I really dislike the saying, "Abs are made in the kitchen."
*refer to my article "Abs are NOT Made in the Kitchen."
No, they're not.
Abs, like any other muscle, need a stimulus to be developed. Stick around to the end of the article for my top 5 ab exercises!
Before we dive into this, my typical "ab workout disclaimer:"
For a while ab workouts were the hot ticket in the fitness industry with 7-minute abs and 30-day ab challenges popping up everywhere. Promoting doing a ton of ab work to magically get a six-pack. Bologna.
Now people act like we shouldn't do any direct ab work and just do compound lifts.
1: Compound lifts come first
2: Direct ab work is a great way to do extra and build a stronger core
3: You can have a strong core without visible abs
4: for visible abs, your diet must be on point
So, what should you do?
1: Get in the gym and focus on compound lifts: squats, Romanian deadlifts, presses, pull-ups, lunges, rows, etc
2: Finish workouts with some direct core work: hanging leg raises, planks, hollow rocks, L-sits, etc
*the intention with direct ab work is to build a strong core, you can't "rep" your way to a six-pack.
3: Your calorie intake must match your goals: if you want a visible six-pack, you need to be in a slight caloric deficit.
Caloric deficit: eating less than you need to maintain your current weight
Don't try eating 1,200 calories a day to get "ripped." That'll just make you weak. Eat well. Eat all the macros (protein, fat, and carbs). Just slightly below what you need.
Use my fitness pal to calculate how many calories you need per day.
The ultimate intention in the gym should be to get strong and more capable, not to get abs or burn calories.
For plenty of compound lifts and direction in the gym or home workouts, try a free 7-Day Trial to one of my workout programs.
Now, to my top 5 ab exercises. I'm not going to pull a fast one on you and not actually list 5 direct ab exercises but I have to put this out there first:
I think the top 5 CORE exercises are heavy squats, deadlifts, bent rows, carries, and sprints.
Without further ado, My Top 5 direct ab exercises are as follows (click the name if you need a demo):
Chris Bumstead listed this as his top ab exercise... enough said. This exercise is great because hanging from the bar is great on your shoulder and spine. When you raise your legs, really focus on that muscle-mind connection and focus on your lower abs.
I like 3 sets of 15-20 reps.
2: Hollow Rocks
Hollow Rocks are the ABsolute worst (see what I did there?). For real though, if you do these right they burn after just a few reps. The big benefit of this exercise is that you learn to properly brace the core, which has a lot of carryover to lifting, sprints, life, etc...
I like to do this exercise for time. 3 sets of :30-:40 seconds. Ouch! Proper technique on this exercise is tough, so feel free to try the modified version first (shown in the video link).
We can't skip the obliques! This is one of those exercises that exposes weaknesses quickly. A side plank is fine but when you raise that top leg, it gets serious (and painful) fast. Bonus: By raising that top leg, you simultaneously train the glute medius.
Try 2-3 sets of :30-:45 Seconds.
I don't see this one done a lot but it goes hard. The metronome is great for many reasons, no equipment is needed, scalable, and it trains the obliques and abs.
Try 3-4 sets of 16-20 reps. To make it easier, bend the knees. For more of a challenge put a light medball between your feet.
I might get some hate for this one. On a personal level, I feel these every time. I believe it is due to the short range of motion and that the abs stay under tension throughout.
Be careful on this one not to just bob your head. Keep the face and neck relaxed and make those abs work to flex your trunk.
Go higher rep on these, 3 sets of 30-40 reps!
"But Ben, what about the plank?"
Again, this may be a hot take, but the hollow rock is far superior to the plank. I feel like a could hold a plank for 3 years but 30 sec into a hollow hold or rocks and I am shaking like a leaf.
With that being said, the plank is still a valuable exercise. If you are well-trained do these with a weight on your rear. If you are a beginner, build to being able to hold a legit plank for 2 minutes.
These 5 exercises can take your core strength to the next level. Just remember, compound lifts come first. Direct core training is just extra.
Abs are built by training. Revealed by diet.
For more on my story check out my "About Me" page.