The Great Ab Debate: How Often Should I Workout My Abs?

All the contradiction can get a little frustrating....

The Great Ab Debate

You’ve probably seen it before; the guy or girl who talks about doing a thousand crunches a day, everyday, right before they show off their washboard, six-pack abs.  You start to reflect and begin to think about your own body; “Okay, so if 1,000 crunches a day gives them a six-pack, then all I need to do is a thousand crunches a day and I’ll have a six-pack”

… not so fast my friends. 

You see, one of the biggest dilemma’s since the dawn of time has been how frequently should you be working out your abdominals.  Like the example above, there is a set of people very grounded in the high reps, everyday approach.  On the other hand, you have another line of thinking that says your abdominals are no different from any other muscle.  If you wouldn’t do 1,000 bench presses every day, why would you do 1,000 abdominal exercises everyday?  Like most advice health and fitness related, you’re probably looking at a perfect contradiction between so-called experts, not knowing where to turn.  Let me make things easy for you..neither group is 100% right nor 100% wrong. I’ll explain below…


You’ll often hear, “your abs are just like any other muscle, they need rest!”.  This is true, albeit a bit misleading.  Yes, your abs are like your other muscles in that they need rest.  However, the difference between your abdominals and your chest muscles for example, is your abdominals are far more conditioned to work than your chest.  Think about it…how often do you really use and/or fatigue your chest muscles during your day-to-day life?  Probably not that often.  Your abdominals on the other hand are almost constantly engaged, keeping you upright, facilitating breathing, undergoing stress when you bend, lean, reach, etc.  Because of this constant stress, your abdominals are slightly different from other muscles.  To really work these muscles to the point that growth is possible, you need to work them harder than you would your chest muscles, for instance.  The key is to work them hard enough, then give them proper rest to allow them to grow.  Same is true for your calves, forearms, and other muscle groups that get very constant stress through daily living. 

That said, it is important to allow your abs to REST.  Everyday ab work, especially when you’re sore, is counterproductive.  Muscles grow (i.e. become defined) while they are resting.  If your abs are constantly pushed to the max, they never have time to grow, and you’re left with meager gains.  Just because some ripped up muscle head says he does 1,000 crunches a day and has abs of steel doesn’t mean that’s what works for most people…there are always outliers. 

Hard and Heavy

Following up on the point above, your abdominals are accustomed to constant stress.  Because of this, you need to hit them hard and heavy.  Only doing crunches and other weightless exercises are never going to give you the definition you are craving.  Yes, it will help increase abdominal muscle endurance, it’s not exactly something you can see.  Because of this, I highly recommend any abdominal routine composes a 2:1 ratio of weighted exercises (i.e. decline plate crunches) to weightless (i.e. crunches). 

Instead of laying on a flat mat and knocking out some crunches, hop on a decline bench and grab a plate.  Instead of doing simple russian twists, do russian twists while holding a dumbbell.  use the weighted ab machines and knock out some heavy, 8-12 rep, sets instead of flutter kicks.  There are a million ways to up the intensity of your abdominal exercises.  The best scheduled ab plan isn’t worth much if you aren’t effectively fatiguing the muscles…which needs to happen if you want to see growth.

The Other Side of the Coin…

If you’re on the quest for a fabulous six-pack, you’ve got to realize that abdominal exercises are just one piece of the equation.  Your abs, like the rest of your body, are covered by a layer of skin and fat.  The difference between a firm stomach and six-pack abs, is an absence of fat.  In order to get muscular definition you need to burn the layer of fat covering your abdominals. 

When people say, “I want to get toned”, what they are really saying is, I want to burn the fat covering my muscles, thereby making my muscles look more pronounced, or “toned”.  To achieve this, you need an abdominal routine that makes use of cardio, preferably HIIT (high intensity interval training) and heavy, weighted abdominal exercises.  Further, exercises that are complex in nature, i.e. hit multiple muscle groups and/or sections of your abdominals at once, are even better.  Check out our top-notch abdominal routine that will help you shed pounds and build a six-pack to get a better idea of the type of routine I’m talking about.

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