I know, you want a 6 pack, and you are wondering how often you should workout your abs.
I wondered the same thing back when I first started working out as well.
Hence why I was the kid doing 100 sit ups each day before I went to bed!
Then it went into spending at least an hour per day in the gym doing various different ab exercises.
Luckily, I found a better way to go about developing ab muscles and just because I love you, I am going to share that way with you right now.
You just have to promise to love me back and stick around to read the entire guide. Otherwise, you will miss pieces and won’t be able to see as good of progress.
We got a deal?
Cool, let’s hit it.
How Often Should You Workout Your Abs
Seeing Your Abs
Before we dive into the actual training part of things, this needs to be said.
What you must understand is that everyone has abs. Yes, even you who are reading this right now. I know it may seem shocking but all of us have ab muscles.
Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to stand upright, hold our internal organs in place, etc.
Now, your abs are a muscle which you can “hypertrophy” ( make bigger / more defined ) so you can certainly do exercises that can make them “pop” more.
Yet this will remain true..
No matter how much you workout your abs, you will never see your abs unless you are at a low enough body fat percentage.
That’s it, bottom line, no other way around it. You need to be lean enough in order to actually see your abs.
The only way to see your abs is by being lean enough. People then ask me “Well how lean, Eric?!”.
Well idk, can you see your abs yet? No? Cool, then get leaner.
The way you “get leaner” is by simply losing body fat.
You lose body fat through eating in a calorie deficit. I have talked at nauseam about a calorie deficit before here on this website or on my youtube channel, so check either one of those two completely free resources out.
Yet the truth remains, most people think they can just “crunch” their way to seeing their abs.
Sorry man but that won’t happen. No amount of ab workouts are going to allow you to see your abs if you aren’t at a low enough body fat percentage.
So, Does That Mean You Shouldn’t Workout Your Abs If You Have Body Fat To Lose?
I get this question as a follow up a lot. People tend to ask “Well, if I can’t even see my abs unless I lose body fat, are they a waste of time to train them until I get lean enough!?”.
The answer is no, it is not a waste of time, and you do not have to wait.
For the first reason of you can still get stronger. Having a stronger core is going to help you in every single area of life no matter what.
It will protect you from injury, get you stronger in your lifts, help with posture, etc.
Also, remember abs are a muscle just like any other muscle. Therefore if you work them properly (as you will learn how to do by the end of this guide) then WHEN you lose the body fat, you can then make your abs “pop” more.
We can talk about this a bit more in depth here below, but in short to answer this question…
No, it is not a waste of time, and no, you do not have to wait until you are lean enough.
Two Main Goals
Now that we have that out of the way, when talking about how often should you workout your abs, there are usually two main goals at play.
The first is going to be what we talked about above, for aesthetic reasons.
You want to have a more defined stomach and see your abs “pop” a bit more.
I know I mentioned that doing ab exercises won’t automatically make you burn belly fat to see your abs more. That is done through you eating in a calorie deficit and losing body fat.
Yet there are specific exercises you can do to make your abs “pop” a tad bit more as you get down to the leaner body fat percentages.
We will talk about those shortly.
The other goal that people usually have with training abs is to get a stronger core overall with the benefit of helping their lower back pain or getting stronger in their bigger compound lifts (squat, bench, deadlift, chin up, etc).
Yes, if you didn’t know, if you suffer from lower back pain, it could be directly correlated to your core strength (or lack thereof).
I was someone who struggled with lower back for many years but when I finally took my core training seriously, along with fixing some form / mobility issues, I saw a massive improvement in my lower back pain.
Both goals are valid and they require somewhat of a different approach to training because the way you would train for aesthetics differs than that of more of a strength purpose.
Don’t you worry though, we are going to cover both here in this guide, so you are in luck!
Let’s break down some of the different ways to train your core.
How Often Should You Workout Your Abs : 5 Main Exercises
When you are talking about ab exercises, there are 5 main ways you can train your abs.
Those are going to be..
- Breathing / Bracing
- Anti Extension
- Anti Rotation / Anti Movement
- Loaded Carries
Let’s cover each one piece by piece.
Breathing / Bracing
This is the most fundamental part of training your abs.
If you do not comprehend this part then your ab training will greatly suffer.
Not only will your ab training suffer, but your other workouts will suffer as well.
Either by not being able to be as strong as you possibly can and or getting injured (like what we talked about above).
Proper core bracing and breathing is essential in training your abs from both an aesthetics perspective and from a “functional” strength perspective.
I know it sounds a bit nuts. When you clicked on an article titled “How often should you workout your abs” I don’t know that you expected to be told about how to breathe.
You probably thought you had that down pretty good if you were alive to even read this.
Yet when we talk about breathing for your workouts, there is something called “diaphragmatic breathing” or belly breathing.
If you’ve ever seen a baby lay on their back and breath, they do this perfectly.
