Few areas of the human body are more attractive than the abdominal wall when the ab muscles are strong and defined. I mean, who doesn’t want six-pack abs? And while there are many different ways to work your abs, one of the most common questions is: how long should an ab workout be?
The answer – to how long an ab workout should be – depends on several factors, including your fitness level and how often you’re working out.
In this brief article, I outline the different factors that go into determining how long an ab workout should be, as well as helpful tips on how to make sure your ab workouts are unquestionably effective.
I’ve also included a video with some of my favorite ab exercises lower within this article.
Ab Muscles Aren’t So Different From the Other Body’s Muscles
You will build, shape, and strengthen your abdominal muscles just like any other muscle in your body, by using resistance-training methods.
A strong core is a crucial part of a healthy body.
Abdominal muscles are comprised of approximately:
- 57% slow-twitch muscle fibers (meant for endurance),
- and 43% fast-twitch muscle fibers (made for explosive movements).
- Endurance movements indicate higher reps performed more slowly with an emphasis on perfect form,
- while explosive movements suggest fewer reps in service to higher resistance and more sudden power output – think of sports movements that require short, quick bursts of energy.
For optimal results, you’ll want to put your abdominals through both endurance and explosive training methods – while perhaps slightly favoring endurance methods since the abs are more than half slow-twitch fibers.
“Human fast-twitch muscle fibers generate high power in a short amount of time but are easily fatigued, whereas slow-twitch fibers are more fatigue resistant. Individualization of training based on this muscle typology might be important to optimize performance.”– Journal of Applied Physiology
How much abdominal training is too much? Just like your other muscles, if your abs are sore from your previous workout, that probably means it’s too soon to attack them again.
Some people find that their abdominals (and calves) can recover from intense training a bit more quickly than the other muscle groups in their body, which means they have the option of training them more frequently.
The 4 Most Common Mistakes Made in Abdominal Training
Here are what I consider to be the biggest mistakes made in abdominal training. You should avoid these mistakes if you want the best-looking and healthiest abs.
Mistake #1: Using Heavier Weights to Train Your Obliques
Why would you use heavy weights to train your oblique muscles? Are you trying to make your waistline thicker?
Well, okay, if that’s what you want.
However, I prefer to keep the sides of my waist strong but narrow.
I prefer the classic physique silhouette of broader shoulders at the top – that taper down to a tight, trim waistline at the bottom. That V-shape is appealing to the human eye!
If you agree, do not do the standing side-bends exercise while holding heavy dumbbells.
Mistake #2: Thinking Forward Flexion Is More Important than Stabilization
The primary purpose of your abdominals is to stabilize you so that you can stand strong and tall while pressing or pulling – without losing your balance or falling over.
However, when most people think of ab training, they instead think of crunches or sit-ups.
Crunches and sit-ups are not stabilization exercises. They are forward flexion exercises.
Sure, crunch variations are good to include in your ab training session, but you also want to include stabilization exercises – such as the plank.
A plank is when you hold a pose that requires your core muscles to engage in order to sustain the pose.
For example, the starting position for a push-up is a plank. Try holding it for 2 minutes without letting your hips dip! (I’ve included some interesting plank variations within the video accompanying this article.)
Mistake #3: Doing Ab Exercises with a Compressed Spine
Here’s something that might blow your mind: it’s possible to do forward bending exercises with a long spine.
When most people do a sit-up, they round and shorten their spine awkwardly so that their abdominal wall shoves outward (looking like a punching bag). You’re trying to make your abdominal wall hollow and sexy, not thick and strangely shaped!
Yes, you can curl your spine forward when you do a crunch, but don’t fold it forward at a short, deep angle. Instead, keep your spine long even as you curl.
That will help create room for your abdominal wall to press in toward your lower back as you pull your navel in tightly and compress your rib cage. This technique will give you the desired visual effect that you want in your abs.
Mistake #4: Using Arms and Hip Flexors to Do the Work
Most people do sit-ups incorrectly and therefore are wasting their time.
Though it’s tempting to cheat the sit-up by using your hip flexors and arms to complete the movement, the true purpose of the sit-up is to initiate the movement from your core by compressing your ribcage down, pulling your navel in tightly, and engaging the muscles of the abdominal wall.
How Do I Know How Long My Ab Workout Should Be?
How long an ab workout should be depends upon:
- your current level of abdominal strength,
- when your last ab workout was,
- and the extent to which you use proper technique during each exercise.
Assuming your abs are reasonably accustomed to training – and you are no longer sore from your last workout – then how long an ab workout should be will depend primarily on your technique.
- you have excellent form,
- and you create intense depth during each muscular contraction.
For example, I will often do six exercises during my ab workout (abs need to be worked from multiple angles using a variety of exercises). My concentration is so focused, and my abs are squeezed so tightly that after 12 minutes, my abs are completely toasted – and no more work is required other than the six movements I completed.
