If you’re wondering whether punching your abs makes them stronger you’ve probably seen many boxers and fighters do this.
In fact, it seems to be an integral part of their training.
So, I’m sure you’re trying to figure out if punching your own abs will increase strength and muscularity in your midsection.
Here’s what you need to know.
Punching your abs will not make them stronger. However, you are forced to perform an isometric contraction when being punched in the stomach, which is what can increase strength. The main reason that boxers and martial artists get punched in the abs is to condition themselves for getting hit. The aim is to increase pain tolerance, while learning how to position themselves and which muscles to tighten.
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You Won’t Build Muscle & Strength By Punching Your Abs
Let me immediately get one thing clear – punching your abs will not make them stronger.
So, if you’re someone who has weak ab muscles, or is just starting out training abs, please do go around punching yourself.
If you think about it, if punching muscles made them stronger, then we’d all be walking around constantly punching our biceps, pecs, glutes, etc.
With that being said, you are typically forced to perform an isometric contraction when being punched in the stomach.
This is the human fight or flight mode kicking in, as you try to protect yourself from potential pain.
In fact, this is exactly what you’re doing during ab and core exercises such as planks, stomach vacuums, etc.
So, by tightening your core muscles, and holding this contraction for a set amount of time will help to strengthen your midsection.
Additionally, bracing your abs and core also improves spinal stability.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should also punch yourself to increase strength in this area.
In fact, there is a specific reason why you generally see athletes punch their abs (or have someone else do it) and I’ll explain this now.
Why Do Boxers Punch Their Abs?
I guess we’re most used to seeing boxers punch their abs.
Then again, if you’ve ever performed any fighting-specific martial art, then you’ve probably had your abs punched too as part of your training.
This includes kickboxing, judo, karate, MMA, BJJ, etc.
However, this mid-section punching isn’t specifically done to improve strength in the abs, but rather to condition the fighter.
Basically, as a fighter, your aim is obviously not to get hit, but this rarely happens during a bout.
Plus, for anyone who has been hit in the stomach, you’ll know that it completely winds you, and it can take a few moments to recover.
But, as a fighter, you don’t have the luxury of taking your time to recover, you have to be ready for whatever is being thrown at you (literally).
So, part-and-parcel of a fighter’s training is preparing themselves for every possible outcome, and this includes getting hit.
In effect, by getting punched in the stomach, a fighter is learning how to position themselves, which specific muscles to tighten, while hopefully increasing their pain tolerance.
This is also why you’ll often see fighters having medicine balls dropped on their abs, or even getting hit in the abs with sticks.
Plus, depending on your specific fighting sport of your choice, the same principle can be applied to other body parts.
Martial artists will often do the same to condition their feet, heels, shins, hands, forearms, etc.
One of the most iconic scenes from the movie Kickboxer (the 1989 original) sees Jean Claude Van Damme repeatedly kicking a tree in order to condition his shins.
Once again, it’s not so much that the punching, kicking, and hitting increases strength, but rather it conditions various areas of the body to tolerate pain.
How to Strengthen Your Abs & Core
Now that we’ve established that punching your abs won’t make them stronger, let’s look at what actually will.
Firstly, it’s important for you to know that you should actually train your core as a whole, rather than simply training the abs.
In fact, specific core training can actually produce the coveted six-pack abs, although this will also depend on your body fat levels.
Unfortunately, when most people want to either strengthen their abs, or reveal their six-pack, they often simply train one specific ab muscle.
This is the rectus abdominis, which is the actual six-pack muscle that runs down the front of the body.
However, if you want to strengthen your abs, and your core as a whole, then there are so many more muscles involved.
In fact, your core can be defined as every single midsection muscle (front, back, and sides) that run from your diaphragm to your pelvic floor muscles.
So, these include:
- Rectus Abdominis
- Transverse Abdominis
- Quadratus Lumborum
- Internal Obliques
- External Obliques
- Spinae Erector
I also typically include the glutes as a “core muscle”, as I believe that it is so important to train your glutes.
Now, when it comes to training your core muscles for strength and hypertrophy you should actually go about it differently from the other muscles in the body.
What I mean by this is that often hypertrophy is best achieved through isolation and training muscles individually.
However, when it comes to core training and strengthening your abs, it actually makes much more sense to train these muscles all together.
Here’s a fantastic video from Jeremy Ethier which explains the structure of your core muscles, plus how you should train them for thicker and stronger abs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Punching Your Abs Burn Fat?
In much the same way as punching your abs won’t make them stronger, it also won’t burn fat.
As I’ve mentioned, the main effect of punching your abs is to condition yourself for getting hit in the stomach.
This is why most fighters employ this type of training.
Furthermore, you’re now aware that you’ll perform an isometric contraction when preparing to receive a punch to the midsection, and it is isometric contraction training that can improve your abs.
That being said, there are far better ways to take your abs through isometric contraction than hitting them.
Exercises such as plank variations, Russian twists, and hollow body hold all require the abs to go through isometric contraction.
Does Training Abs Burn Belly Fat?
