The Wrong Way to Get Abs (and the solution)

3 ab training mistakes you're making and what to do to fix them

The Wrong Way to Get Abs (and the solution)
9 min. read 2/1/2022, 9:04 PM

Everyone dreams of getting six-pack abs in a week, or two, or three. Well, we're sorry to break it to you, but it won't happen in a few weeks! Developing those dreamy abs you want is possible, but it's not easy and it will require a lot of hard work, consistency, and patience.

So, how long does it take to get abs?

It largely depends on the body fat percentage you're starting with, and your body type can be a determining factor too. It can take a few months to up to a year, but one thing is for sure, you won't be able to make your abs magically appear in 1 or 2 weeks. And despite popular belief, doing ab workouts every day is not the best way to get abs! There are good ab workouts that can make your goals more achievable, but they shouldn't be your only focus.

That said, we're going to help guide you on how to get abs by giving you the three common ab training mistakes people make and the solutions, plus a list of the best ab exercises so you can be on the right track to achieving visible abs!

Mistake #1: Only Doing Sit-ups and Crunches

If you have done sit-ups or traditional crunches, it's not your fault. For some reason, everyone was taught that sit-ups and crunches are THE must-do abs exercises. The truth is – they’re really not as effective when you’re trying to get a more defined core or lose weight. This is because the muscle group you’re working out is much too small to burn an adequate amount of calories and it does nothing to increase metabolism. On top of that, it really isn’t your ab muscles pulling all the weight here. It’s your hip flexors. This is what makes traditional crunches and sit-ups one of the worst abdominal exercises.

So you know that your hip flexors pull on your lower back (lumbar spine), but what you probably didn't know is that when doing sit-ups and crunches, your hips and torso get pulled together and can put a TON of pressure on the discs in your back and neck, which is something nobody wants. This is why so many people have neck and back pain after doing too many sit-ups or crunches.

What you can do instead

If sit-ups and crunches aren't the best exercises to get abs, what are?

The best ab exercises not only work your abdominal muscles but also works your core and other muscle groups. These are also known as compound exercises! There are two compound exercises that you should be prioritizing that are superior at training your abs, core, and other muscles – woodchoppers and planks.

Woodchoppers is a full-body compound movement that works your entire core, obliques, the transverse abdominis, or TVA muscle (this is the muscle right behind your soon-to-be sixpack), shoulders, back, and even your glutes! It involves rotating your body diagonally so that you effectively hit your obliques. There are many ways to do it, you can use a dumbbell or kettlebell, a long resistance band, or use the cable machine at the gym. We'll be telling you how to do a woodchopper using the cable machine.

How to do woodchoppers: Start by standing perpendicular to the cable machine while the cable is placed in the top position. Now with both hands, grab the cable and bring it across your body from the top to the bottom. Focus on only using your torso to do the exercise, and keep your core engaged throughout the movement. Hold for a moment squeezing your abs, and then release back to the starting position.

On to the other exercise, which most already know, planks! This exercise may seem simple, but you're flexing almost every muscle in your body with an extra emphasis on your core. It requires you to maintain your balance and keep your body stable, working your upper body, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and the internal and external obliques – this is why it should be a part of your workouts to get abs! Plus, there are so many variations of the plank, there's the high plank, forearm plank, side plank, and so much more. We'll be going over how to do the forearm plank since it's beginner-friendly.

How to do a forearm plank: To do a forearm plank you first need to get in a plank position by going down to the floor with your face down. Place your toes on the floor and, instead of also placing your palms on the floor, you’re going to bend your elbows and use your forearms to hold yourself up. Your bodyweight should be resting on your forearms, with your elbows directly below your shoulders. Make sure that your body is forming a straight line from head to heels, with your head still facing down so you don’t strain your neck. Hold this position for as long as you can while tightening your abs and your core to keep your balance.

Mistake #2: Relying Too Heavily On Ab Workouts

Sounds like a simple equation: want defined abs? Bring on the ab workouts! The problem with this thinking is that too much focus on the abs can be counterproductive because even your abdominal muscles need some time to rest and recover. So, stop overdoing it on the ab workouts!

