“Abs are made in the kitchen,” the fitness saying goes. But a more accurate rephrasing would be, “Abs are revealed in the kitchen.” They’re made in the gym, during your ab workouts and even total-body training. That’s where you build the muscle tissue that dieting later reveals by removing excess belly fat.
Once you’ve dialed in your nutrition, leave the kitchen and head to the gym for your workout. To help you, here are four abs workout strategies to improve your core muscles and build a scroll-stopping torso. Regardless of your current routine, these ab moves can make a big difference.
Tip 1: Use Weighted Core Exercises in Your Workout
The abdominal muscles are like everything else you train; in that sense, they’re no different from, say, your shoulder muscles. They all benefit from weighted resistance, whether from a cable, a dumbbell, etc. There’s this fear in the fitness world that using weight in your training will expand the circumference of your waist and mess with the symmetry of your torso. That’s not the case. If anything, doing weighted movements as part of your workout will make those abs pop even more when you cut down.
When done correctly, the weighted rope crunch is a great exercise for your abs workout. Your stomach works hard to contract, and the cable pulley applies continuous tension where you need it. Use your ab muscles, not your hip flexors, to crunch. Squeeze your abs hard when you pull in on this exercise. Feel that contraction fully on each crunch.
Hit your oblique muscles by crunching and dipping your shoulder to either side.
Tip 2: Lift Slowly, Lower Even More Slowly During Your Workout
You should know this by now, but it bears repeating: When training, momentum helps no one. Your six-pack is no different from every other muscle group in this respect, and if you’re trying to build, each rep counts. As you perform each rep, slow your tempo and maintain control throughout the movement. Your abs will work harder this way, leading to better results from your training.
Take that abs workout favorite, the hanging knee raise. If all your knee raises look like the beginning of a Kipping pull-up, you’re not alone; it’s easy to generate momentum and lift those legs high by swinging. Unfortunately, this kind of momentum doesn’t do much for your abs or your ab training.
Instead, start by tucking your knees to your chin, which will force your hips to lift and contract your ab muscles. Exhale at the top of the contraction to further activate your abs. Slowly lower your knees with control. Slower means you’ll do fewer reps, but each of those reps will benefit your lower abs a lot more. Only move to straight-legged lifts once you’ve mastered the bent-leg version in your training.
Want to shift the emphasis to your oblique muscles? Raise your knees to either side. Want to add some resistance? Hold a dumbbell between your ankles.
Tip 3: Focus on Stability During Your Workout
The core isn’t just about the six-pack. It’s also responsible for helping you stay upright and maintaining stability during other tasks. If you have a weak core, it will affect your training on other exercises, like the squat or even something as simple as a dumbbell curl. You need core strength to stabilize the weight before you can lift it for an exercise.
Additionally, the transverse abdominals—the “girdle” muscle that wraps around your midsection—becomes stronger and tighter through stabilizing isometric exercises, not through crunches. This means all those flailing ab exercises you’ve included in your ab training are missing the one muscle that helps tighten everything up.
Not to worry, there’s a simple solution: an exercise called planks. I don’t just mean the traditional version of the exercise, using the standard plank position. You should be working side planks into your training, too. By doing regular planks, then a plank for each side, in your abs workout, you will soon see a noticeable improvement in the look and strength of your core.
Tip 4: Don’t Forget to Vacuum During Your Workout
Any bodybuilding fan has read about the top pros getting ripped for having distended stomachs onstage. Champions from the so-called Golden Era of bodybuilding used vacuums during a workout to keep their tummies tight. After previously falling out of favor, this classic waist-slimming exercise has made a comeback in recent years among the ab routine of today’s fitness stars.
Not only can you include vacuums in your ab training, you can also do this exercise in between sets when you’re training other muscles. It’s a simple way to double-down on your ab gains, and it can be a killer superset no matter what you’re training that workout.
Perform your normal set and follow it up by trying to do a vacuum before you start your next one. With a little practice and consistency, you’ll gain better control of your waistline and your breathing. This exercise can benefit your other training and workout routines, as well.
Here’s a sample ab workout incorporating the principles you just read: