Do you do ab workouts or focus on getting lean? Squats or bench press? Dips or pull-ups? There are a million different ab workouts for men, each promising to give you the secret to six-pack abdominals, but how do you know which process is right for you?
Regardless of whether you are just getting into fitness for the first time or you are a certified gym-junkie, ab workouts and exercises have long been a touchy subject. Sure, we know the basic principle behind visible abs isn’t complicated, but somewhere between cutting out carbs and hitting the gym, we get a little lost on our journey to that often-elusive washboard midsection. It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but the simple fact is this; no matter how hard you push yourself, no matter how bulging your biceps are or how heavy you can lift, your overall physique will always be judged on how visible your abdominal muscles are.
But can the best ab workouts really help?
What are Your Abs?
Put simply, your abs are some of the most important muscles in your body. Located on the midsection, this muscle group works to support the trunk, allowing for movement whilst also holding organs in place by regulating internal abdominal pressure.
While people often deem the abs as their core, this is not always the case. The core represents all the muscles in the abdominal area that are responsible for functional strength and stability. The abs, however, generally refer to superficial front muscles that make up the outer core. These include;
- Rectus abdominis – A paired muscle running vertically on each side of the anterior wall of the abdomen.
- Inner obliques – A broad thin muscular sheet found on the lateral side of the abdomen.
- External obliques – Found on either side not only help rotate the trunk, but they perform a few other vital functions. These muscles help pull the chest, as a whole, downwards, which compresses the abdominal cavity.
- Transversus abdominis – The deepest muscle layer, its main roles are to stabilise the trunk and maintain internal abdominal pressure.
How Do You Get Visible Abs?
The journey to getting visible abs is not an easy one; it will require a vast amount of time and a level of dedication far exceeding any other muscle group in your body. “The biggest misconception is that it’s all about the ab-workout,” Sam Wood, personal trainer and founder of online training and nutrition program 28 By Sam Wood says. “The reality is that the nutrition side of things is equally as important as you’ll never get your body fat percentage low enough to see those muscles if you don’t nail your nutrition.”
Wood is bang on the money. The general consensus around having visible abs involves an incredibly low body fat percentage. For most men, your abs start to become visible when your body fat percentage dips below 10 per cent, however, your fat distribution can play a significant role in this. Some men carry fat around their trunk, making it harder to show visible abs even at 10 per cent body fat, whereas other guys hold their weight in their legs or arms, and may potentially see abs at a higher fat percentage. Irrespective of your physical limitations, the simple fact is that without training your midsection, through ab workouts and exercises, it won’t much matter if you are lean or not. Sitting at a low body fat percentage will reveal the muscle that lies beneath, so it certainly pays to build some before you get shredded.
“Work your abs with good core training (flex, twist and raise) and then burn that layer of fat by training hard and eating clean,” Wood says.
Why Should You Do Ab Workouts?
Aside from giving you the confidence to hit the beach shirtless this summer, ab workouts provide some significant health benefits. Understanding that the abs are essential to your movement and trunk rotation will help you to better craft ab workouts that expand upon your abilities and internal strength.
“It’s important for everyone to train abs. Our core (I include legs in this) are the most important muscles in the body,” Wood says. “They help us move well, protect our vital organs and are the ‘trunk’ in which all our other muscles branch from.”
How Often Should You Do Ab Workouts?
While you might be a fan of chucking a few sit-ups into your routine as an ab finisher, the addition probably isn’t serving you well. Unlike most muscle groups, your abs are readily improving and adapting. Unless you are adding significant resistance to your ab workouts, you should be fine to complete ab exercises every day, and it would be wise to do so.
“The abs are one of those muscles that are designed to train often and typically have high endurance so need high reps,” Wood says. “A strong core is a must for a strong body, good posture, reduced risk of injury and good balance and stability so training your abs at the start of every workout or at least every second day definitely isn’t too much.”
While adding ab workouts to every gym session might sound excessive, Wood says a continuous and dedicated approach to training your abs will serve you well in the long-run.
Best Ab Workout for Men
Once you’ve got a firm grip on how often you should be doing ab workouts and why they are important, it’s time to delve deep into the process. We asked the 28 by Sam Wood founder what ab exercises you should focus on in order to get the best ab workout possible
Here is a list of 11 ab exercises to add to your best ab workouts.
