and fats. Experiment and find what works best for you and shredding fat around your midsection.
4. Lift Weights: That’s why you’re here, to find an ab workout. But try to find an entire program to add an ab workout to. One that has plenty of compound exercises to increase your calorie expenditure and aid in your fat loss efforts.
5. Perform Some Cardio: Whether you prefer steady state or HIIT, get after it. Cardio will help put you in a greater calorie deficit.
6. Sleep: Getting enough sleep may be the secret to building six pack abs. Don’t believe me? Read this article and then hit the hay.
Now that we’ve covered some of the more important core details, let's get into ab exercises. Working out your abs is not only beneficial for your core, it can benefit your entire body as well. By training your abs and strengthening your core you are able to maintain better posture throughout the day, leading to less of a risk of lower back pain.
Having stronger core muscles will also have a positive carry over into your ability to achieve personal records in your big lifts - squat, deadlift, and even your bench press.
A more aesthetically appealing physique, gaining strength in your big lifts, and promoting better posture? It’s no wonder everyone’s initial goal when they start lifting is to build better abs.
Understanding The Core Musculature
To better understand training your abs, it is crucial to understand the anatomy and the muscles that make up your abdomen. Most people have an extremely superficial idea of what makes up a 6 pack and focus primarily on exercises that target the rectus abdominis (more on this in a moment).
Too many people also focus on the “show” aspect of the abdominal wall and don’t realize the many functions that the abs perform including:
- Protection of the soft organs contained in the abdominal cavity.
- Stabilization of the spine.
- Assist in breathing, coughing, and other bodily functions.
As such, it is crucial to realize there are 5 main muscles that make up your abdominal region. We’ll go over each and explain their main functions below, as well as how you can target each so you can build a complete set of abs.
1. Rectus abdominis
The rectus abdominis muscle are the muscles that are generally known as 'abdominals' or 'abs'. These are the muscles that (when your fat percentage is low enough) are shown when someone has a six-pack. These abs are the most external of the core muscles. They start from the middle of your rib cage and run vertically to the pubic bone.
Some of the most common exercises to strengthen your rectus abdominis are crunches and regular sit ups. These exercises are easy to do and fit perfectly in most beginner level workouts. For a more advanced way of doing crunches, you can use a stability ball or perform them weighted to really make those abs burn!
Your obliques consist of two parts: the internal and external obliques. They both run along the sides of your core. The external obliques are located along the sides and front of your abdomen and the internal obliques are located underneath the external obliques and run in the opposite direction. They are both used for flexion and rotation.
When you contract both your obliques at the same time, you’ll notice a forward flexion of your body. You can also contract each oblique individually which would result in a lateral flexion of your body (moving down to one side).
Your obliques play a big part in stability, making it possible to do lateral (sideway) and rotating movements. But more importantly they make sure that your torso doesn't rotate on it's own.
When you want to develop a lean, strong, and functional physique, you need to train your obliques. The most effective exercises to train your obliques are exercises where you twist or rotate your body. A great way to train these muscles is to do the oblique plank crunch or russian twists.
3. Transverse abdominal muscles
The transverse abdominal muscles (TVA) lay behind the obliques and run from the belly button up to the rib cage. It also wraps around the spine and pelvis, providing us with protection and stability.
The TVA exists of two transverse muscles on each side of the body that are connected by a fascial sheet, making them one solid muscle. It is one of the deeper located core muscles.
The function of the TVA is to stabilize the thoracic spine and pelvis. The TVA also plays a role in the deep breathing process but is also engaged when we throw up, cough, when women go into labor, and with forced exhalation. It also contracts when you’re performing heavy lifts, acting as your body’s natural weight lifting belt.
People who play a wind instrument, blow up balloons or move heavy objects are all engaging their TVA. To find out where this muscle is located, all you have to do is exhale.
A great way to engage your TVA is by planking.
4. Quadratus Lumborum
If we translate quadratus lumborum (QL) from Latin to English the name would be "Square Loin", this provides us with a clearer view of where this muscle is located. The QL is a think, irregular and quadrilateral-shaped muscle that can be found in the back of the abdominal wall. Because of it's location it is often thought to be one of the back muscles.
Another interesting thing about the QL is that it's broader below than it is above. The most vital function of this core muscle is that it connects the upper and the lower body (From the top of the pelvis to the bottom rib and the side of your spine). Besides connecting the upper and the lower body, the QL helps stabilize the hips, spine and it can help in breathing.
A great ab exercise to train this muscle is the side plank. If you want to increase the intensity of the side plank on your QL, raise the arm and leg that you don't lean on while doing the side plank. This requires more balance and puts more weight on your QL making it harder to maintain the exercise.
5. Psoas Major
The Psoas Major is part of the hip flexors. Together the hip flexors pull the thigh and the torso towards each other. The psoas major is the biggest and strongest of this muscle group. It runs from the lower spine into the inner thigh, crossing the hip joint, making it the deepest located of all your core muscles.
The Psoas plays a big role as the main stabilizer in certain exercises such as the Olympic lifts, but it's also prominent in daily activities like walking or running. Any activity that requires moving your legs involves the psoas muscle to some degree.
Given that fact, the best way to train your psoas major is by doing a workout routine that involves your legs. One of our favorites is the hanging leg raise because it's a fantastic way to engage your core, psoas major and for that matter, the rest of your hip flexor muscles.
If a hanging leg raise is too hard, try to just raise your knees up to your abs or try a lying leg raise. Another movement that mimics the hanging leg raise is the leg throwdown, but this movement requires the assistance of a partner to “throw your legs”.
Pro Tip: The psoas tends to be very overactive, especially if you work a desk job and spend long periods of time sitting. Thus to avoid excessive forward leaning in your bigger lifts, such as the squat, try doing some stretches that will relax the psoas.
Some Final Thoughts on Ab Training
By addressing all of these muscles you are going to strengthen your core.
But if you know anything about ab exercises and how fitness in general operates, you’ll realize this isn't even the tip of the iceberg concerning ab workouts.
To find even more exercises to target your abs, check out our abs exercise database and for ideas on how to tie all of this information together browse the rest of this page to see the wide variety of ab workouts that we offer!
For more helpful information on ab specific training, check out some of our best articles on the topic!