Abdominal training and the right diet are the keys to a flat, well-toned middle. The most important rules on the way to a six-pack, are five basic abdominal exercises and suitable ab workouts.
Behind the dream of a six-pack are three comparatively small muscle groups: the straight, lateral, and rear abdominal muscles.
They need to be exercised regularly to shape the waist, abdomen, and hips.
What are the abdominal muscles?
The abdominal muscles surround the abdominal and pelvic cavities and connect the chest to the pelvis.
Their task: they enable the tilt as well as the rotation of the trunk and changes in the volume of the abdomen, for example in pregnancy or a bloated belly.
There are three groups of abdominal muscles: straight, lateral, and posterior.
Straight abdominal muscles:
- Straight abdominal muscle (Musculus rectus abdominis)
- Pyramidal muscle (Musculus pyramidal)
Lateral abdominal muscles:
- External oblique abdominal muscle (Musculus obliquus externus abdominis.
- Inner oblique abdominal muscle (Musculus obliquus internus abdominis)
- Transverse abdominal muscle (Musculus transversus abdominis)
Posterior abdominal muscles:
- Square lumbar muscle (Musculus quadratus lumborum)
- Large lumbar muscle (Musculus iliopsoas)
What are the benefits of abdominal training?
A more or less visible six-pack is not only visually appealing to most athletes.
The advantages of strong abdominal muscles are obvious: together with the back muscles, they stabilize and relieve the spine. You can counteract a hollow back and prevent back pain.
Important to know: Abdominal muscle training does not replace back training! This should be done in addition.
In addition, the abdominal muscles protect the internal organs and play a decisive role in posture. A trained core provides more balance and stability, from which you can benefit in all sports – whether weight training, running, or yoga.
The most important rules for abdominal training
Before you start abdominal training, you should be aware of a few basics.
These are the most important basics for effective muscle building and fat loss in the abdomen:
- nutrition is the basis
Training alone is not enough to sustainably change the ratio of fat to muscle and get closer to a washboard stomach. The phrase “Your six-pack is made in the kitchen” (“Abs are made in the kitchen”) is no coincidence:
Only those who drive a healthy calorie deficit and nourish their body in a balanced way also manage to make the muscle contours visible.
The negative energy balance in combination with a regular workout routine leads to the fact that the body gets the missing energy from the fat depots and builds muscles at the same time.
By the way, everyone has a six-pack. For it to be visible, the body fat percentage must be below 10 percent on average for men and below 15 percent for women. Our body fat calculator helps you determine your percentage.
- combine endurance and weight training
For visible, strong abs, it’s not enough to do 50 sit-ups a day. You need to stimulate fat loss with your diet and workouts while strengthening your muscles.
This works best with a combination of cardio and weight training. You’ll improve your fat metabolism, strengthen your cardiovascular system, and promote the growth of all muscle fibers.
Strength training has the added benefit of increasing your basal metabolic rate – by up to 100 calories per day for every kilogram of muscle mass. So the mix is ideal on the way to a flat, well-toned middle.
Tip: Strength training first, then cardio training! If you want to fit both sessions into one day, go for the heavyweights first and then the treadmill.
- focus on complex exercises
The abdominal muscles are not only explicitly addressed with isolated abdominal exercises such as crunches or sit-ups. All exercises that require the core muscles to stabilize the body train the abdominals. These include squats, deadlifts, lunges, and pull-ups.
The advantage of these complex compound exercises is: You work your leg, gluteal, back, and arm muscles in parallel, so you shape your entire body.
- activate all abdominal muscle groups
Each abdominal exercise usually works for all abdominal muscle groups but to different degrees. For maximum results, however, you should target each area directly and not rely exclusively on sit-ups.
For example, the lateral abdominal muscles are also challenged during sit-ups, but only side movements such as side support or lunges with rotation actively work them. So an effective abdominal workout always includes exercises for each part.
