HOW OFTEN TO TRAIN ABS: WHAT IS THE BEST AB TRAINING FREQUENCY?
Question: How often should I train abs for the best results? I currently hit them 3 days a week but have been told that they recover fast and can be trained every day.
Answer: Good question. Let me lay the groundwork with a couple of important points first, and then I’ll get into the specifics of ab training frequency after that…
Yes, The Abs Do Need Direct Work
The question of whether or not the abs even require direct work in the first place is something that is often debated.
The answer can vary depending on your training goals, but if “aesthetics” are a primary focus and you’re wanting to maximize the visible definition of your abdominal muscles, then yes, isolated ab training is certainly important.
Some will tell you that big compound exercises like squats and deadlifts are enough on their own when it comes to ab training, but the reality is that these movements actually stimulate the rectus abdominus to a much smaller degree than most people think.
If you want to develop those “six pack muscles” to their full potential, direct exercises such as crunching movements, leg raises and planking variations will almost certainly need to be included in your plan.
You wouldn’t only perform bench presses to build your triceps or only rows to build your biceps, and the abs are no different.
Just keep in mind that ab training will only make a visual difference to your physique assuming that your body fat levels are low enough for them to be visible.
Isolated ab exercises don’t burn fat off of your midsection; they only train the abdominal muscles underneath. There’s no way to target fat loss from one specific area of your body over another, and the only way to lose that belly fat is to focus on total body fat loss through a proper combination of weight training, cardio and nutrition.
If your overall body fat percentage is simply too high, that “six pack” will remain mostly (or entirely) hidden underneath the layer of fat sitting on top.
If you want to carve out an impressive looking six pack, you need to build up the actual abdominal muscles themselves and reduce your body fat levels far enough so that they can be seen.
How Often To Train Abs
Now onto the actual question of the day, which is how often to train abs in order to achieve the best results. As with most questions, ab training frequency isn’t a black and white issue and it can vary from person to person.
That said, my simple default recommendation would be this:
Treat your abs just like any other muscle group and train them at the same frequency. For a typical natural lifter this would mean anywhere from 1-3 times per week, with 2 times per week being the general “sweet spot” in most cases.
All things equal, there’s just no good reason to train your abs more frequently than anything else, as they’re simply another muscle group on your body that will respond to training in the same basic way.
You’ll perform a few high quality sets of a couple different exercises somewhere in the 8-12 rep range (there’s no reason to train your abs using sets of 25, 50 or 100+ reps like so many people do), hit them with a sufficient level of intensity, strive for progressive overload, and then give them time to rest, recover and grow.
It’s really that simple, and there’s no need to overcomplicate your abdominal training by hitting them more often throughout the week, using a wider variety of exercises or applying hugely different training protocols in comparison to your other muscle groups.
The only situation where training your abs more often would be necessary is if they’re a specific weak point that you’re trying to bring up.
If that’s the case, you can temporarily bump up your ab training frequency to 3, 4 or even more sessions per week as a way to spur some additional development.
However, I’d only recommend doing this if you’re well past the novice stage of lifting and know your body well enough to truly determine that your abs are a legitimate weak point. (You’ll generally only know this if you’ve dropped your body fat percentage low enough in order to actually see firsthand that they could use more work.)
What you most definitely don’t want to do though is waste your time pumping out endless sets of crunches and leg raises as a beginner, thinking that this is automatically going to get you a “ripped six pack”.
Your focus in the beginning stages should be on building up an overall size and strength foundation first and foremost, and specifically putting more focus on your abs before you’ve done that is not going to be a good use of your effort.
The Bottom Line On How Often To Train Abs
All things equal, just start off by training your abs at the same frequency as you’re currently training all of your other muscle groups. Twice per week is a good starting guideline for most people.
If later on you determine that your abs genuinely are a weak point, you can increase your ab training frequency to see if that improves your results.
Ultimately the question of how often to train abs is a pretty basic one, since the abs should simply be treated like any other muscle. There’s no need to be hitting them 5 days a week or every single day unless you can specifically determine that they require additional work.
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