1. Slow Hanging Leg Raises
An exercise that targets the rectus abdominis, hip flexors and external obliques, Slow Hanging Leg Raises are a great introduction to ab exercises and isolation techniques. To perform Slow Hanging Leg Raises effectively;
- Stand beneath a bar, reaching up and clutching it overhand with both hands.
- Maintaining a straight back, inhale as you engage your abdominal muscles.
- Lift your legs by bending at the knees. Go no higher than your waist.
- Exhale as you lower your legs in a controlled movement until you’re back in the starting position. Remember to keep your core engaged.
Reps: 3 sets of 8-10
2. Hardstyle Plank
One of the most basic ab exercises, but one that easily makes its way into many of the best ab workouts for men, the Hardstyle Plank is a fitness staple. When you engage your core and squeeze your entire body, this ab exercise can have a massive impact. Not just a great one to add to your ab workouts, the Hardstyle Plank also targets your quads, glutes, core, back and fists. To perform a Hardstyle Plank properly;
- Keeping your elbows aligned underneath your shoulders, assume a modified push-up position lie, with your weight resting on your forearms, rather than your palms.
- Keeping your forearms parallel to one another, tense your abdominal muscle and hold the position.
Reps: 3 sets of 30 seconds
An extension of a yoga position, this complex movement involves working both sides of your body simultaneously. For this specific exercise, it pays to keep a strong focus on core engagement, while keeping a slight bend in your elbows; you don’t want to run the risk of hyperextension. To complete a Bird-Dog properly;
- Start in a tabletop position, with your shoulders over wrists and hips over knees.
- Engaging your core, lift your right arm and left leg simultaneously.
- Flex your foot as you kick back, whilst keeping your palm facing in towards your body.
- At the stretch’s highest point, paise for a moment, keeping your arm and leg are at the same height as your torso
- Slowly bring the two limbs back to starting position.
- Repeat on opposite arm and leg.
Reps: 5 sets of 5
4. Hollow Extension-to-Cannonball
More difficult than it sounds, Hollow Extension-to-Cannonball is one worthy addition to the best ab workouts for men routine. The key to this ab exercise is having a contraction at both ends of the spectrum. Your neck and legs should stay off the ground the entire set, so avoid the temptation to relax and drop. To perform a Hollow Extension-to-Cannonball properly;
- Assume a cannonball-type position, hugging your knees into your chest.
- Extend your legs and arms outwards into a “hollow” position, pressing your lower back to the floor.
- Hold for five seconds before curling up again, maintaining that elevated feet and neck position.
Reps: 5 sets of 5
5. Hanging Windscreen Wipers
You may have seen guys do this at the gym and wondered what they were thinking, but it turns out the humble Hanging Windscreen Wipers is one of the best ab exercises for men. Employing a familiar hanging movement, you must resist the temptation to rotate your body. Staying controlled in your movements is key to making this exercise a worthwhile addition to your best ab workouts. To complete Hanging Windscreen Wipers effectively;
- Pulling down with your lats and engaging your shoulders, hang from an overhead bar.
- Squeeze your anterior core to bring your toes up toward the bar.
- Maintaining oblique control, move your legs side-to-side, trying to keep them together.
- Try to focus on not lowering your legs or twisting your hips.
Reps: 3 sets of 10
6. Side Plank with Elevated Foot
You may have already done the Hardstyle Plank to target your front abs, but now it’s time to focus on those obliques. By switching to the Side Plank with Elevated Foot, you can stretch those long, thin muscles, providing greater strain on that often underworked muscle group. To perform a Side Plank with Elevated Foot properly;
- Assume a side plank position with your right forearm on the floor, stabilised by keeping your right foot on the floor.
- Brace your core by contracting your abs.
- Raise your left arm and left foot off the ground.
- Hold this position.
- Switch sides and repeat.
Reps: 3 sets of 30 seconds each side
7. Dumbbell Side Bend
One of the few ab exercises that requires equipment, the Dumbbell Side Bend will target those external obliques, providing greater definition in those outer ab sections. To complete an accurate Dumbbell Side Bend;
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in your right hand, palm facing inwards towards the torso.
