"I hate abs," said no one ever. A lean and defined core is the goal for many athletes in the gym. Perhaps not so coincidentally, it also happens to be one of the hardest features to obtain. Why? Well, put simply, our midsections seem to love having a little extra... insulation. Rest assured, though, that there are countless workouts you can do to move along the road toward chiseled abs.
We're going to list five of those workouts in this blog.
An Important Note Before We Begin
You can do crunches until the cows come home, but know this: If your nutrition isn't optimized, you'll never see a single ab.
Don't get us wrong — fitness is a big part of the equation. However, nutrition is as important as, if not more important than, what you do in the gym.
Couple these drills with the right nutrition programming for you, and you'll eventually see those washboard abs making an appearance.
Regardless of aesthetics, remember that you use your core in almost everything you do — from heavy deadlifts to sitting up in your chair at your desk. A strong core is the basis for a healthy and reliable foundation.
Whether or not you ever have visible abs, core work should be a regular part of your training at the gym. You won't regret it, and you'll see improvements in your fitness across the board.
5 Workouts for Chiseled Abs
Ready to get down to business? Here are five core workouts you can tackle to get more chiseled abs. Use these as accessories to your main programming — particularly squatting, which might be the best full-body workout you can get.
1. Pull-Up Bar Core Complex
Not only will your core get one heck of a workout with this one, but you'll also feel it in your shoulders and even your grip. Bonus!
Remember to keep your shoulders engaged throughout these movements. Don't sink into them so your ears are smashed up against your shoulders. Pull them down and keep a long neck.
3 rounds of
- 10 hanging knee tucks
- 10 kips
- 30-sec hanging knee raise
For the knee tucks, keep them slow and controlled. You should never use momentum to get your knees up.
Control your kip! Don't look at it as "swinging." This eliminates the challenge for your core. Instead, you're intentionally moving from the hollow body position to the Superman position. Your core should constantly be working to achieve these two positions.
For the hanging knee raise, aim to bring your knees up in line with your hips, so it's like you're forming a tabletop with your legs. Squeeze your abs the whole time. Want to make it more challenging? Ask a friend or coach to put a plate on your legs once you get into position.
2. Beyond Crunches
Crunches are great and all, but... no. Wait. Crunches kind of stink.
Sure, you might feel them in your abs, but they're incredibly limiting. Undeniably, crunches beat doing nothing, but there are other exercises that are so much more effective.
Whenever you're doing ab work on your back, think of drawing your belly button into the floor and keeping your lower back pushed into the ground.
Athletes sometimes let their lower back arch so that you can actually see empty space underneath it. This is because it's very challenging to keep their core engaged. Avoid this at all costs, because you won't be reaping the full benefits of the workout.
3 rounds of
- 15 suitcase sit-ups
- 20 Russian twists
- 30-sec hollow body hold
Suitcase sit-ups are often used as a less challenging version of V-ups, so if they feel easy, opt for V-ups instead.
Russian twists are a quicker movement, but your core should still be engaged the entire time. Hold a dumbbell, kettlebell, or plate to make it harder. (Psst! Do you love working out with dumbbells? Us too. Check out this blog on dumbbell workouts you can do anywhere!)
You can make hollow body holds easier by bringing your arms and/or legs higher up (and lower them to make it harder).
3. Plank Variations
We love planks because you don't need any equipment to do them, they work your whole body, and there are infinite variations and scaling options.
Remember that the higher up in the air your butt is, the easier the plank is. On the flip side, don't ever let your hips sag toward the floor. This means you've lost tension in your abs.
3 rounds of
- 45-sec standard plank
- 10 hip taps (total)
- 30-sec side plank, each side
Depending on your strength and comfort level, you can do planks on either your forearms or your hands (like the top of the push-up position). To make these harder, put a plate on your back.
While in a plank on your forearms, twist to one side and touch that hip to the ground. Then repeat on the other side. Do 10 total. These are your hip taps.
For the side planks, prop yourself up on your forearm and think of keeping your body in a straight line. You can either stack your feet or stagger them. To make this harder, rest a dumbbell right above your hip bone for a weighted side plank variation.
4. Kettlebell Challenge
Kettlebells are endlessly versatile, and you can get an entire workout in with just this one piece of equipment. Unsurprisingly, they come in handy when you're on the quest for chiseled abs.
3 rounds of
- 20 side twists (total)
- 10 side bends/side
- Farmer carry with KB locked overhead
For the side twists, hold the kettlebell in the center of your chest, like you would for a goblet squat. Don't worry about twisting to each side as far as you can. What matters is keeping your core tight and engaged as you do it. Move slowly and with intention.
Same with the side bends — you don't need to be folding your body like a pretzel to get a workout. Hold the KB in one hand and lower to that side until you feel the tension in the opposite oblique. Do all 10 reps on one side before switching.
Farmer carries are surprisingly difficult. You might just be walking, but keeping the kettlebell stabilized overhead works your core in a whole new way. Switch arms when you switch directions, and think of keeping your arm by your ear.
5. Working With a Weighted Ball
A wall ball or medicine ball will both get the job done for these exercises. You just need something heavy that you can throw, that offers a little bounce.
Anytime you can incorporate more explosive movements into your gym programming, you're in for a real treat. Explosive movements offer something that their counterparts can't. You instantly up the tension and intensity, which is great for both strength and endurance.
High-intensity training like this is the best combination of both strength training and cardio.
3 rounds of
- 5 side tosses against the wall/side
- 8 sit-ups with a toss to a partner at the top
- 8 sit-ups holding ball overhead
For the side tosses, stand maybe four or five feet from the wall and turn to face one side. Wind up and chuck the ball at the wall as hard as you can. You'll feel the burn in your core. Do all five tosses on one side before moving to the other side.
You can hold the ball against your chest during the sit-up. Then, at the top, simply toss it to a partner standing in front of you. They should immediately return it to you, at which point you'll lay back down.
For sit-ups with the ball overhead, the ball should be above your head the entire time, from laying flat to sitting up. Don't rush these. Even the decent show be slow and controlled. Imagine peeling your spine off the ground on the way up and rolling it back on the way down.
To Scale These Exercises Up or Down
Depending on your strength level, you might want to make these exercises more or less challenging. Also, as you improve, you'll need ways to increase the difficulty.
You can always add weight or tweak the rep scheme. Another simple way to up the difficulty level is slow down the movement.
The slower you do something, the harder it is.
With the exception of any explosive movements — which demand speed and power in order to be effective — most of these exercises can be done more slowly for an added challenge, like the side bends, side twists, and suit-case sit-ups.
In fact, flying through exercises too quickly is often a way athletes (even unintentionally) "cheat" a workout.
Write this down: When you spend more time under tension, you get a harder workout.