What you can do instead

Developing a stronger core is the key to getting abs. So, instead of only focusing on workouts to get abs, focus on exercises that work your entire core. Strength training is the best approach for a stronger core because several compound exercises, like deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, engage your abs and strengthen your core. If you're already strength training then you're on the right track and most likely already have a good amount of core strength, if you're not – check out our Strength Training for Beginners Guide to help you get started!

Now, how often should you work out abs?

You don't need to neglect ab workouts forever, you should still aim to implement a few ab exercises into your routine. The sweet spot for ab training is 2-3 exercises, 2-3 times per week. And the best way to implement it is by tacking on a few ab exercises at the end of your strength training routine.

Mistake #3: Poor Diet

As much as you want your diet to be in-n-out and pizza we all need to realize that getting abs is impossible without eating right. If your diet consists of mostly processed foods, a lot of take-out meals, and not enough of the good stuff then it's time to reconsider your diet.

What you can do instead:

If you want a six-pack, there's one secret.... lower body fat percentage. While all things are fine in moderation, you NEED to have a healthy, well-rounded diet to achieve your six-pack dreams. So, not only will cleaning up your diet helps you achieve your goals to get abs, but it'll also help you achieve weight loss.

To get visible abs, it's advised that the average body mass index (BMI) be lower than 20%. To lower your body fat, you must be in a calorie deficit,  but we recommend you calculate your macros and track your macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat), not only your calories! Macro tracking will help you prioritize nutrient-dense foods while still allowing you to incorporate a few of your favorite treats that may be unhealthy. It's a more sustainable approach to dieting as opposed to other fad diets that tend to be overly restrictive and can cause an unhealthy relationship with food.

Some excellent foods to incorporate into your diet are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, and legumes! The key is to focus on eating mostly nutritious foods and having a few occasional treats.

Best Ab Exercises

Now you know the three mistakes to avoid and how to avoid them, and we've already given you two ab exercises to try next time you do your ab workouts, but we here are a few more that we love...

  1. Standing Cable Crunches: Using the rope on a high pulley, grasp rope behind the head in a standing position. Keep elbows bent and hands next to head, bend down as far as you can performing a crunch. Slowly get back to the starting position.
  2. Knee Pull Ins: Sit with hands under or behind your glutes. Keep your knees together and pull them in towards you while moving your torso towards them (lift your head, neck, and shoulders up). Hold and then slowly return to starting position.
  3. Russian Twist: Start seated with knees bent and feet off the floor, holding one plate or dumbbell with both hands in front of the chest. Keeping the spine long and the abdominals tight, lean back slightly. Slowly twist the torso to the left and bring the plate (dumbbell) beside the left hip. Return to center and then slowly twist to the right and bring the weight beside the right hip to complete one rotation.
  4. Alternative side leg raises: Hold and hang from a pull-up bar. While stabilizing your body from swinging or swaying, start with your legs together and elevate your right knee straight up to the left side of your chest. Return your leg back down in a controlled motion and on the descent raise the other leg and repeat. Alternate your legs for the required amount of repetitions in a controlled movement.
  5. V-sits: To do a V-sit, lie flat on the floor with your arms to your sides. Lift your upper body and your legs slightly off the floor and keep this starting position by tightening your abs and core. Begin by lifting your legs as high as you can without bending them, and lift your torso towards your legs to form a V shape with your body. Extend your arms in front of you so that they’re parallel to the floor, helping you stay balanced, and keep your core engaged throughout the whole movement. Keep this V shape for a moment, maintaining a straight back so you don’t round your shoulders, then go back to the starting position and repeat.

Now, go get those abs you've been dreaming of!

Follow our tips above, and implement those exercises in your next ab workouts and you'll be one step closer to achieving six-pack abs!

Want someone to plan your workouts for you?

If you want more ideas for ab workouts or just want to start strength training for better overall health, check out the One Fitness app! Iulia plans new goal-focused workouts each week to help you get better and more effective results. Try your first workout for free by downloading the One Fitness app, choosing a goal, and starting your first workout with Iulia – no subscription required!