Their stomach inflates and deflates as they breath. They are diaphragmatic breathing.
That is what you need to learn to do first and foremost. The video above shows you in depth how to do that.
Essentially what you can do to learn is lay on your back, bend your knees with your feet flat.
Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
When you breathe, you want to see the hand on your stomach move up, NOT, the hand on your chest.
The reason this is important is because if you do not comprehend this part, you won’t ever be able to have control of and work your abs properly in any exercise.
I promise, I wouldn’t just be re teaching you how to breathe for nothing.
As well as if you are breathing through your chest instead of diaphragmatic breathing, it is going to be damn near impossible to BRACE your core along with it.
Thus leading into the next point which talks about core bracing.
I won’t go too massively in depth on how to brace your core because well I actually already did.
I wrote this article HERE on how to properly brace your core if you want to take a peek at it.
But in short, think about two things when you are bracing your core..
- Getting punched as hard as you can.
If you need more clarification on that, as mentioned, check out the article above after you get done reading this.
Now that we have covered breathing and bracing, you are ready for the next step in how often should you workout your abs.
This part is going to be talking about anti extension exercises.
I want you to think of your spine. For the purpose of this article there are going to be three main parts we will be discussing with it.
Extension, rotation / movement, and flexion. Those are three functions your spine is capable of doing.
Now, just because your spine CAN Do those functions, a lot of times we may not want huge degrees of any of those things.
Especially if you are trying to squat or deadlift heavy weights. The force of performing massive amounts of spinal extension while doing a heavy deadlift is a great way to get a compressed disc and hurt your lower back.
Therefore one function of your abs is to keep your spine “neutral” and not allow your spine to extend.
Performing ANTI extension exercises is a way to keep your spine in a “neutral” place.
(People will argue to the death about this. Yes, there is some degree of spinal flexion and extension naturally in your spine, which may lead to a natural “curve” but large degrees of it under heavy loads is not something you want to have happen.)
Anti extension goes a long way in saving your spine from injury as well as making sure you are the strongest you possibly can be during your lifts.
You can leverage proper positioning to move the most weight possible while staying injury free.
Some examples of anti extension exercises are linked below. We will talk about how many reps / sets to do a bit later in the guide.
Anti Rotation / Anti Movement
The next form of exercises we are going to cover are anti rotation / anti movement exercises.
Remember a huge part of your ab muscles job is to resist movement and keep your spine neutral while you are performing exercises.
One way they do that is by making sure your spine does not rotate as you perform lunges, shoulder presses, chin ups, deadlifts, anything.
It keeps your spine tight, compact, strong, and in place to once again save you from injury as well as allow you to lift the heaviest weight you possibly can.
You want to almost think your body is a concrete statue.
Trying to be strong, upright, compact, sturdy. You know, all of those adjectives and synonyms.
The purpose of anti rotation exercises is to get you better at doing just that.
These movements may seem “simple”, but trust me, if you do them right your abs will be BURNING.
Another great way to work your abs is through loaded carries.
I talked breathing and core bracing above right?
If you read the core bracing article you will know exactly what I am talking about here, but for short, I want you to think about your core as an unopened can of soda.
With this unopened can of soda, what happens if you kind of tap the outside of it with your finger.
Does it create any dents in the can?
No right? Why?
Because there is so much internal pressure built up inside the can from the carbonation that it can’t be dented maybe unless you slam it against the wall..
But if you do that, it’s just going to explode anyway.
You need to work on doing the same thing with your core so that during movements like squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, etc, you can have so much of something called
“Intra abdominal pressure” built up inside that you are able to be as strong as you possibly can be.
Loaded carries are a great way to work on doing just that.
These exercises are meant to go for more duration or endurance as opposed to reps.
Go super slow when doing them. Again, these exercises I list below may look simple to you, but they are incredibly difficult if you perform them properly.
Offset Farmers Walk
Flexion Based Exercises
Thus far we have talked about 4 of the main ways to work your abs.
All of them have been more or less about intentionally resisting movement with your spine and keeping yourself strong and braced.
For your knowledge, these exercise variations were more so geared towards the
- Injury prevention
- Strength gain
- Core Stabilization
The next step is talking about flexion based exercises where the goal is actually going to be to intentionally move (flex or round ) your spine.
These exercises are more based around the aesthetics goals of having your abs “pop” more as you get down to a leaner body fat %, but I will say this.
I would usually not recommend doing these flexion based exercises without doing at least some of the strengthening / stabilizing exercises.
Why? Well because it can sometimes lead to injury, especially if you already have been working with a compromised spine position during specific movements.
So although I know you might be like “OH SWEET, THESE MOVES MAKE MY ABS POP MORE, LET ME DO ONLY THESE!”.
I don’t think that would be very wise.
I also don’t think it would be wise to “avoid” them either. Some people will try to tell you flexion based exercises are “bad” for your spine.