- Keeping your back straight, engage your core, then slowly bend to the side as far as possible—but only at the waist.
- Hold at the bottom tensing your ab muscles
- Return to starting position.
Reps: 15-20 per set
8. Barbell Back Squat
A compound movement that offers a lot more than simply beefy legs and a ripped core. If you are wondering how to get abs, this is a great exercise to add to your ab workouts. To complete a Barbell Back Squat properly;
- Stand in a squat rack with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lift a barbell off the rack, placing it evenly across your shoulders.
- Slowly send your glutes as if you are lowering into a chair, with a slight bend at the knees.
- Pause at the bottom.
- Press through your heels to return to the starting position.
Reps: 3 sets of 12
9. Swiss Ball ‘Stir the Pot’
This is one ab exercise that may make you feel like an idiot, but it will do the trick. You will need a Swiss ball and a lot of patience to get yourself sorted, but this movement will demonstrate how important your ab muscles are to stability and balance. To complete the Swiss Ball ‘Stir the Pot’ properly;
- Assume a kneeling position with your forearms resting on a Swiss ball.
- Extend each leg until you are in an almost plank-like position on the ball.
- Without taking them off the ball, slowly rotate your arms in a clockwise fashion for 10 rotations.
- Repeat the movement for 10 rotations in a counter-clockwise direction.
Reps: 3 sets of 10 rotations each direction
10. Medicine Ball Soccer-Throw Sit-Ups
This complex movement is one of the best ab exercises for men, offering an opportunity to work out the core and the upper body simultaneously. If you want to put together one of the best ab workouts, you simply can’t go past this one. To perform Medicine Ball Soccer-Throw Sit-Ups properly;
- Lie on your back with a medicine ball overhead facing a wall.
- Curl head and shoulders off the floor and squeeze abs in. Raise the ball overhead and slam it against the wall.
- Pick the ball up and raise it above your head.
- Keeping your arms outstretched, slowly return to the starting position.
Reps: 3 sets of 10
11. Battle Rope Slams
Another full-body exercise, Battle Ropes offer engagement in your core, along with a wealth of other added benefits. We’ve gone with the simultaneous Battle Ropes Slam for this workout, however, the alternating movement works just as well. To complete Battle Ropes Slam ab workout properly;
- Stand in front of the Battle Ropes.
- Clutching them in each hand, ensure there is only slight slack.
- Bend your knees slightly and keep your back straight.
- Using only your arms, raise both of the battle ropes to eye-level, before slamming them down as hard as possible.
Reps: As many reps as possible in 1 minute
Common Mistakes with Ab Workouts
While the general premise behind getting visible abs is simple, that isn’t to say it is without confusion. Here are a few common mistakes people run into while seeking the best ab workouts for a six-pack.
- Assuming it will happen – Unfortunately, not everyone was designed to have shredded abdominal muscles. Sure, it is true that if your body fat gets low enough, your front core muscles will be visible, for some men it’s just not healthy. “It really comes down to nutrition and for lots of people, genetics,” Wood says.
- Not eating right – “You have to eat a pretty clean diet to compliment your training and get your body fat percentage low enough to see the definition and for some people, this is extremely difficult,” Wood says.
- Focusing on aesthetics – It can be easy to get caught up in the quest to get shredded, but the obsession with image can’t be detrimental, on your physical and mental health. “Focus on the functional benefits of a strong core and don’t get too caught up in the aesthetics,” Wood says.
If you want to learn more about the best ab workouts for men or just to get a better grip on your physical health, check out 28 by Sam Wood; the home fitness and nutrition program.
Do planks build abs?
Planks work your core muscle, strengthening your back, trunk and shoulders. Ultimately, this more is integral in building six-pack abs.
How lean do you have to be to see visible abs?
Generally, to see your abs you need to be sub-10% body fat (18% or less for women). This can vary depending on your fat distribution and genetics, however.
Can you do ab workouts every day?
Unlike most muscle groups, your abs are readily improving and adapting. Unless you are adding significant resistance to your ab workouts, you should be fine to complete ab exercises every day.