Can a quick ab workout be an effective ab workout?
It absolutely can. Doing endless reps of sit-ups wastes your time and energy and will never give you the six-pack abs you want.
In this article, you’ll learn why you should treat your abs like any other muscle group and how to train them for the best results. In addition, you’ll put theory into practice with a quick and highly effective workout for building a strong core and the abdominal muscles you’ve always wanted.
The 10 Minutes to Great Abs workout is available in the StrengthLog workout tracker app. Download it for free using the button for your device below.
If You Don’t Have Abs, Here’s Why
Even if you’ve never seen them, you’ve got abs. Everyone does. For them to become visible, two things need to happen:
- You must build enough lean mass in your abdominal muscles to develop the hallmark “six-pack.” For some reason, many people train their abs using light or no weights and perform hundreds or thousands of reps. That is a mistake. Your abs respond to progressive overload and the same effective rep ranges for building strength and muscle mass as your other body parts.
- Your body fat needs to be low enough to see the fruit of your labor. If your abs are covered by fat, you can have the most prominent washboard abs in the world, but no one can see them. Getting your body-fat levels to six-pack status is mostly about diet. At the same time, you can’t simply diet your way to great abs. The muscle mass still needs to be in place. That’s why combining the best core exercises and a healthy diet is the key to six-pack abs.
In other words: your abs work like the other muscles in your body. The right abdominal exercises, a good ab routine, and a proper diet will do wonders. Spending minutes to hours grinding crunches might offer some benefits in sports where extreme muscle endurance is important but does nothing for visible abs.
Anatomy of Your Abdominal Muscles
Your abdominal wall contains and protects your organs. It creates intra-abdominal pressure that helps stabilize your trunk when you lift a heavy load and allows you to perform vital actions like breathing, coughing, and even pooping. It also assists in moving your spine as needed and helps you maintain good posture.
The abdominal wall consists of five muscles: the rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis, and pyramidalis.
The rectus abdominis is your “six-pack” muscle. What looks like six abdominals are actually one muscle: the long and narrow rectus abdominis. It is divided by the linea alba, a thin band of connective tissue that runs down the front of your abdomen. The six-pack itself is formed by other bands of connective tissues running horizontally across the muscle.
It is one of the primary muscles that help flex your spinal column and bring your pelvis forward in everyday life and when you exercise and perform physically demanding work.
Fun fact: some people have four-pack, eight-pack, or even ten-pack abs instead of the regular six-pack. Your genes determine that number, and you can’t train your way to more abs with any special workout routine.
Your internal and external obliques allow you to rotate your spine and bend from side to side. When you’re lifting weights, they are especially involved in keeping your core and pelvis stable when you perform unilateral movements (exercises where you work one side of your body at a time), like the Bulgarian split squat. Well-developed obliques not only look good but are important for spine stability and posture.
The transversus abdominis, also known as the transverse abdominis, is one of the innermost muscles of your abdomen. You can’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. On the contrary, the transversus abdominis provides stability to your trunk and stabilizes the lumbar spine during activity, more so than most other core muscles.1 A strong and healthy transversus abdominis is key to preventing low back pain and injury.
Finally, the pyramidalis is a small triangular muscle in front of the lower part of the rectus abdominis. The function of the pyramidalis muscle is not fully known, although it likely helps stabilize the linea alba.2 However, some people don’t even have this little muscle and do fine. Others have one on each side, and others only have it on one side of the body. You can even have two on one side and none on the other. It’s a weird little muscle.
You can see the pyramidalis in the bottom center of the picture above.
The Benefits of Strong Abs
Abs aren’t just for show. A strong core helps you perform better in both everyday life and during exercise.
- A strong core means improved physical performance. Whether you’re a powerlifter, bodybuilder, strength or endurance athlete, or simply work with your body in everyday life, your entire core is almost always involved. Your abs transfer power from your upper body to your lower body and vice versa. A weak midsection means a weak link that will limit your performance.
- Strong core muscles might help prevent and alleviate low back pain. Low back pain affects more than half the US and is a leading cause of work absence and disability.3 Research shows that core strength training helps reduce low back pain, although keeping active with general exercise is the most important and beneficial thing you can do.4
- As we get older, balance problems become more prevalent. Core strength training improves balance, functional mobility, and quality of life in older people.5 While better balance might not be on your immediate radar in your 20s or 30s, maintaining a strong core will benefit you throughout life.
- Strong abs create a smaller waistline. Even though your abs grow in size when you train them with weights, like all other muscles, strong core muscles still help you reduce the size of your waistline. Weak abdominal muscles allow your gut to flop out even if you don’t carry a lot of body fat, while a strong midsection acts like a natural girdle and keeps your belly tight.
- And last but not least, defined abs are attractive. Research shows that both men and women consider muscular abdominals and obliques among the most attractive body parts.6 If looking attractive to others is even remotely important to you, focusing on a well-developed midsection is a safe bet.
Introducing 10 Minutes to Great Abs
How your abs work and why they are so important is all very interesting, but we all know the burning question is: how do I get six-pack abs?
