I would hazard a guess that when asked which muscle group they would love to develop, most people would answer, six-pack abs.
Let’s face facts, there’s something very beautiful and sexy about having the perfect toned midsection.
So, of course, we all set about frantically training as much as possible in the hope of producing ripped and chiselled abs.
But, how long should an abs workout be?
Are you putting in enough effort or training too long?
Let’s find out.
How Long Should an Abs Workout Be?
A direct abs workout should be 10-20 minutes long, performed 3-4 times a week, and with at least a day’s rest between workouts. The reason for the short workout time is that you’ll generally train your abs and core indirectly through your normal workouts. You should also train the abs just like any other muscle group. So, don’t solely rely on high volume, plus use progressive overload, and avoid “cheating” by using body English to perform additional reps.
Stop Training Abs With So Much Volume
One of my biggest bugbears when it comes to training abs is the amount of volume that most people use.
In fact, abs workouts often seem to be measured by how many reps you’ve managed to squeeze in.
And unfortunately, this is typically why many people end up spending far too much time training abs.
Firstly, most people forget that the abs are a muscle, just like any other muscle in the body (more on this in a moment).
Secondly, all ab training seems to be focused on just one ab muscle, namely the rectus abdominis.
The rectus abdominis is the coveted forward facing six-pack muscle.
So, most people tend to smash out 100 reps of sit ups and crunches in an attempt to make this muscle more visible.
In truth, all they’re really doing is flexing the spine over-and-over again, which will eventually lead to injury.
The abs also consist of the internal and external obliques, which are best trained through rotation and bending exercises.
Then there is the transverse abdominis (TVA), which is the deepest of the abdominal muscles, and lies below the rectus abdominis and obliques.
The transverse abdominis is best trained with isometric holds, such as planks and stomach vacuums.
In truth, you should be training each specific abdominal muscle with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.
If you keep your rest periods minimal, i.e. 30 seconds, then your workout should be completed in under 15 minutes.
As a beginner this could be as little as 10 minutes, and even as an advanced trainee your ab workout shouldn’t exceed 20 minutes.
Train the Abs Like Any Other Muscle Group
I’ve alluded to this above, and you should train the abs just like any other muscle group.
If you think about it, would you go to the gym and train your upper back with 200 reps of bent over rows with an empty barbell?
And then follow this up with 100 reps of lat pulldowns with the least amount of weight possible.
Finally, you wouldn’t complete this “back workout” 7 times a week, and then complain that you’re not seeing any appreciable muscle gains in your upper back and lats.
And yet, this is exactly how most people train abs.
So, I’ve already mentioned that a set of ab exercises should be in the 10-15 rep range.
However, much the same as any other muscle group, you can train for strength by using low reps (3-5) with a heavy load.
So, rather than performing a set of 100 crunches, try doing 3-5 reps with a dumbbell or weight plate that you can safely handle.
There is a time and place for endurance sets, just like any other muscle group, but keep these sets to 15-25 reps.
Once more, the same as any other muscle group, make sure you have at least one day’s rest between workouts.
Your abs also need rest and recovery.
Finally, you do actually want your abs to grow, just like any other muscle group.
I know it may go against the grain, but having a set of well-developed, strong, and muscular abs looks great.
So, in effect, you should also be trying to build muscle in your abs as well.
What is the Best Workout For Your Abs?
Direct Abs Training vs Indirect Abs Training
Something else to consider is that your abs will also get a “workout” on the days that you aren’t directly training them.
This is in the exact same way that bench press will train your triceps and bent over rows will train your biceps.
Okay, using these examples, the tricep and bicep stimulation won’t be as much as when you train the muscles directly, but they still get a pretty good going over.
You can’t tell me that you’ve never hit a heavy and intense bench press session and then really felt it in your arms afterwards.
The exact same can be said for direct and indirect ab training.
Various exercises will require the ab and core muscles to contract, stabilize, or simply to be activated.
As an example, any type of squat, deadlifts, rows, push ups, pull ups/chin ups, etc.
So, this is yet another reason why you shouldn’t train abs every day.
In fact, you may wish to read what I have to say about getting sore obliques after deadlifts.
Plus, when you do train abs, keep your workouts short, intense, but extremely focused.
Once again, using the example of how people typically train abs in comparison to the bench press and triceps.
Would you train bench press once or twice a week, and then have a specific 30-40 minute tricep workout 7 days a week?
No, you wouldn’t, and yet, this is usually how many people train abs.
As I say, your abs and core do get quite a hammering through your normal training.
So, your abs are being indirectly trained nearly every single day.
Therefore, it makes sense that you only require a few short ab workouts per week.
So, as you can see, abs workout should be approximately 10-20 minutes long.
This is best achieved by training the abs like any other muscle group.
Therefore, you shouldn’t specifically train for high volume all the time, practice progressive overload, and ensure you have rest days between workouts.
Furthermore, make sure that you work the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis on a weekly basis.
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Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.