Many lifters who want to etch a tight, ripped midsection take a more-is-better approach to the task. The result is that they hammer out set after set of high-rep ab exercises and repeat the process several times per week, maybe even daily.
But is all this work necessary, or is it excess that can actually slow down your progress. Do you REALLY need to train abs every day to build a six pack?
Let’s look at the facts to figure out what’s right for you.
(This post contains affiliate links to Amazon listings for the products being discussed.)
You Can’t Spot Reduce
First of all, let’s address the idea that you can burn fat selectively from your abs, or any other body part. At its core, that was the intention of all those high-rep sets when they first came into vogue back in the 1970s and 1980s (or maybe even before.)
The thought was that you could force the body to burn fat near a particular body part by bombarding the area with activity. For abs, this would allow you to build the underlying muscle AND rip up your midsection at the same time.
While there are still some believers who hold out hope, however, multiple studies like this one have shown that spot reducing is ineffective at best and impossible at worse.
Abs Are a Muscle
If we set aside the idea that you can burn significant amounts of fat doing abdominal exercises, we’re left with how to best train the muscles themselves.
And that’s the key to the entire six-pack “mystery,” because what we think of as abs are actually just one fairly large muscle, the rectus abdominis. This muscle helps you bend forward, and a series of connective tissue bands that cross over top of it give abs the blocks and valleys that we associate with a six pack.
In the end, though, abs are just a muscle.
Abs Need Progression
In order to build a six pack, then, you need to grow your abs large enough that they stand out from the connective bands, AND you need to get lean enough to show off those ridges and crevasses. You won’t lose fat with ab work, but you CAN build up your abs with the proper approach.
In particular, you need to train abs hard on a few basic exercises and strive to increase the weight used in perfect form whenever possible. Why do you need your abs to get stronger?
Because, as we discussed above, they are a muscle, and the quickest and surest way to make muscles grow is to add resistance on a continual basis. Abs can benefit from slightly higher weights than other body parts — maybe 10-30 reps — but they respond very well to heavy weight training.
Abs Need Recovery
When you train a muscle group hard and heavy, you need to then give it time and and nutrients in order to recover and grow. Abs are no different, though their recovery capacity may be slightly better than other muscle groups since abs are used all day long to keep you upright.
A good first approach is to train abs hard and to failure once per training cycle, just as you would biceps or chest. If you find your abs aren’t responding as you want, then you can try doing a set or two (only) of abs on each training day, using different exercises on different days. There is almost never a need to train abs on your “off” days, though, and people who train really heavy on big lifts like squats, deadlifts, and chinups may not need any direct ab work at all.
No matter which specific ab workout you choose, the important point to remember is that you need to train your midsection hard, but not long or frequently. Most of all you do not need to train abs every day to build a six pack.