Veteran lifters don’t hammer their quads, hamstrings, pecs, or other major muscle groups every day. Because, if all you do is break your muscles down, they’ll never have time to recover.
But what about abs? Given that they help form the bridge between our upper and lower bodies, keeping us together and upright all day long, there’s a commonly held idea that they are “endurance muscles” and, as such, aren’t constrained by the immutable laws of hypertrophy. True? False? Somewhere in between? Should you do a daily ab workout?
Well, you do need to directly target your abs just like any other muscle group. So we rounded up nine of the best ab exercises to add to your ab workout routine below.
For more ab exercises check out Openfit’s 600 Seconds program for free today.
But before you try out new ideas for exercising your core, how often should you work your abs?
You Don’t Need to Work Your Abs Every Day
The most neutral opinion on ab workout frequency comes from Alex Koch, professor of health, exercise and sports science at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina. “You can exercise abs daily, but I personally don’t recommend it,” he says. In his opinion, abdominals are essentially just like any other muscles, so to make them bigger and stronger he recommends targeting them about twice a week.
Rob Sulaver, CEO and Founder of Bandana Training, adds that the muscle fiber makeup of our abs tells us that they shouldn’t be trained every day. “Our rectus abdominis is roughly equal parts fast and slow twitch muscle fiber, just like our arms and thighs,” he says. “With proper training, they’ll need time to recover.”
“Working abs every day is an ineffective program,” agrees Holly Rilinger, star of Bravo’s elite fitness show Work Out New York. She adds that you already engage them in almost every exercise you do (or at least you should). When you brace your core performing a squat, a push-up, or even a biceps curl, you may not have targeted your abs, but you have worked them.
Your abs will tell you they need rest
“If you work your abs hard enough, you’ll feel the work you did the day before, and you’ll agree you need to rest them,” says New York City trainer Dominique Hall.
If you can’t hear what your abs are telling you, she has a suggestion. “Tracking your workouts and being consistent about your routine motivates you to do better each time,” Hall says, adding that you’ll start to see the wisdom in targeting your abs every other day (at most) once you see the gains that result.
“The more you improve on those numbers, the more muscle you build and bam, you’ll see a six-pack!” (Provided you’ve gotten rid of enough body fat, of course.)
You can’t outwork a bad diet
“People think you can outwork a bad diet, but they’re fooling themselves,” says Hall. “You do need to work your abs, but don’t forget your food intake has to [complement] your goals and you have to be in a caloric deficit for that six pack to show,” she adds.
In short, if you don’t dial in your diet, your six-pack will never reveal itself.
9 Exercises for Your Next Ab Workout
1. Standing mountain climber
- Start out in a standing position.
- Make fists and keep them at shoulder-height in front of you as you begin running in place, bringing your knees up as high as you can.
- As your right leg lifts up, pump your arms in sync with your knees, keeping your core engaged throughout the move. Or, for an added challenge, you can punch your left arm toward the ceiling. Alternate arms and legs for 60 seconds.
2. Rock the boat
- Start in a V-sit, with your knees bent, shins parallel to the ceiling, spine elongated. Your fingers can gently rest on your hamstrings, just under your knees.
- Keeping your core engaged, gently roll backward, and begin to round your spine. Lightly tuck your chin and roll onto your upper back, hips lifted off the floor.
- Roll forward into a boat pose, balancing on your sit bones as you straighten your legs, and reach forward with your arms. Pause before repeating.
3. Hi-low jack
- Start in a high plank, wrists directly beneath your shoulders, abs drawn in, and lower back flat.
- Hop your feet outward and back to starting position, then lower onto your right and left forearms, coming into your low, or forearm, plank.
- Hop your feet outward and back together, then press back up onto your right and left hands to come back into your high plank. Repeat.
4. Dolphin knee drop
- Start in a dolphin plank: Assume a push-up position, but with your weight on your forearms instead of your hands, elbows stacked beneath your shoulders, palms on the floor.
- Keeping your core braced and legs straight, walk your feet forward two to three small steps, lifting your hips into the air.
- Lower your knees until they brush the floor, keeping your belly button pulled in toward your spine, then lift your hips back up, straightening your legs.
- Walk your feet back to starting position. Repeat.
5. Russian skier
- Start a V-sit with just your heels and sit bones on the floor. Your spine should be elongated, your lower back flat, and your hands together in fists in front of you.
- As you scoop your fists to your right, lift your heels and bring them to the left.
- Lift your left elbow to lead your hands to your left side. Heels lift, setting down to your right.
- As you twist back and forth, picture yourself holding ski poles, cutting a jagged line down a mountain. Keep alternating quickly.
- Lie on your back, with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees so that your shins are parallel to the floor and your knees are stacked atop your hips.
- Place your hands behind your head and pretend there’s an orange underneath your chin as you peel your shoulder blades up off the floor, clenching your abdominals to rise. Don’t squish your imaginary orange, keep your lower back pressed into the floor, and keep your gaze locked on the ceiling to protect your neck.
- Lower to starting position with control and repeat.
7. Switch kick abs
- Lie on your back with your legs lifted straight in the air at 90 degrees. If your hamstrings feel tight, bend your knees as necessary.
- Lower your left heel as close to the floor as you can while keeping your lower back pressed to the floor, then punch your left arm toward your right heel, adding in a twist.
- Simultaneously lift your left leg and lower your right, bringing your left fist back toward your shoulder, and punching toward your lifted left leg with your right fist.
- Repeat, alternating legs as quickly as you can with control.
8. Low plank side punch
- Start in a forearm plank, with your elbows stacked beneath your shoulders, core braced, and legs extended straight behind you.
- Shift your weight toward your left forearm and punch your right arm out to the side until it’s straight. Look toward your hand as you punch, then bring it back down to starting position.
- Shift your weight toward your right forearm and punch with your left. Repeat.
9. Mountain climber/twist/spider
- Start in a high plank, shoulders stacked over wrists and away from your ears, eyes focused in between your hands. Keep your hips in line with your shoulders and engage your core.
- Start off with a mountain climber: bring your right knee to your chest, step it back in line with your left foot. Bring your left knee forward toward your chest, step it back in line with your right.
- Move into a twist by bringing your right knee across your body to your left elbow. Step it back to meet your left foot. Bring your left knee forward, across your body to your right elbow. Step it back.
- Finally, bring your right knee forward to the outside of your right elbow for the spider. Step your foot back to meet your left foot. Bring your left knee forward to the outside of your left elbow. Step it back. Repeat series.