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You Asked: How Do I Strengthen My Abs?

You're asking and I'm answering . . .

"Hi Fit,
I am frustrated with my abs. Although I am pretty active, eat well, run a lot and pretty toned and all, my abs are a mess! I have very weak abs and that is the only area where I am completely flabby and loose. Not only does the appearance bother me, but mostly because I want strong abs so that my back is strong too. My question is how do I improve the strength of my abs? I try all sorts of things, but thought if I had a little more guidance on how to strengthen them, I can be on my way to being healthier, stronger and having a tight stomach. If you could help I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks!"
– Miss Frustrated

This is a great question and I know you are not alone in this quest, so to see my answer


The abs seem to be a difficult area to tone and while "six pack" abs may be aesthetically pleasing they don't necessarily translate to a strong torso or healthy back. Since we cannot pick and choose the area of our bodies where fat is lost, the best bet for losing belly "flab" is cardio, for all over weight loss.

While you can't spot reduce, you can spot tone (this is important for preventing back problems) and when it comes to abdominals you need to work all four layers of abdominal muscles. Here's a quick run down on the layers going from outermost layer, you have the rectus which turns into the six pack, the external and internal obliques, and the transverse. And you are right you need strong abs to help your back, and here's the run down on what your ab muscles do and exercises for each layer, plus a bonus exercise for your back.

Controls the tilt of the pelvis and can affect the curvature of the lower spine, bends the torso forward
Exercises: Bicycle Crunches and Ball Crunches

Creates intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize the spine, side bending and twisting torso
Exercises: Twist Oblique Crunch and Ab Crossover

Flattens the belly, creates intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize the spine
Exercises: Elbow plank and Side elbow plank

Back Extensors
Stabilize the spine, as well as extend (arch), side bend and twist spine
Exercise: Superman and Flying with an exercise ball

To work your abs you need to do enough reps of an exercise, or variety of exercises, until your abs really burn and feel exhausted. Then repeat the set two more times. Just like strength training, you want to give your ab muscles time to recover, so work them at the most every other day. Your abs, especially your transverse, should engage before you move your arms or your legs to provide stability to the spine. So you should be working them all the time, so if you use the elliptical or stair stepper try not using your hands to force your abs to engage so your time on cardio machines will be doing double duty.

Wow . . . I had no idea I has so much to say about abs.


elle86 elle86 9 years
Thanks for the post!!!
smellen smellen 9 years
i need to do more plank. i've made a noticeable effort to put more into my ab work, but i always forget about the plank. and i can do that one at home &/or the gym.
Novaraen Novaraen 9 years
LOVE THE PLANKS!!!! I do elbow planks at the gym and i swear these are the reason my tummy is finally starting to flatten a bit. I'm pretty much in shape everywhere else...but the belly is my trouble-area! After having twins its been difficult to really get that area in shape...that was until i read about planks on fitsugar!! I do lots of elliptical now too and i dont usually use my hands so its good to know that helps double-time!! :D Thanks fit for the tips and tricks!!
Brooklynbee Brooklynbee 9 years
Tidalwave and Berlin are right on: Pilates and plank!!!
Berlin Berlin 9 years
Try to do as many of your exercises that you may do sitting...on a ball. That way you are also working the abs. Secondly and most important...PLANK PLANK PLANK! If you want strong abs, do the plank like daily. Regular plank, side planks, rotating from side to pulling through, up and down while on side, regular plank on one foot, or lifting one back and up in the air. It is hands down the best exercise for working your core. Just hold those abs in tight, and make sure that you are straight as a, well, plank! best if you do it in front of a mirror, don't let your but sink in or raise up...straight across. Basically hold it until you cannot hold it anymore - which means you actually fall down. And time yourself so you can see how much you strengthen up. Start with trying for 45 seconds, then a minute, then a minute and a half (or more if you can) until you can get to like 5 minutes! You should be red, sweating, and arms reach the shaking point. And that's OK! Just remember to breathe deep, controlled, and strong.
DeviousMuse DeviousMuse 9 years
Don't forget that tightening your abs when you do non-ab-specific exercises can also help. Anytime you engage your core will add strengthening benefits. For me, when I'm stuck in traffic for long periods of time (or stuck at my desk), I'll hold my abs tightly for 10 seconds and release for 5, doing that in a set of 10. I don't know if it really helps (I'd like to think it does), but it gets my mind off the monotony of sitting still for too long!
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
Thanks for this Fit!
syako syako 9 years
ok good luck. just trying to shed some light from previous experience.
TidalWave TidalWave 9 years
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years's still my goal! And no one can bring me down ;) Even if I get a 4-pack I'll be happy! I am working hard!
syako syako 9 years
lovely - not to let you down or anything, but it's extremely difficult for a woman to get a real six pack. I think a better goal would be to get a flat/toned stomach. I've read stories of body builders going to some CRAZY extremes just to have a "six pack" show for their competition (but that the six pack doesn't show normally). Or another goal could be to lose a certain amount of inches off your waist.
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
My goal is a 6-pack by the time bikini weather is here!!!
Auburngirl08 Auburngirl08 9 years
Hoaxerz- I agree. full body strength training develops your core, not doing a million crunches. Although, I think it's beneficial to finish up with some ab work- I have found the elbow plank to be very effective. Also, completely agree with the cardio comments- getting rid of the layer of fat... and, we all know spot reduction is a myth.
Hoaxerz Hoaxerz 9 years
I've always been athletic, but never had strong abs until I started doing barbell squats and deadlifts- the strength needed to stabilize your core doing these moves gives anyone strong abs (and lower back) in a few weeks.
syako syako 9 years
also eat a clean diet and do lots of cardio, you have to get rid of fat before you can see tone.
lady-T lady-T 9 years
thank you for this post! my tummy area has always been my let down..ive taking up running/walking on my treadmill.i seem to be toning up everywhere except my tummy area..but now im gonna print out all the different tummy exercises and start trying them...thanks again
Thanks for this. I have always been active and have lost 55 lbs over the last 2 years. I've improved my body & strength a lot, but still have a tummy problem. I'm so gonna try some of these exercises. p.s. does the effort required in using weight machines throughout your body also help work the abs? You mentioned elliptical and stepper, are there other exercises the can indirectly improve the strength of the abs? thanks !
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