On the other hand, some people can do an ab workout that lasts as long as 30 minutes.
For example, fitness coach and certified nutritionist Mike Geary recommends that people “work their abs for 20-30 minutes per day, using a variety of exercises that target all of the muscles in the abdominal region.”
If you’re just starting, you’ll want to keep your workouts shorter so that you don’t overdo your muscles and risk injury.
As you become more fit, you can gradually increase the length of your workouts.
In terms of frequency, one or two shorter workouts per week are probably all you need. But as you get more fit, you can add additional days.
So there you have it – the answer to the question of how long an ab workout should be.
What Are Some Examples of Good Ab Exercises?
For getting a six-pack, sit-ups alone will not cut it.
You need to focus on exercises that target all the muscles in your abdominal region in order to see actual results.
These can include planks, Russian twists, reverse crunches, and more. And while you might be tempted to do a million reps of each exercise, remember that quality is more important than quantity.
Doing a few well-executed reps is better than doing a hundred half-assed ones.
Most Popular Ab Exercises:
- Russian twist
- Reverse crunch.
In the video above, I demonstrate ab exercises that can produce particularly positive results.
My Personal Favorite Ab Exercise:
- Hanging knee raise
- Standing bicycle
- Leaning alternating knee-in with a twist
- Iron cross (traveling).
- Pelvic scoop (double straight leg lower-and-lift)
- Reverse crunch
- Suspension plank (with pike)
- Hanging knee raise
- Reclining knee-in with a twist (using bench)
- Hollow man
- Woodchoppers (using landmine barbell)
- Side plank with a hip dip.
COOL DOWN STRETCH:
- Standing static side oblique stretch (crescent pose), 1 minute each side.
Doing Ab Exercises Won’t Get Rid Of Abdominal Fat Directly
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as specific spot fat reduction.
Spot reduction assumes if a person accumulates excess fat, exercising an ab muscle would reduce excess fat along their waistline. While exercise can increase strength, it doesn’t remove the excess fat from the muscle. This is because your body draws energy through your entire body while you exercise.
It takes time to lose body fat. This can be accomplished by regular cardio and weight training while eating a calorie-restricted, anti-inflammatory diet.
On the other hand, what I have learned over the many decades I have been training clients is that having strong ab muscles underneath a layer of fat will improve the texture of the area. The skin pulls more tautly, and the area just seems to jiggle less.
So if you have two people with the same amount of belly fat – but one person has strong abdominals and the other doesn’t – the one with the stronger ab wall will still have a firmer and more attractive waistline.
Excellent Form is Key to Getting Good Results
Proper form is essential when doing ab exercises. Unless you’re doing explosive speed movements to improve sports performance, you will often be better off avoiding the use of momentum to complete a movement:
- Focus on quality, not quantity.
- Use weights or resistance bands to make the exercise more challenging.
- Keep movements slow and controlled.
It can also sometimes be helpful to focus on your breathing.
Keep in mind that an ab workout should be part of a broader fitness routine that includes cardio, flexibility, and strength training.
Following these tips will help you make sure your workouts are effective. If you’re serious about developing a stellar set of ab muscles and you want deeper guidance, these articles of mine will likely prove helpful:
- Proven ways to lose stubborn belly fat after the age of fifty.
- 4 supplements that doctors say can help shrink belly bulge.
- Calisthenic ab workout for over fifty.
- Out of shape? Do this to burn off the middle-age spread.
Tips for Successful Ab Training
You can try other exercise styles, such as yoga and Pilates, to strengthen the abdominal muscles of your body further. Here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your ab training:
- Don’t forget to warm up properly before starting your workout. Ab training is no different from any other type of workout, and warming up is essential to avoid injuries.
- There are many different types of ab exercises out there, so find the ones that you most enjoy and will do regularly.
- You don’t need any special equipment to do ab workouts, just your own body weight. However, if you want to make the exercises more challenging, you can use weights or resistance bands.
- Ab workouts can be done anywhere, at any time. You can do them at the gym, home, or even outdoors.
- Always listen to your body and stop if you feel pain or profound discomfort. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t push yourself and risk injury.
Shorter, more intense workouts can be as effective as longer ones. So mix things ups. Sometimes, do short, intense workouts. Other times, do longer, slower workouts emphasizing technique and perfect form.
Work your core from all angles and directions. Remember to include planks!
Now You Know How Long an Ab Workout Should Be
An effective ab workout should be part of a broader fitness routine that includes cardio, stretching and mobility drills, and strength training.
How long your workout should depend on your goals and fitness level, but many experts recommend 20-30 minutes per session.
Remember to focus on quality over quantity, and always pay attention to the unique needs of your body to avoid injury.
With consistent ab training, good nutrition, and a little dedication, you can achieve the results you want.