If you’re trying to get a perfect six pack or just want to tone your body a bit, you don’t have to focus on your ab muscles as much as you think. But how much is too much? Is a short workout actually effective? I spoke with some experts to break down the best way to work your abs, plus which workouts to embrace and which ones to avoid.
You probably don’t realize how often you work your abdominal muscles
Your core plays a big role in almost every workout. Your core helps with stability and balance—a necessary part of nearly every activity you do. When you run, your abs are activated to support your body. When you do squats, you can feel the tension in your core—that means it’s engaged. Nearly all workouts involve your core, and a big section of your core is the abdominal muscles. So how much time should you actually dedicate to strengthening those abs?
For optimal results, don’t stretch your workout beyond 15 minutes
According to BodyBuilding.com, all you need is 15 minutes to get a solid ab workout. That’s because your abs are activated during almost any workout, so if you’ve already gone for a run or done several squat exercises, your abs have already been worked pretty hard. Although it might seem like its more beneficial, in reality, an ab workout longer than 15 minutes could lead to strained muscles and possible tears. Remember to give yourself recovery time, too.
Overtraining your muscles can lead to strains and tears
“Just like any other muscle, you can over work your abs if you are doing intense ab moves every day,” says personal trainer Nina Munoz. “Your muscles need to rest.” Since your abs are engaged every time you hit the gym, it’s important to listen to your body and let your muscles recover. You should always incorporate at least two rest days into your workout schedule to avoid straining or tearing anything. Take a break from the intense workouts and just take a 20-minute walk to keep your body active without overdoing it.
If you’re looking for one solid ab exercise, go with a plank
“Absolutely everything stems from the core—stability, balance, strength, and power,” says personal trainer Becky O’Neal Foster. “Your number one focus should be core stability, and you can obtain that through stability ball work and planks.” There are many different types of planks you can do, but form is extremely important. As for the worst ab workout? O’Neal Foster says crunches aren’t terrible, but they’re not for everyone. “Most Americans have very weak cores; weak cores result in people having back issues and pelvic tilts. And when you get into issues like that, crunches are bad.” When doing crunches, O’Neal Foster recommends using a stability ball and being careful that you’re working the core during the crunch rather than pulling up from your neck.