The first question submitted via ‘Ask Jerome’ was immediately a very interesting one. Namely ‘how often one should train their abdominal muscles (abs)?’. This guy named Tom mentioned in his email that he heard about Ryan Lochte (American swimmer) allegedly does 30 minutes of ab work each and every day. Greg Plitt (fitness model and actor) was said to train his six-pack with a 15-20 minutes hardcore workout a day. Tom’s question was what my thoughts are regarding abdominal training, so here we go.
Work out your abs based on your goals
The funny thing is that Tom answered his own question in his email. He said that my answer would probably depend on which goals one trains for and he was absolutely right thinking that. That’s not the entire story though. Yes, it really depends on your goals regarding how you should train your abs or any muscle group in general, but I also think abdominal workouts can be quite time consuming. Honestly I dislike working on my abs. It’s my least favorite muscle group to work out, so keep in mind that this article may come off as a bit biased. Don’t worry though, I’ll write this with an open mind and shall explain it as one can expect from a personal trainer.
If your main goal is to get visible abs I highly recommend you to take a good look at your current diet plan and overall workout routine. To get six-pack abs ‘all’ you need to do is lose enough body fat for your muscles to show up. The reason why most athletes with washboard abs look the way they do, is simply because their body fat percentage is low and their muscles are well-developed. The combination of those two things is what makes your abs visible. Doing hours of abdominal work is a waste of time in this case, as you won’t get six-pack abs if you’re still a bit too chunky around the belly. So is doing abdominal exercises a total waste of time? No it’s not! But you can do just fine with only 30 minutes a week, spread over 3 workouts. Your abdominal muscles – like any other muscle in your body – can grow if it’s stimulated correctly. Doing exercises for your abs therefore helps them build up. Bigger muscles show up sooner underneath the layer of fat, so then your fat percentage doesn’t have to be extremely low if your muscles are bigger. That’s that for the aesthetic look.
However, not everyone trains their abdominal muscles for the sole purpose of looking good at the beach. Athletes in particular require strong abdominal muscles to perform well in their sport. Mr. Lochte doing 30 minutes of ab work each day is a good example of an exception to my recommendation of not training your abs so often. A swimmer generally speaking needs a good amount of muscle endurance. Training your abdominals for 30 minutes a day most certainly helps with this process. By the way, I can’t confirm this as information about Lochte or Plitt as sources of specific training regimes of famous athletes are often difficult to find. Even if I could find them I highly doubt they are very accurate. So let’s just assume they train like this and don’t sue me if the information is incorrect.
Guidelines to stick by
Are there any concrete guidelines of how to train your abs and how frequent you should step in the gym to rock your abs? Yes, or at least I could give you some. First of all I want to say that I don’t recommend anyone to train their abs daily. There is a lot of debate whether or not your abdominal muscles are different from others in that they need to be targeted with a high frequency opposed to other groups of muscles. Some say your core muscles – as well as your forearms and calves – need be trained daily because they are used to working all day long. They are said to mostly contain red or slow twitch muscle fibers which – according to some – require long duration training. Personally I think your abs, forearms and calves should be worked out in the same way as all other muscle groups. I’ve gotten most results by training them heavy and not too often (3x a week maximum). That being said I also stand by the guideline to only work on your abs 2 or 3 days a week. Your muscles need rest to recover between workouts, so never work out the same muscle group two days in a row. If you don’t allow yourself to recover from those workouts you won’t get any stronger or bigger and at the same time risk becoming overtrained. The opposite is not recommended either, which is to train your abs or any other muscle too infrequent. If you rest too many days between two separate workouts you are going into what’s called detraining. This is what happens when a regular exerciser doesn’t train his muscles (or a specific muscle group such as the abdominal muscles) for 2 or 3 weeks. Training one muscle group one day a week only doesn’t directly count as detraining, but it is probably not very efficient either. In other words, it’s not optimal.
Besides your goals, your training frequency also depends on your training intensity. If you train your abs with a very high intensity – that is, if you cry after an abdominal workout – you can probably already figure out that it’s not a good idea to train them daily. A moderate intensity allows you to train your abs more frequently and yes, even daily if that’s what you seem to thrive on. A beginner should start with the very basics of exercises and keep the frequency low and with a moderate intensity. Give yourself some time to adjust.
Spend your time wisely
Moreover I think concentrating on one specific muscle group is a waste of valuable time. Spending 6 hours of your weekly time on training your six-pack could be a loss for you. If you manage to train your abs for one hour a day you could ask yourself the question if the intensity is right. I used to do 1000 repetitions of various abdominal exercises literally each day for 6 weeks. This was when I just started to work out. I got inspired by reading about Bruce Lee’s abs workout which allegedly trained those rocks daily. All it did was help me to burn about 5 hours of my week which I could spend educating myself on fitness or learn yet another language. So if you are one of those gym rats who seem to respond best with daily ab work or if you can’t get to sleep from feeling guilty about not giving your abs enough attention, then I recommend keeping your daily workout short with the right intensity.
The best advice I can give on this very subject is to follow your own preferences and experiment with it. Some of us strive best with training their abs once a week or even 6 out of the 7 days, whereas others don’t work out their abs at all or only once a month and still have strong, visible six-pack abs. For beginners I recommend training your abs 3 days a week for about 5 to 15 minutes per workout. Combine it with work for other muscles if possible. Spending an entire workout on abdominal muscles only is not optimal for your overall development I think. Of course this is only part of the story. I could write at least a hundred pages about the ins and outs of six-pack abs… In fact, I did or at least, I’m at it. Soon I’ll publish my first eBook which covers everything about getting and having six-pack abs, including everything there is to know about nutrition for visible abs, how to measure your body fat percentage, the anatomy of abdominal training, overall workout tips for abs, cardio training and weightlifting as well as calisthenics. But that’s for later. Now it’s time for you to apply the information in this article and start your experiment! Don’t fear to fail or do some things wrong. The only way to failure is when you give up! Get back up and try it again until you WILL succeed!