As always, during the summertime you find everyone clamoring to develop the all-too-coveted “six-pack abs” to show off at the beach – frantically leafing through the hundreds of abdominal workouts promising such results can sometimes leave people ab-less and confused.
The thing that people often fail to realize are two things: first and foremost, you can do crunches all day every day for years and never see any abs if you’re at a high percentage of body fat. Most men need to reach about 8-12% (around 16-20% for women) body fat before they begin seeing some abdominal definition, so until you get your diet and cardio in check, you aren’t going to see any of your results.
Second: your genetics determine the origins and insertions of your abdominal muscles—in other words, the appearance of your abs is affecting by your genetics. Not everyone has perfectly symmetrical, blocky “eight-packs” when they develop their abdominals. I actually have a “seven-pack” that is obviously not symmetrical, but that’s just the genetics I was dealt. Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, we can get to the fun part: the workouts.
Beginner Ab Workout
Do 15-25 reps of each exercise, moving immediately from one exercise to the next, until all are completed for one set.
Take 1-2 minute breaks between each set, completing 4-6 sets
Exercise 1: Crunches
Lay flat on the ground with your feet held by a partner or tucked underneath of a weighted object. Raise your head and stomach off the ground until you reach a 45 degree angle, hold for about a second, then slowly lower yourself down until you almost touch the ground; the goal is to keep constant tension on your abs the entire time. Tip: don’t tuck your hands behind your head, as that will cause you to pull your neck as you fatigue, putting you into a position that could lead to injury.
Exercise 2: Mason Twist
Bend your legs and lift them slightly off the ground. Keeping them in the air, lean back until you feel your abs activate. Stay in this position, clasp your hands together, and move your fist from either side of your body, touching the floor on either side. Be sure that your torso is moving to activate your obliques, instead of just using your shoulders to move your arms back and forth.
Exercise 3: Scissors
Lay flat on the ground with your legs straight out and your hands at your side. Lift your legs an inch off the ground, then move your right light up 2-3 inches, then bring it back down as you lift your left leg up. Keep your legs straight and off the ground at all times. If your lower back begins to hurt, placing your hand underneath your back or your butt should reduce the discomfort.
Intermediate Ab Workout
Exercise 1: Raised Leg Crunches
The same steps and tips from the regular crunches in the beginner section apply to this one as well, only you should lift your legs until your torso and thighs are perpendicular, crossing your feet as you point them forward, parallel to your torso.
Exercise 2: Oblique V-ups
Lay on your side, with your legs stacked. Place your hand behind your ear with your elbow raised above your head (don’t place your hand behind your head as it could cause you to want to pull it as you fatigue and it could lead to injury). Keeping your leg as straight as possible, try to touch your thigh with your elbow. Pay attention to stay on your side, as it is a common tendency to rotate more towards your back to mimic a crunching motion, which would target your upper abs instead of your obliques and serratus anterior.
Exercise 3: Knee-Tucks
Holding yourself up from a dip bar, or hanging from a pull-up bar or something similar, bring your knees to your chest. You should feel most of the contraction in your lower abs as you rotate your hips with your knees. If you fail to move your butt or hips along with your knees, it will work mostly (or only) your hip flexors (muscles of your groin region). Be sure that you control the movement the entire time, do not use momentum from swinging—keep as much of your body as possible stationary at all times
Advanced Ab Workout
Do 10-20 reps of each exercise, moving immediately from one exercise to the next, until all are completed for one set.
Take 1-2 minute breaks between each set, completing 4-6 sets.
Exercise 1: Weighted Crunches
You can use the machine most gyms have, but if you don’t have a membership or your gym is lacking, you can hold a dumbbell or plate as you mimic the crunch form from the beginner routine of this article.
Exercise 2: Clocks
Laying on the ground with your arms spread out at your sides, lift your legs straight above you, so that they’re parallel to your torso. Then, slowly lower them to your ride side, trying to bring your toes to your hand without ever touching the ground. Slowly raise your legs back to the original position, then move to the other side. You should feel immense contractions in your obliques as you keep your legs up, and in your lower abs as you keep your legs closer to your toes. Do not let your legs drift too far away from your toes, as it will make the exercise too easy. It’s important to control the movement to avoid using momentum to swing your legs back and forth. As much as possible, use your arms to keep you in place, not to assist in bringing your legs back to the starting position.
Exercise 3: Pulse Ups
Start with your legs in the same position as the clocks (straight, raised, perpendicular to your torso). Keeping your legs straight, left your butt and lower back off the ground as you push your legs straight upwards (don’t let them move above your head, as that will disengage your lower abs). You should feel a significant contraction in your lower abs to propel your legs upwards.
Abdominals are an extremely important muscle to develop, not only for aesthetic reasons, but to help protect yourself from injury as you improve your ability to stabilize yourself during various exercises. Be sure to control all these movements to ensure proper contraction of the correct muscles and avoid injury. Finally, don’t forget that proper nutrition is indispensable in order to be able to see your results; Your abs won’t show if they’re covered in fat.