The answer is, as mentioned earlier, two-fold: training and diet. Not just any training, though. If you spend an hour doing sit-ups expecting to carve abs of granite, you’re wasting your time and energy.
Instead, you need to train your abs like you train the rest of your body: using weights, practicing progressive overload, and making them work in a proper range of motion.
The good news is that you can do all the above and save time. The best ab workout can also be a quick ab workout. Case in point: StrengthLog’s 10 Minutes to Great Abs. The best exercises for building core strength and lean mass in all your abdominal muscles combined into one challenging but time-efficient workout.
You can perform 10 Minutes to Great Abs as a stand-alone session or tack it onto any of your regular workouts.
10 Minutes to Great Abs: The Workout
The 10 Minutes to Great Abs workout consists of five exercises in total. You’ll perform the first four as supersets, then finish with a special modified version of the plank for a complete session guaranteed to fry your abs.
A superset is “a pair of different exercise sets performed without rest.”7 You alternate between two exercises, and once you’ve completed one set of each, you’ve performed one superset.
Supersets are no more or less effective for building muscle than traditional sets, but they offer one big advantage: they allow you to perform more work in the same amount of time. That means you can complete an effective ab workout in just 15 minutes.
StrengthLog’s 10 Minutes to Great Abs workout looks like this:
- Superset 1: Kneeling Ab Wheel and Oblique Crunch
- Superset 2: Hanging Knee Raise and Cable Crunch
You can see recommended rep ranges for all exercises in StrengthLog.
This workout targets all muscles in your abdominal area, including your upper and lower abs, your obliques, and the muscles below the visible six-pack. Repeat the supersets 1–3 times depending on your training experience, resting around a minute between rounds, then finish off with the plank for as long as possible.
Let’s look at each exercise with detailed instructions and why they are the best choices for building a stronger core and head-turning abs.
Kneeling Ab Wheel
The kneeling ab wheel rollout is a tremendous exercise for your abs where you use your body weight as resistance. It activates all your abdominal muscles, and research shows that it is exceptional for the lower abs.
While lower ab muscle activation doesn’t necessarily mean greater muscle growth in that particular area, you’ll feel the soreness in all the right places the day after doing ab wheel rollouts if you’re new to them.
Keep your torso stationary and your arms straight throughout the movement. If you’re new to the ab wheel, it can be challenging to tense your core musculature, glutes, and shoulders all at once the entire time while performing the ab wheel rollout. However, the more you let your core do the active work, the better.
Contract your abs when you roll out, and try to engage your entire core as you roll back to the starting position.
If you’re an ab wheel pro, able to do the movement standing on your toes with straight legs, feel free to substitute the kneeling ab wheel for the regular variant. “Regular” is relative, though, as most of us are unable to perform this brutal exercise. Don’t sweat it if you try and fail to do even one complete repetition, and stick with kneeling rollouts. The classic version is that tough of an exercise.
Muscles Worked in Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-Outs
How to Do Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-Outs
- Sit on your knees, or stand up on your feet for increased resistance.
- Roll out as far as you can, and maintain good form with a straight back throughout the movement.
- Reverse the movement with control, and return to the starting position.
Put the ab wheel to the side and lie down on your back for some oblique crunches without resting between exercises.
Many people focus on working their six-pack muscles to the point where they forget about the other abdominal muscles. By including the oblique crunch in your routine, you build and strengthen the internal and external obliques as well as the rectus abdominis muscle.
Unlike the traditional crunch, you twist your left elbow towards your right knee, and vice versa, as you perform the exercise. This allows your obliques to do more of the work.
When you move straight from the ab wheel roll-outs to the crunches, your abs will be somewhat pre-fatigued, and you won’t be able to do as many reps as you might expect. If you can still do more than 15 reps for each side, hold a weight plate or a dumbbell to your chest for added resistance.
Muscles Worked in Oblique Crunches
How to Do Oblique Crunches
- Lie on your back, with your hands on the side of your head and your knees bent to about 90 degrees.
- Contract your abs and lift your upper body diagonally while your lower back stays in touch with the floor. The elbow and shoulder on the right side of your body move towards the left leg knee, and vice versa.
- Bend as far as possible and then return to the starting position.
That’s one superset done! Rest for a minute, then move to the next exercise: the hanging knee raise.
Hanging Knee Raise
The hanging knee raise is a great exercise for both your abs and your hip flexors, making it a fantastic overall core exercise.
Some trainers claim you should always try deactivating your hip flexors while doing ab work. That’s true up to a point, but your hip flexors are critical to core strength and function. Regularly doing the hanging knee raise is an excellent way to work both areas in one functional movement.
It’s essential you keep your upper body stationary in a neutral position while performing hanging knee raises. You want to localize as much work as possible to your abs.
If you find the hanging knee raise too easy, you can perform the exercise with straight legs instead. Hanging leg raises are significantly more challenging and make many athletes tire quickly.
Muscles Worked in Hanging Knee Raise
How to Do Hanging Knee Raises
- Jump up and grab a bar, placed high enough that you can hang from it with straight legs.
