If you want to get the classic six pack look of thick, defined stomach muscles separated by the classic ab crack down the middle, you are going to have to work on your middle abs, more correctly known as the rectus abdominis.
In this post we are going to introduce the best exercises to tone stomach and ab muscles, that you will be able to do every day either at home or at the end of your gym session. We hope you can use this advice to take your mid ab workout to the next level, and get the six pack you want and deserve.
How often should you workout your abs?
The good news about the middle abs is that they are some of the most resilient muscles in your body. Along with the biceps, they have one of the shortest recovery times of a major muscle group. This gives you a lot of options in your workout routine.
After a really punishing workout, you only have to let the rectus abdominis rest for around 48 hours before they are good to go again. This means you can do full, high intensity mid ab workout sessions up to 3 times a week, if you wish. You can put them through a punishing workout on a Monday, and be safe to work them out again on Wednesday. This is great for people looking for quick results.
Alternatively, the ab’s speedy recovery rate also means that rather than doing 3 full sessions a week, you have the option to do one or two ab exercises every day without over fatiguing your muscles. You can do your ab workouts at home while watching TV, or use an ab machine at the the gym at the end of your regular routine, to sneak in your mid abdominal workout. This is ideal for more casual fitness enthusiasts, or people just looking to maintain their ab health.
Middle abdominal workout routine
Whether you decided to do the high intensity 3 days a week route, or the slow burn, consistent daily exercise path, the following are the most essential middle ab exercises that you want to include in your routine if you want a toned, washboard stomach.
Ab roller wheels are versatile, effective ab machines that yield great results not only for your abs and core, but also your stabilizer muscles, glutes, arms, and legs. They are one of the most effective ab machines out there, though they can seem a little difficult to use at first. However, the basic ab roller workout is actually quite simple to do. Follow the basic steps below or read our more in depth instructions and you will have the hang of it and be well on your way to ripped abs in no time.
- Step 1 - Kneel down on a flat, comfortable surface, with your knees together. Place the ab wheel on the floor in front of you.
- Step 2 - Holding the ab roller wheel by the handles, bend at the waist and let the handles take your weight. The ab wheel should be directly below your chest
- Step 3 - Roll out as far as is comfortable for you, while breathing out. Your roll should be slow and controlled. Keep your back straight, abs pulled in and tight, and arms rigid throughout the motion.
- Step 4 - Hold for 2 - 3 seconds (if you can) then slowly roll back to your starting position.
Ab crunches are a love 'em or hate 'em ab exercise, but if you want to get a really thick, defined ab crack down the middle of your six pack, you are going to have to learn to love them. Before attempting to do ab crunches, make sure you have a nice, soft surface to work on, such as an ab mat or yoga mat.
- Step 1 - Lie down on the floor, with your feet hip wide apart and legs bent at the knees.
- Step 2 - Place your hand up by your ears, or cross them over your chest. Do not interlock your fingers behind your head. This can lead to wrenching your neck and causing injury.
- Step 3 - Raise your head slightly off the floor, and bring your chin in towards your chest. Stop when you can see your knees. This is your starting position.
- Step 4 - Take a deep breath and contract your abs in towards your spine, like you are sucking in your tummy.
- Step 5 - While exhaling, curl slowly upwards until your shoulders blades leave the floor. Hold for a second, then return to your starting position.
Your target should be to perform 3 sets of 12 to 15 solid reps. Once this is easy for you, you can try some more advanced techniques like twisting crunches, reverse crunches, or weighted crunches.
Hanging Leg Raises
Hanging leg raises are a wonderful exercise for your middle abs, and also help to work on your all important grip. They look easy, but can be difficult to do if you try to go too fast. Slow, smooth movement and controlled breathing is the key to getting the most out of this exercise. Here are the step:
- Step 1 - With your hands about shoulder width apart and palms facing away from you, hang from the chin up bar. Your legs should be pointing straight down below you
- Step 2 - Take a deep breath and pull your abs in towards your spine. In a slow, smooth motion, exhale as you raise your legs until they are 90 degrees from your body (pointing straight forward). If this is too difficult, you can bend your legs at the knees until you gain more core strength
- Step 3 - Hold at the top for a second if you can
- Step 4 - Lower your legs slowly to the starting position
When you are first starting out, focus on your form and keeping the movement slow. It is easy to rock back and forth like a pendulum if you go too fast, which ruins the workout. If you are having trouble with this, ask a spotter to apply light pressure to your lower back to stop your swing. Try to work your way up to 3 sets of 10 solid reps, before adding any weight to this exercise. When not at the gym, you can perform this exercise safely on a well anchored doorway pull up bar or the monkey bars in the park.
When done correctly, sit ups are a very, very effective ab exercise, and you should definitely include them in your routine. When done incorrectly, they can be a waste of time and actually end up doing more harm than good. That’s why the former favorite has unfairly fallen out of fashion recently. If you want to do proper, correct form sit ups, follow the steps below. If you want more detailed advice on how to perform sit ups correctly, you should check out our sit ups for beginners post.
- Step 1 - place a yoga mat, thick towel, or ab mat on the floor.
- Step 2 - lay on the ground and bend your legs at the knees, with the balls and heels of your feet on the ground
- Step 3 - place your hands across your chest, touching opposite shoulders. You can also put your hands up by your ears, if you find this more comfortable
- Step 4 - draw in your stomach muscles by gently pulling your belly in towards your spine, and take a deep breath
- Step 5 - keeping your feet and toes on the ground, perform a sit up by first raising your head and shoulder blades off the floor, then raising your torso to 90 degrees or until your elbows touch your knees
- Step 6 - hold at the top for a second, then return to the starting position
Aim for 3 sets of 15 - 20 reps. If you are doing more than that then you are probably not working the muscle correctly. If the sit ups become too easy, you can add resistance with weights or resistance bands.
Decline Ab Bench
The decline ab bench often gets omitted from beginners' ab routines as a lot of people lack the confidence to try it, or think they are not strong enough. It is true that you need a decent level of ab and core strength before you start on the decline bench, that is why it is at the end of our list. However, if you have been doing the exercises above for a few weeks, you will be more than strong enough to start on using the decline bench. It is a great piece of exercise equipment for blasting your abs. Here's how to do basic decline ab bench sit ups:
- Step 1 - The most important step. Set the bench to a decline that is suitable for you. Start with a slight decline and build up over the weeks to a maximum 45 degree angle. Remember, a decline of even a few degrees makes sit ups and other ab exercises a lot more effective and tougher
- Step 2 - Climb up on the bench and lock your legs under the pads. Sit back until almost flat. Keep your back straight, and raised slightly off the bench. Your shoulders should never touch the bench in this exercise.
- Step 3 - Perform a sit up until almost vertical. Hold for a breath and return to the starting position.
Repeat for your desired reps and sets, aiming for at most 3 sets of 20 reps. If you can do those with good form, you can progress to adding a twist at the top, or using resistance bands or weights to increase difficulty.
The Final Verdict
Getting that popping six pack you’ve always dreamed of isn’t going to happen overnight. Whether you choose to do full ab days in the gym, or break up your routine over the week, you will need to keep at it for several months to see the results you want. You will also need to adjust your diet, and do plenty of cardio work to lose belly fat. The most important things are to stick with a consistent mid ab workout that consists of these at least the five exercises outlined in this post, and never, ever give up!