Whether you call them “six-pack abs” or “washboard abs,” it’s pretty universal that a toned and svelte midsection is a highly sought-after fitness and physique goal.
Like other strong, well-defined muscles, having chiseled abs is a matter of doing the right kind of ab workouts in your training and eating the right foods in the right quantity to support the low body fat percentage you need to be able to see muscle definition.
But, should you do abs every day to achieve this fitness goal?
Even with a higher body fat percentage, you can certainly have strong abs, even if your stomach doesn’t look toned when you remove your shirt, and while it can certainly be nice to have a chiseled physique, the strength and functional ability of your abs and core muscles are far more important than the aesthetic appearance.
But what is the best way to strengthen your abs? Can you work out abs every day? More importantly, should you do abs every day? In this article, we will discuss the ideal frequency for training abs and answer the question, “Should you do abs every day?”
We will cover:
- What Are the Ab Muscles?
- Can You Work Out Abs Every Day?
- Should You Do Abs Every Day?
- What Are the Best Ab Workouts?
Let’s dive in!
What Are the Ab Muscles?
Before we discuss how often you can train your abs, let’s do a brief anatomy review of the ab muscles. People often forget that the abs, or abdominal muscles, are actually made up of several distinct muscles.
The most common ab muscle you tend to think about is the rectus abdominis, the “six-pack” ab muscle that runs down the center of your stomach.
The obliques are the muscles on the sides of your torso that enable side-to-side bending, rotation of the trunk, and spinal flexion.
There are actually two layers—the internal and external obliques—and both layers also play a pivotal role in stabilizing and protecting your spine by resisting excessive rotation.
Finally, the transversus abdominis is a deep core muscle that lies underneath the superficial abdominal muscles (the rectus abdominis and obliques).
The transversus abdominis wraps around the trunk in a 360° configuration, encircling the entire lower abdominal cavity and waist. It connects to the spine with strong connective tissue, forming a corset of support to the belly and lower back.
The ab muscles are primarily composed of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are the endurance muscle fibers that utilize aerobic metabolism to generate energy.
The chorus of ab muscles work with the other muscles of the core (low-back muscles like erector spinae and multifidus, pelvic floor muscles, and diaphragm) to support the trunk, improve posture, stabilize the spine, and flex, rotate, and bend the trunk.
Can You Work Out Abs Every Day?
Ultimately, there’s an important nuanced difference between the questions: “Can you work out abs every day?” and “Should you work out abs every day?”
Although you certainly can work out abs every day, in most cases, doing targeted ab exercises every day is usually not ideal.
Like all muscle groups, the abdominal muscles need time to rest and recover after exercise in order to repair and rebuild back stronger.
Doing ab workouts every day can impede this repetitive process and compromise your gains in strength and size.
With that said, depending on the types of ab exercises you do, you won’t necessarily cause damage or injury by doing ab workouts every day, even if it is not advisable from an improvement standpoint.
Bodyweight ab exercises are unlikely to induce significant muscle damage because the loads are relatively low.
Therefore, doing planks or various forms of crunches probably won’t cause an ab muscle strain or overuse injury, but they are also not the most effective ab exercises to strengthen your abs and build muscle mass.
Should You Do Abs Every Day?
Now, onto the more important question: “Should you do abs every day?”
We’ve already hinted at the answer but stated more directly, no; you shouldn’t train abs every day.
If you are trying to build muscle (hypertrophy) and increase core strength, it’s very important to take rest days between ab workouts just as you would for any other muscle group.
You should have at least one full day of recovery between workouts that target your ab muscles.
Muscle groups usually need up to 48 hours—if not 72 hours or more—to fully recover and repair the microscopic tears and damage caused during heavy resistance training exercises.
Training abs every day does not allow ample time between workouts for this reparative process to occur.
It helps to envision an avalanche: the more you try climbing up (doing daily ab workouts), the further back you slide.
In other words, working out your abs every day continually cuts into your recovery, compromising the effectiveness and extent of the muscle-rebuilding process.
Accordingly, if you train abs every day, you can somewhat sabotage your potential gains.
You will impede the hypertrophy process causing more damage before the muscle fibers have actually been repaired and strengthened from the previous workout.
What Are the Best Ab Workouts?
So, if it’s not a good idea to do abs every day, what is the best way to train abs?
Like other muscle groups, the abs should be trained no more than every other day.
In fact, because the abs are utilized in many of the other compound exercises you are likely already performing in your workout routine, there is absolutely no need to perform targeted ab exercises every day, and your abs should be getting more work in than you might be aware of, as long as you are lifting with proper technique.
For example, compound exercises like squats, walking lunges, split squats, farmer’s carries, overhead presses, and push-ups all work the abs, even if the exercise is mainly targeting other muscle groups.
In this way, many compound exercises are functional ab exercises.
This is not to say that you can’t also do targeted ab exercises, but it does point to the importance of not training abs every day—the muscles need to recover.
When it comes to the best-targeted ab exercises to do, make sure you are training all of your ab muscles.
Although the rectus abdominis tends to steal the limelight and earn the bulk of workout attention relative to the rest of the ab muscles because we are a culture that celebrates the chiseled abs look of a perfectly-defined six (or eight!) pack, it’s equally important to train the other abdominal muscles, the supporting cast so to speak.
Having a functionally strong core that effectively provides your body with the support and balance you need to optimally perform both athletic and daily life activities requires all of the ab muscles (and core muscles at large) to be equally strong.
Focusing solely on just one or two muscle groups will create imbalances, which can not only impede your movement efficiency and power but can also increase your risk of injury.
Examples of the best ab exercises include the following:
- Planks: Forearm plank, side plank, up-down plank, plank jacks, planks with thoracic rotation, planks for forward raises, and other plank variations
- Pallof press
- V-ups and V-sits
- Hanging leg raises and captain’s chair
- Cable crunches
- Reverse crunches and dead bug
- Russian twist
- Tucks on a stability ball or with your feet in suspension trainer straps
- Medicine ball tosses and twists
- Medicine ball chops
- Kettlebell or dumbbell side bends
Don’t be afraid to add resistance to ab exercises, especially if you are bodybuilding. As with training any other muscle group, in order to really stimulate hypertrophy, you need to be using heavy loads with your ab exercises.
Hypertrophy training should use loads that are 65-85% of your 1 RM. Typically, you should perform 6–12 repetitions per set, and at least 3 sets per exercise, with 30-60 seconds of rest in between sets.
Examples of ways to add resistance to ab exercises to build muscle mass and strength include cable resistance crunches, landmines, single-arm farmer’s carries, Russian twist with a heavy medicine ball, V-ups with a dumbbell or medicine ball, hanging leg raises with chains, and medicine ball crunches tossing the ball against a rebounder, wall, or partner.
Make sure you are using proper form and heavy loads.
Ultimately, while doing abs every day isn’t necessarily going to hurt you, it’s likely not going to help you achieve your fitness goals. Furthermore, it may compromise your gains.
Focus your efforts on training different muscle groups or performing compound exercises that train all of your muscles to work together in functional movement patterns.
Check out our complete list of compound exercises that you can add to your workouts!