- Without swinging and with bent legs, lift your knees as high as you can in front of you.
- Lower your legs again, with control.
That’s the first exercise of the second superset done. Now, it’s time to finish it off with a variant of the ab crunch that makes it easy to practice the progressive overload training principle for maximum gains: the cable crunch.
The cable crunch is a variant of the crunch exercise where you use a cable pulley.
While the cable crunch makes it easy to challenge your muscles with progressively heavier weights – the key factor for optimal strength and muscle gain – it’s important to keep in mind that it is an ab exercise, not a whole-body exercise. You’re using too much weight if you have to use your arms, traps, and back to complete the reps. Lighten the load and force your abs to do the work. They’ll thank you for it later.
When done with proper form and an appropriate amount of weight, the cable crunch is one of the best ab exercises at your disposal.
Muscles Worked in Cable Crunches
How to Do Cable Crunches
- Fasten a rope handle in the upper position on a cable pulley. Sit down on your knees a few feet away, facing the pulley.
- Bend your upper body forward by contracting your abs. Hold the ropes on either side of your head throughout the movement.
- Reverse the motion and return to the starting position with control.
With the cable crunches done, you’ve completed the supersets of the 15 Minutes to Great Abs workout. You should be feeling the burn by now.
At this point, you have two options.
- Finish up the training session with the final exercise, the plank, and call it a workout. Five focused sets are enough for optimal results if you perform the workout two or three times per week. You’ve completed a great workout for your entire abdominal area, and you’ve done it in record time.
- Do one or two more rounds of supersets, going back to the ab wheel rollouts and starting over. It won’t be a super quick workout anymore, but if you have the time and enjoy the burn, feel free to go for it. You don’t need to, though.
Regardless of your choice, 10 Minutes to Great Abs provides the ideal training volume for muscle growth. Research shows that you need at least ten weekly sets per muscle group for best results.8
If you perform this quick ab workout at least twice per week, even if it’s just one round of exercises, you’re golden for core work.
In either case, once you’ve completed all the supersets of the session, it’s time to finish things off with the plank.
The plank is a bodyweight exercise that activates your entire core. The regular plank is a good ab exercise, but for this workout, I want you to make two changes that turn it into a great ab exercise.
This is the regular plank:
For the 10 Minutes to Great Abs, you’re going to make two small but significant changes to the plank position.
- Position your elbows farther up towards your head.
- Focus on contracting your glutes during the entire hold, creating a “posterior pelvic tilt.”
As you can see, your upper arms should not be vertical. Instead, hold them at an angle like in the picture above or with your elbows even further toward your head.
These two changes increase the muscle activation of your upper and lower abs by up to 5–6 times compared to the regular plank.9 In addition, they make the exercise more challenging, meaning you likely won’t be able to hold the plank position for as long: ideal for a quick ab workout.
Lose the Fat to Make Your Abs Visible
Training your abs is one part of getting a visible six-pack. But if they are covered with fat, you won’t see the fruits of your labor no matter how many crunches you churn out. This quick ab workout takes care of the training part of the six-pack equation. But if you want your abs to stand out, your diet plays a vital role and needs to be on point.
To lose body fat, including the fat on your stomach that might be covering the abs you’re working hard to build, you need to be in a caloric deficit. That means eating fewer calories than you burn during the day and doing it consistently.
Combining that calorie deficit with regular strength training for all major muscle groups and a healthy, high-protein diet allows you to drop body fat while maintaining muscle. Before you know it, your abs will be hidden no more.
Be sure to check out our detailed guides on how to get in shape, lose body fat, and reveal your abs:
>> How to Cut: Lose Fat and Keep Your Muscle Mass
>> Macros for Cutting: Count Your Way to Fat Loss
Easy-to-follow, science-based guides that will help you get the body (and abs) you want.
Track 10 Minutes to Great Abs in StrengthLog
Follow this ab routine consistently, and you’re on your way to
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- HSS J. 2019 Oct; 15(3): 214–220. The Critical Role of Development of the Transversus Abdominis in the Prevention and Treatment of Low Back Pain.
- J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 Feb; 11(2): AC05–AC07. Biometrics of Pyramidalis Muscle and its Clinical Importance.
- J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Mar; 27(3): 619–622. Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain.
- PLoS One. 2012; 7(12): e52082. A Meta-Analysis of Core Stability Exercise versus General Exercise for Chronic Low Back Pain.
- Ortho Res Online J. 9(1).OPROJ.000701.2021. The Effectiveness of Core Strength Training to Improve Functional Mobility and Balance in Geriatric Population: A Literature Review.
- Evol Psychol. 2019 Apr-Jun;17(2):1474704919852918. Men’s Bodily Attractiveness: Muscles as Fitness Indicators.
- Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16(24), 4897. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods.
- International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Vol 1 No 1 (2021). Resistance Training Recommendations to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy in an Athletic Population: Position Stand of the IUSCA.
- Sports Biomechanics 13(3):296-306. An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt versus the traditional plank exercise.