- continuously increase the load
If the load level remains unchanged over a longer period of time, this serves to maintain strength, but not to increase performance. Therefore, constantly adapt your abdominal muscle training to your current training condition, at the latest after eight to ten sessions.
For example, you can change the number of sets and repetitions – from 3 x 15 to 8 x 10 repetitions – and shorten the rest periods between sets. In weight training, it is a good idea to increase the weights. It is also advisable to vary the exercises and intensify them with equipment such as dumbbells, Pilates balls,s, and fitness bands.
Abdominal training – how often, at home or in the gym?
Only regular abdominal training leads to actual progress and positive health effects. According to a study by the Institute for Sports Science at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University-Frankfurt/Main, Germany, the optimal workout for building muscle is two to three times a week.
Make sure you take enough time to regenerate between these sessions. If your muscles are sore, they need a break. The muscles need this time to adapt and grow.
Tip: Follow each of your running or strength training sessions with a short abdominal workout lasting ten minutes.
Abdominal training without equipment
Where and how you work out depends on individual preferences and external factors. On the go or at home, where you don’t have any equipment at hand, you can train your abdomen with bodyweight training.
The selection of abdominal exercises without equipment is wide – from the plank to crunches and sit-ups to the Russian twist.
For advanced users: With small equipment such as dumbbells or fitness bands, the exercises can be varied and intensified to provide new training stimuli. For example, hold a dumbbell or weight plate in front of your chest during the Russian Twist.
Abdominal training in the gym
In the gym, there is a variety of equipment that you can use for your abdominal workout. For example:
- Abdominal press: trains the straight abdominal muscles
- Cable pulley: trains the lateral abdominal muscles with rotational exercises
- Roman chair (back trainer): trains the lateral and posterior abdominal muscles
- Pull-up bar: trains the straight abdominal muscles, for example with the Leg Lift hanging on the bar
Bottom line: there are no excuses for integrating your ab workout into your daily routine. You can do exercises anytime and anywhere – both with and without equipment. Incidentally, a workout challenge for the abdomen can also be worthwhile.
5 abdominal exercises you need to know
We present you with the five classic abdominal exercises. With them, you activate all abdominal muscle groups and work effectively on your six-pack.
The Plank is the ideal full-body exercise and trains, especially the core. So you have all the abdominal muscle groups activated at the same time.
- Position your palms below your shoulders
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart and come into a high push-up position.
- Your body forms a straight line, the belly button is pulled in, and the abdomen is tense.
- Hold in this position: Beginner for 30 seconds, advanced for at least 60 seconds
The Sideplank is a variation of the Plank. Here, especially the lateral and posterior abdominal muscles are activated.
- Come into the side position and position your elbow below the shoulder, your forearm is resting.
- The feet are on top of each other, the upper arm is relaxed.
- Stretch your legs and raise your hips so that you form a straight line.
- Hold in this position – beginners 30 seconds, advanced 60 seconds – and then switch sides.
The crunch is specifically for the straight abdominal muscles – and performed quickly, it’s a good cardio exercise.
- Get into a supine position, place your feet hip-width apart
- Bring your fingers to your temples, and lift your shoulder blades off the floor without pulling on your head.
- Straighten up in a controlled manner from the strength of the abdominal muscles, keeping the neck relaxed.
- Hold briefly at the top point and return to the starting position in a controlled manner.
Leg Lift focuses on the straight abdominal muscles, especially the lower abdominal muscles.
- Come to a supine position, place your hands next to your torso, or, ideal for beginners, position them under your buttocks.
- Raise the legs straight, so that the point of the heel is towards the ceiling.
- Lower the legs in a controlled manner without resting them on the floor and repeat the movement.
- Consciously press the lower back into the floor the entire time, so that you do not get into a hollow back
The Russian Twist, with or without weights, is ideal for training the lateral abdominal muscles.
- Sit down and lean your upper body slightly backward
- Lift your feet, clasping your hands in front of your chest
- Rotate always alternating from right to left, the strength comes from the lateral abdominal muscles
- Follow the movement with your eyes