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How To Train Abs

You all know the usual quote “abs are made in the kitchen”. Well, they’re half right.

You all know the usual quote “abs are made in the kitchen”. Well, they’re half right.
Better quote would be “Abs are built in the gym and revealed in the kitchen.”

You need your body fat to be low enough that you can see them because no matter how strong they are if you’re holding too much body fat you won’t be able to see them.

A question we get asked all the time is do I need train my abs?

If you want those abs that pop then the answer is yes.

A lot of coaches say that you don’t need to directly train abs that you get enough work indirectly from compound movements such as squats and deadlifts.

Is this true?

Let’s look at a study that looks at Electromyography (EMG) activity of the muscles in the abdominals when performing different movements.

Study reference and link below.

Aspe et al (2014) ‘Electromyographic and Kinetic Comparison of the Back Squat and Overhead Squat’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2014,28(10):2827-2836, available at:

The study showed that direct abdominal work stimulates your abs more than back squats and overhead squats. Simple sit ups had 20% more activation

Therefore, for maximal abdominal development you should train your abs directly.

This dispels the myth of avoiding deadlifts and squats to avoid a blocky mid-section as direct abdominal work hits your obliques a lot more strongly.

So if anything you should avoid direct ab work if you’re worried about this.

What are the best exercises for Training your abs directly?

The best way to train the Rectus abdominas is flexing the spine. Crunches are best for this.

The study below took a look at varying loads at EMG activity in the rectus abdominas.

Moraes, C. et al (2009) ‘EMG activation of abdominal muscles in the crunch exercise performed with different external loads’, Physical Therapy in Sport,2009,10(2),57-62, available at:

It was found there was more stimulus with heavier loads. This shows we need to do our crunches with added weight for maximal growth.

An excellent way to do this is with Weighted rope crunches

Boeckh-Behrens et al. Compared EMG activity with 12 different ab exercises

It was found that;

Hanging Leg Raises targeted the lower abs best as you would imagine with any movement that brings your pelvis towards your chest

Weighted side bends hit the obliques the best

Weighted crunches hit the upper abs the best

Below is another study that compared 4 different abdominal exercises and they found the ab slide (ab rollout) to be a very effective exercise for hitting all abdominal muscles. Therefore this can be a useful addition to an ab routine.

Youdas, W. et al(2008) ‘An electromyographic analysis of the Ab-Slide exercise, abdominal crunch, supine double leg thrust, and side bridge in healthy young adults: implications for rehabilitation professionals’, strength Cond Res, 2008;22(6):1939-46, available at:

A study below looked at different types of planks and found the plank to be a sub-standard exercise for stimulating the abdominals. Reference and link below.

Contreras, B. et al (2014) ‘An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt vs traditional plank exercises’, Sports biomechanics,2014;13(3),296-306. Available at;


Your abdominals are comprised of 55% Type 1 (slow twitch) muscle fibres and 45% Type 2 (fast twitch) fibres.

It’s like all other muscles and needs to be trained with progressive overload in a rep range of 6 to 15.

As in my previous article about training frequency is was stated that hitting a body part twice a week would be optimal for maximal hypertrophy and so the same goes for your abs.

Any more than this will just be detrimental to their development.

You can do these two sessions either at the end of any weight routine or after cardio

Putting it all together:

You need to train your abs directly as compound movements are not as effective

They need to be loaded like other muscles with weight for maximal stimulus

The best exercises to target all 3 areas of the abs ware hanging leg raises, weighted rope crunches and side bends

Ab roll outs are a great movement for hitting all parts of your abs

Planks are not an effective movement for your abs

A rep range of 6-15 reps twice a week is best

Train them after your weight training or cardio or on a day off

A sample workout week may look like this;


3 sets 12-15 reps Weighted Rope crunches

3 sets 12-15 reps Hanging Leg Raises


3 sets of 12-15 Ab roll outs

3 sets of weighted rope crunches or hanging leg raises depending on your weak point .

Tags :
Fat Loss,Lifestyle,Nutrition
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