When you ask most guys what muscle they care most about developing, abs are going to be high on the list.
Over the years, having a six pack has arguably become the sign of being in great shape. At least for men.
Yes, I would say that for most guys the ideal body type would be something near how Brad Pitt looked in Fight Club.
And it wasn’t because Pitt was massive; it was because he was ripped.
However, there is also a lot of absolutely useless information that floats around the internet about building a six pack…
In fact, I would say that MOST of the stuff you read online about building abs is utterly misleading.
You don’t have to do crunch after crunch to build a six pack. It is just not how it goes.
And you don’t need any fancy ab contraptions either…
So, if you want to learn which exercises will actually help build a great set of abs, this article is for you.
I’m going to go over the exercises that I believe are the best for developing a strong, enviable six-pack. Let’s get right into it.
You’ll Never Have Abs Unless You Get This Part Right…
But before I get into the specific exercises that I’d recommend for building your abs, I want to clear up one important point.
You will never, EVER have visible abs unless you have low enough body fat.
I don’t care if you get a full-time job doing crunches for a living. If your body fat is too high, you are completely wasting your time if you want a visible six-pack.
For most guys, you need to be under 10% to start seeing your top 2 abs (also known as your rectus abdominis, if you’ve read my article on the anatomy of your abs).
Then you’ll start seeing the middle and bottom ones come in, as you get to lower and lower levels of body fat.
You can check out my guide on measuring body fat to determine where you are at the moment.
At the end of the day, if you want to lose body fat, the best thing to do is to get your diet in order. That should be your top priority if you want to get visible abs.
The Best Ab Exercises For Men
OK, now that I’ve touched on that, I want to be clear about another point.
Even though having low body fat is a prerequisite to having good abs, it isn’t the only factor.
There are plenty of skinny guys, with very low levels of body fat, who don’t have defined abs. This guy, for instance:
Not the look you’re going for, right?
While this guy has the low level of body fat required to see his abs, he hasn’t actually developed them enough to make them visible.
Not to worry, though, cause I’m about to outline the specific ab exercises that I believe are the most efficient and effective.
This is probably my favorite ab exercise.
It really targets the entire rectus abdominis, which is the muscle primarily responsible for that six-pack look.
I also like it because it is incredibly isolated, and very difficult to cheat, unlike conventional crunches where it is easy to use momentum.
Finally, since it is done using a cable machine, it is very straightforward to incrementally add more and more weight to the exercise.
That’s right, just like other muscles, if you want to build strong abs you’ll need to induce progressive overload by constantly increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting.
Here is a video that shows you how to do cable crunches properly:
Also known as the ‘Captains Chair’, this is another exercise that is very effective for developing your abs.
It specifically targets the lower rectus abdominis, so it is a great exercise to pair with the cable crunch (discussed above).
The form for this one is very easy, so it is especially suitable for beginners who haven’t trained their abs very much before.
Here is a video that shows you how to do leg lifts properly:
Hanging Leg Lift
This exercise is fairly similar to regular leg lifts, in that it targets the lower part of your rectus abdominis muscle.
However, it is more difficult to master, form-wise, than the regular leg-lift, since it requires you to stabilize your body and avoid swinging.
I would recommend starting with regular leg lifts if you’re a beginner, and then moving on to hanging leg lifts once you have some more experience.
Here is a video that shows you how to do hanging leg lifts properly:
Now I have to admit that I have never personally loved this exercise, so you might be wondering why I would recommend it…
Well, it is because it is very effective at targeting your abs comprehensively – regardless of my personal preferences!
It is also very practical, since unlike the other exercises it doesn’t require any equipment. You can literally do these anywhere.
However, I should note that this exercise does take some coordination to get right. You can think of it as if you are riding a bicycle with your legs, while touching the opposite elbow to each knee every time you peddle.
Here is a video that you shows you how to do air bicycles properly:
This is a personal favorite of mine.
It really targets the entire rectus abdominis very effectively, and also works out your serratus muscles too.
While you can’t easily adjust the amount of resistance on this exercise, it will be plenty difficult enough on its own, especially at first!
In fact, you may not even be able to do a complete rep of the ab wheel until you progress more with some of the other exercises.
If you don’t belong to a gym, I would definitely recommend picking up one of these to use at home. You can get one off Amazon for around $10 here.
Here is a video that shows you how to use the ab wheel properly:
Putting It All Together
While there are many ways to string together a good ab routine, here are my general recommendations.
First of all, you don’t want to overtrain your abs.
I see many guys training their abs every single time they go to the gym, as if they have special requirements that far exceed that of any other muscle group.
As I said before, you are not going to get abs from grunting out endless sets of crunches. Your abs will come from a combination of low body fat and properly doing some of the exercises that I mentioned above.
So instead of training your abs each day, I would recommend not working them out more than 1-2 times per week.
Further, you don’t need to do endless reps for each exercise. For the most part, you want to be working them in a lower, defined rep range, and then increasing weight when you can do more reps than the high end of the range.
Here is a sample ab routine that you could follow:
- 3 sets of cable crunches, for 10-12 reps
- 3 sets of regular or hanging leg raises, for 10-12 reps (put a dumbbell between your feet to increase the resistance)
- 3 sets of the ab wheel, for as many reps as you can do
For the sake of time, I would recommend super-setting each exercise – meaning that you’ll only be doing 3 total big sets.
And that’s it. Just do this 2-3 times per week, and your abs will get bigger and stronger.
What About Your Obliques?
You may have noticed that none of the exercises I’ve mentioned specifically targeted the obliques.
This is because if you are working out in an effective way, you shouldn’t have to do any specific oblique work.
Squatting, deadlifting, and rowing will work out your obliques, negating the need for more specialized exercises.
In fact, training the obliques separately on top of this can cause them to look too bulky, relative to your rectus abdominis.
However, if you aren’t doing any of the 3 compound exercises I just mentioned, then you may want to add in some specific oblique work.
In this case, I would recommend doing 3 sets of Standing Oblique Crunches 1-2 times per week (don’t over do it).
Here is a video that shows you how to do them properly:
Now there are obviously many more ab exercises than I’ve covered, but these are the one’s that I would recommend if you’re looking for an efficient ab routine that will actually get you results.
And if you just skimmed through the article, here are the major points that you should be taking away:
- You need to have low enough body fat to see your abs (less than 10%), so focus on your diet first.
- You don’t need to train your abs for too many reps. You want to do fewer reps, with heavier weight.
- You shouldn’t overtrain your abs. 1-2 times per week is enough.
- If you’re doing the major compound lifts, than you don’t need to train your obliques separately.