Unfortunately, no simply performing “conventional” ab exercises won’t burn belly fat.
In fact, I would say that simply performing lots of ab exercises without a focus on fat burning could actually leave your belly bigger than before.
I feel a lot of people think that “training abs” will produce a wonderful six-pack if they work their abs with sufficient volume and intensity.
This also means that perhaps they’re not concentrated on good nutrition and actual fat-burning techniques.
However, actual “fat burning” mainly comes down to your metabolic rate.
This means that in order to burn fat you’ll want to raise your metabolism through various types of training.
The best examples will be where your heart rate is elevated to high levels before dropping back down close to resting rate before being elevated again.
So, workouts such as strength training, high intense interval training, sprints, bodyweight circuits, etc.
With these types of workouts you will elevate the heart rate, which will then drop while you rest, and then increase when you start exercising again.
Furthermore, due to the increased intensity of your workout you will not only elevate your heart rate and metabolism, you’ll also increase the “afterburn effect” (calories and fat burned for many hours AFTER your workout).
Many people tend to focus on steady-state cardio for fat loss.
Now, while steady-state cardio is great for losing weight and overall fitness it won’t burn fat as effectively.
Essentially, because your heart rate remains steady throughout your workout you won’t produce that elevated metabolism, which in turn means you would produce the afterburn effect.
This is also why I feel that burning fat in your workouts makes much more sense than trying to lose weight.
Does a Strong Core Mean a Flat Stomach?
Once more, a strong core does not automatically mean a flat stomach.
In truth, every single one of us, regardless of body composition, has a six-pack.
The six-pack muscle is basically the rectus abdominis, which is the sheath of muscle across the lower portion of the front torso.
As I say, everyone has this muscle, but it is only visible at certain levels of body fat.
As an example, for most men you’ll need body fat levels below 13% to have visible abs.
And for women, approximately 20% body fat or below.
So, you could perform as many ab exercises and core workouts as you want, and this will definitely improve the strength of your core.
But, this won’t remove belly fat.
As I’ve mentioned above, you first need to strip away this belly fat, which is best achieved through workouts that increase metabolism.
And most importantly, you need to be eating at a calorie deficit in order to have a flat stomach and visible abs.
Should I Work My Abs With Weights?
I’ve always been of the thinking that your abs are a muscle group just like any other muscle group of the body.
Therefore, you should train your abs in the same way as other muscle groups.
A prime example of this NOT happening is that many people train their abs every single day.
However, do you ever train other muscle groups day-after-day-after-day?
No, of course not, because you understand the importance of allowing your muscles to rest in order to get stronger, more muscular, or to increase muscular endurance.
Furthermore, you will go through “progressive overload” in order to get stronger and keep your workouts challenging.
It works exactly the same for your abs.
So, if you mainly perform bodyweight ab exercises with lots of reps it may be time to add some weight and stick to a more “conventional” rep scheme.
As I say, the abs are also a muscle group and therefore will react well to progressively overloading with weights.
Now, there is the worry that your midsection may become “bulky” if you perform ab exercises with too much weight.
While, there may be a case for this if using extremely heavy weights, your abs will react in much the same way as any other muscle group.
In fact, having muscular abs (through working your midsection with weights) can improve the overall aesthetics of your abs.
Additionally, using weights will help to increase your metabolism and fat-burning capabilities, thus meaning that you have a better chance of burning belly fat.
Is Reps or Weight Better For Abs?
I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other, in terms of reps or weight, when training abs.
Realistically, you’ll want an ab workout to be intense, have some variety, as well as ensuring that you progress.
Much the same as training any other body part, progression can be measured in terms of increased reps or additional weight.
The best way to train abs or any muscle group largely depends on your overall goals.
Therefore, solely focusing on training your abs by increasing reps will work on your muscular endurance.
This still means that your abs will be highly visible (as long as you are eating at a calorie deficit and you don’t have a layer of fat covering your abs).
Then again, if your focus is on increasing weight with your ab workouts then you will start to build muscle on your abs.
I know this is a worry for many people, i.e. will I get big blocky ab muscles?
However, this is highly unlikely to happen unless you’re using very heavy weights and eating at a calorie surplus.
Don’t forget, while it’s perfectly possible to get stronger and leaner while eating fewer calories or even at maintenance calories, muscle-building requires you to consume more calories than you’re burning.
That being said, personally I would always prefer to train my abs with weights.
So, I hope you understand that punching your abs will not make them stronger.
In fact, if this were true you could simply punch all the various muscles in the body in the hope of making them stronger.
Realistically, the reasons that boxers and other fighters will punch themselves, or get punched, in the abs is to condition the abdominal area.
In effect, this helps them to become accustomed to getting punched in the abs, which is part-and-parcel of fighting.
With that being said, you will typically perform an isometric contraction, much like a plank, whenever you’re about to get punched in the abs.
And you can strengthen your abs through isometric contraction, although as someone who isn’t a fighter there is little need to punch yourself as well.
If you want stronger and more defined abs then I highly recommend checking out the Crunchless Core workout program.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.