Many people treat their abs differently than other muscles in the body, adding a core or abs workout to the end of their regular “arms session” or “legs day” as an extra, or just blasting through a quick abs workout when they have time, and not giving them the same attention or respect they deserve.
But is this really the best way to go about training your abs?
To get the low down on busting the myths on how long an abs workout should be, we spoke to Tom Cuff-Burnett (opens in new tab), a London-based PT, TRX and movement specialist, who helps to clear things up once and for all.
How long should an ab workout last?
Should an abs workout take a specific amount of time? What’s the ideal length? These are all questions bouncing from pillar to post in the endless cesspit we call the Internet.
But truth be told, an ab workout can vary in length - it all depends on the person performing the exercises, their current level of fitness and how many reps and sets are best suited to their style of training and their goals.
Cuff-Barnet gives us one easy way of approaching this conundrum, stating that when it comes to training your abs, it’s important to remember they’re just like any other muscle.
“A popular misconception when it comes to abs is that ‘more is more’ and you’ll see people attempting to complete 200 crunches in one go, or spend 30 minutes tirelessly doing sit-ups, then wonder why they injure themselves or can’t stand up straight for days afterwards!” he says.
“You wouldn’t do this with any other body part – just imagine attempting 200 squats all at once! So, apply the same rule to your abs.” He recommends concentrating less on how long you’ve been working out and focusing more on doing reps and sets like you would your other muscles.
“Concentrate on 10-20 reps, depending on your goal, and build intensity over time by adding sets or increasing weight,” he adds, “And like the other muscle groups that you train, it’s also important to allow the ab muscles to recover, so leave at least a day in between your ab training sessions.”
So it’s not so much about the time you spend on training your abdominal muscles, but the number of sets and reps you dedicate to training them. If this takes 10 minutes or 30 minutes, it shouldn’t matter as it will depend on the workout type and exercises you are doing, how long your rests are and your current fitness level.
Ideal abs workout as curated by a qualified PT
Here is Cuff-Burnett’s five-step abs workout that he says will target every part of your core and, as he puts it, “revolutionise your ab training game”:
1. Static Plank
Start by lying on your front, then push with your palms directly underneath your shoulders and your legs extended behind you. Aim to keep your hips in line with your shoulders, and squeeze your glutes to create tension through the body.
See if you can hold for 30 seconds to start with, then gradually build up your endurance over time, Cuff-Barnet says.
2. Lower Leg Raise
Lie on a mat on the floor, face-up, legs extended. Place your hands underneath your lower back and glutes so that your pelvis is supported. Begin to raise your legs toward the ceiling, pressing your thighs together and keeping the legs straight. Lift until your hips are fully flexed and you can’t go any higher with straight legs, then lower back down and repeat.
Start with doing 10 of these and gradually build this number up as you improve your endurance.
3. Oblique Crunch
To perform this exercise, start by lying face-up on an exercise mat with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Next, place your left ankle over your right knee and your left arm by your side. Your right hand should then go on the outside of your head.
Keep your spine and pelvis in a neutral position and then slightly tuck your pelvis and bring your ribcage down. Your chin should remain tucked throughout the entire movement as if you were holding an egg under your chin. All repetitions should begin from this position.
Begin the upward movement by squeezing your abs. While squeezing your abs and oblique muscles, curl the right side of your upper body off the floor and rotate toward your left knee. Your right elbow should travel toward your left knee. Pause at the top of the movement before slowly lowering back to the starting position. Be sure to maintain tension in your abs.
Start with 10 of these on each side and, again, gradually build up ensuring you can still confidently complete them with good form.
Sitting on your mat, contract your ab muscles and core slowly and lift your legs up to an extended position, ideally so that they’re at a 45-degree angle with your torso. Next, reach your arms straight forward or towards your shins if you are able to.
“It's important to maintain good core posture and a strong spine throughout the movement to avoid rounding the shoulders forward,” Cuff-Barnet says.
Be sure not to hold your breath while completing this movement - continue to breathe deeply throughout.
Hold this V-shaped position for several seconds to begin with. As you get stronger, try to hold the position longer. Return to your starting position slowly while continuing to keep your abs engaged and tight. Just before you reach the floor, stop and hold the position for a few seconds.
Start with performing 10 rounds and - as before - gradually build that number up.
5. Mountain Climber
This is a popular one and for good reason. Mountain climbers are known as an effective way of strengthening not only your core but your arms, back, shoulders and legs.
To perform this exercise, start in a press-up position with your hands shoulder-width apart directly beneath your shoulders. As quickly as you can, pull your right knee towards your chest without letting it touch the floor then return to the start position. Repeat step 2 with your left leg, and continue until you have completed the required amount of reps.
Start with doing 20 of these and - you guessed it - gradually build them up.