I actually used to think this. I don’t think they are inherently “bad” unless you do what I said above with not working in other movements.
Flexion based exercises can be a great addition to your training especially if you are in fact looking to have more defined abs.
I can link some examples below, and remember, the goal here is in fact to actually “round” your spine almost into “bad posture”. That is how your ab muscles actually get work done to them.
A lot of people will do crunches for example but never actually round their spine, so they are just working a ton of neck and hip flexors.
Hanging Knee Raises
Putting It All Together
Alright, phew. Now that you know the different exercises you can perform to work your abs, it’s time to actually talk about how often should you workout your abs.
As well as giving a sample routine of what this would look like so that you can cover both the strength based work as well as the aesthetics based work.
For how many times per week you should workout your abs, I would suggest anywhere form 2-4x per week.
Remember your abs are a muscle too, they do not need to be directly worked every day or you are going to suffer from overtraining them.
They are already indirectly worked in every workout you do because when you are doing a squat for example, your core HAS To work in order to stabilize your spine like we talked about earlier.
Or even when you are doing a bicep curl to a degree your abs are working to keep your spine neutral.
If you go off and try to train abs 5 6 7x per week, you are doing overkill and will probably do more harm than good.
They need to be worked enough to elicit a response but then be able to recover from that work properly or else it will be all for nothing.
Therefore 2-4x per week is usually the sweet spot.
I also don’t recommend dedicating an entire day to doing abs.
You could in some situations, like if you wanted to maybe workout your abs on a rest day from your workouts here and there.
Yet I usually don’t recommend this a ton because again you want to be able to have your abs properly recover. If you work them everyday you can’t have that.
Plus, I just don’t think you need to be doing that many exercises where you dedicate a whole day to doing abs.
More on that now.
Now, how to go about setting this up?
Let’s be honest here.. How many times have you said you were going to do abs after a workout…
And that has ended up much like your imaginary friend Jerry. Never actually coming to real life.
Yea, same. I went from going to do hours of abs per week to skipping them every damn workout session.
I figured out why though, I would save them for AFTER the workout. By the time I was done my workout, I was either too tired to do them and said f*ck it.
Or I had to run off to work or something.
Through coaching thousands of people by this point, I found most people had a similar problem.
Therefore, what I started doing plus what I do now with all of our clients is programming 1-2 ab exercises in the warm up for the workout that day.
Again, this is so you actually do them and don’t say f*ck it after the workout is done.
But also there is some merit to “activating” your abs before a workout.
For example, if you are going to do a deadlift, you don’t want to extend your spine right?
Well if you do a plank, which is an anti extension exercise, you are going to basically train your brain to fire those muscles for the workout ahead.
Therefore you can use the exercises to “prep” your body and brain for the workout ahead so to speak.
So as long as you don’t overdo it on the volume (amount of sets and reps).
Which is another reason why I like to throw abs in on the warm up of the workouts.
How much of each should you incorporate?
Well, this somewhat depends on your goals.
As mentioned the exercises provide different benefits, so if let’s say you are really focused on having your abs pop more maybe you include a bit more flexion based exercises.
But something like..
- 1-2 Anti Extension
- 2 Anti Rotation
- 1-2 Flexion based
- 0-1 Loaded Carries
Throughout the course of a week is a good place to be for the most part.
I would look to include 1-2 exercises for 2 sets in each warm up day.
These don’t need to be super draining or intense sets either. These should be slow, controlled, and properly executed sets. Remember, you don’t need A TON to see a difference in your ab training.
Let’s cover how it might look for a 3 day upper and lower body workout.
Monday – Lower Body
- Plank (anti extension) 2 sets of 30-60 sec
- Palloff Press (anti movement) 2 sets of 6-8 reps
Wed – Upper Body
- Reverse Crunch (flexion) 2 sets of 8-12 reps
- Front Rack Carry (loaded carry) 2 sets of 30-60 sec
Friday – Full Body
- Bird Dog (Anti movement) 2 sets of 5-7 reps
- Band Crunch (flexion) 2 sets of 8-12 reps
Here we have a full weeks worth of ab training. This would be 6 direct total ab exercises for 12 sets over the course of a week.
That, my friend, would be MORE than enough to see progress in both strength, stabilization, and aesthetics over time.
How Often Should You Workout Your Abs : Final Word
I hope you were able to enjoy this guide and get some benefit from it.
I know the answer to how often should you workout your abs may seem simple surface level, but wanted to give you some in depth insight as to the reasonings and WHY behind it.
Hope you can take this info with you and program it into your training.
As well as if you want help with your training, you can check out either our Clubhouse HERE where I give out new workout programs that take out all of the guesswork for you each month.
Or our 1:1 coaching application form HERE for a bit more personalized 1:1 direct help and programming.
Look to hear from you soon,