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Give your abdominal muscles the attention they deserve. Follow these tips to strengthen your core.

Types of ab exercises

Ab exercises have evolved from those that target one area (crunches) to those that engage multiple muscle groups (planks). Despite which type is currently trendy, both will strengthen your abs. Research sponsored by the American Council on Exercise found that the bicycle maneuver, captain’s chair, and crunches on an exercise ball are the top three most effective ab exercises. However, abdominal muscles rarely work alone, and training them with the muscles of the lower back and legs helps to create a stronger core. Incorporate more full-body ab exercises, such as high knee lifts, planks with leg lifts, and burpees.

Frequency of workouts

You should train your abdominals no differently than you train other muscles. Do ab exercises 2-3 times per week allowing 1-2 rest days in between workouts. Fitness professionals recommend anywhere from 10-20 repetitions and 2-3 sets of each exercise. Switch up your routine and incorporate new exercises every 4-6 weeks to keep your muscles challenged.

Beyond strength training

Abdominal exercises are important for a strong core, but they are just one part of the bigger picture. Cardiovascular exercise, food, and posture also play a role in your fitness and appearance. Cardio exercise helps to burn the calories required to reduce fat around your stomach and expose muscle. High-sodium foods and carbonated beverages can cause water retention and bloating, which can make the abdominal region appear larger. Poor posture can also cause your stomach to bulge. Pull your shoulders back and contract your abs when you feel yourself beginning to slouch.

Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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