We all want better abs, right? So, what's the most efficient way to get them? Instead of trying to crank out that fifth set of crunches, you're going to combine your ab routines to do more work in less time.
It's all about training efficiency: doing exercises that each recruit more midsection musculature (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques), loading bodyweight exercises so you don't need 60-rep sets, using dropsets or supersets to train in higher rep ranges, making less room for rest, and using exercises that don't leave you standing in line to take your turn on a machine.
These five ab workouts are all about efficiency. The first workout is designed to build up your midsection "bricks" through lower reps. The next focuses on the upper RA (rectus abdominis) to build up your six-pack. The third works your lower RA, while the fourth is a bodyweight-rep circuit you can do anywhere. The last workout is designed for beginning trainees or people getting back in shape.
Following the workouts themselves are some useful workout technique tips and more about your RA and obliques.
Workout 1: Build Ab Size and Separation
This workout uses lower reps with heavier loads to build up thickness in the bricks that make up your six-pack. This heavier workout creates greater structural damage to the muscle fibers, an important mechanism that promotes muscle hypertrophy.
Barbell Ab Roll-out (On knees)3 sets to muscle failure going as low as possible, rest 30 sec.
Plate Twist (On decline bench)3 sets up to 60 sec. work, rest 30 sec.
Workout 2: Emphasis on the Upper Abs
Here's a workout with more emphasis on the upper region of the rectus abdominis. A single antirotation movement breaks up this workout to help with your upper-ab recovery between movements.
Decline Crunch (weighted)3 sets of 15 reps, no rest
Decline Crunch (unweighted)3 sets to muscle failure, no rest
Rope Crunch (Perform standing)3 sets of 15 reps, no rest
Workout 3: Emphasis on the Lower Abs
This workout focuses on the lower abs. Notice that the movements are paired in supersets that enable you to extend your set, such as by using dropsets (performing a set to failure or just short of failure, then dropping some weight so you can do a few more reps). A single oblique movement breaks up the workout to provide a bit more intraworkout lower-ab recovery.
Hanging Leg Raise (With Medicine-Ball)3 sets to muscle failure, no rest
Workout 4: Bodyweight Circuit for Endurance and Definition
Here's one workout you can do anywhere. It's circuit-based, so it will increase your metabolic stress, which is important for muscle protein synthesis and growth.
Your ultimate goal is to complete all nine exercises without stopping. It's going to burn, so start with what you can handle, then add more reps each time you train. Complete up to 2 rounds, resting 90 seconds after each.
Circuit: Up to 2 rounds; Rest 90 sec between rounds
Workout 5: Beginner's Basics
This simplified workout focuses on basic movements that can form the foundation of your future ab work. As you build strength and endurance, move on to more challenging exercises with heavier loads, additional reps, or both.
Workouts Technique Tips
- One technique all these workouts have in common is the concept of density training. Instead of resting between sets, you make your workouts "dense" by switching between high-rep exercises that focus on different ab muscles so you can do more in less time.
- In all of these workouts, start with the most difficult movement first, then progress to slightly easier ones as you fatigue. The workouts employ several rep ranges so you can work with different relative intensities.
- For weighted exercises, choose a weight that gets you to muscle failure by the target rep listed. If the bodyweight movements in a workout are too easy or too difficult, adjust as necessary.For example, up the ante on your hanging leg raises by making sure your legs are absolutely straight. Or choose a substitute ab exercise from the extensive Bodybuilding.com exercise library.
- On low-rep sets, actively squeeze your abdominal muscles hard during the peak contraction of every rep. Use deliberate motion and focus on intense contraction, rather than trying to speed your way through the movement.
- When doing supersets, don't rest until you've completed both moves. You can also tweak the workouts to increase the muscle burn by adding dropsets, rest-pause, or partial reps—all of which allow you to extend a set past failure.
- Do your workout three times a week with at least 48 hours between workouts. Continue for 4-6 weeks before making larger-scale changes in your training. Change up the workouts as needed to add variety.
- Write down your workout notes (exercises, sets, reps, rest periods, weights) so you'll know exactly what you did—and how to do better—on your next ab day.
- Utilize "progressive overload" to increasingly make your workouts harder. Strive for an extra rep or two with each new set, add a plate to the stack on your next workout, or slightly reduce the rest period between sets. You'll make faster and more impressive gains if you keep challenging yourself from one workout to the next.
Why Squats And Deadlifts Alone Aren't Enough
Squats and deadlifts, especially completed without a weight belt, help you build a strong core. But stabilizing your torso for a squat (and to a lesser degree, deadlifts) is a more-or-less isometric contraction that works the transverse abdominis (TVA) but not so much the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle).
With squats and deadlifts (in addition to planks), there's very limited actual shortening or lengthening of the RA's muscle fibers, because your torso is fairly rigid and upright. Complement heavy, full-body lifts with dedicated abdominal exercises that work through an active, full range of motion.
More About Your Rectus Abdominis
The rectus abdominis is a single muscle that runs from your pelvic bone to your sternum. When you stabilize your legs (as in kneeling cable rope crunches), the upper portion of the RA (the upper abs) undergoes a greater degree of shortening than the lower portion. When you stabilize your upper body (as in hanging knee raises), your lower abs do the shortening. You can emphasize one region of the abs over another, like you do with chest training, but you can never completely isolate those regions. That's why exercises are considered either upper ab or lower ab.
More About Your Obliques
Besides assisting in trunk flexion, the internal and external obliques are called into play during twisting or rotational movements. Some exercises can work multiple areas in the same movement, depending on whether your upper or lower body is stabilized. A crunch with a cross-over, for example, can target both the upper abs and obliques.