Building Better Abdominals: A Guide to Core Fitness

Key Points

  • Working on core fitness with ab exercises is essential to optimizing whole-body health.

  • Abs exercises are engaging, fun, and effective.

  • Incorporating a healthy diet into your abs routine significantly improves your results.

Hello, fellow fitness enthusiasts! Are you looking to tighten your core and get those abs more toned and fit? Simply researching abs exercises is a great start. A strong core not only improves your posture and reduces the risk of injury but also helps you perform better in everyday activities and boosts your confidence.

Incorporating abs exercises into your fitness routine is fun! Even if you’ve never done a single crunch in your life, you’ll come away with some valuable tips and tricks for working out those sexy muscles, as well as some important information on staying fit and toned in today’s screen-based, increasingly sedentary world. Just because you’re stuck behind a desk doesn’t mean you have to embrace a couch potato physique!

As you begin to work out your core muscles, rejoice in the challenges and difficulties that come with gaining strength.

Tony Horton, famed fitness professional and enthusiast, tells his students regularly to maintain a positive mindset when the going gets tough by saying, “Don’t say I can’t. Say, I presently struggle with.” This shifts focus to a process that emphasizes improvement and eliminates the concept of failure.

Take these training tips to heart as you sculpt and uncover leaner, meaner abs and a tighter, toned midsection.

What Are Abdominal Muscles?

Your abdominal muscles are a close-knit group of muscle fibers surrounding your midsection from your hips to your breastbone. Their primary function is keeping abdominal organs such as the stomach, liver, and intestines safe and secure. Abs also provide strength and stability to your trunk, allowing you to bend, twist, and move about while staying balanced. 

Five muscles surround the abdomen. Two run vertically toward the middle of your body, while three others are stacked on top of each other, situated toward the sides of your trunk. 

Woman with strong abdominals


This small, vertical muscle is shaped much like a triangle. It’s located near your pelvis, helping to maintain internal pressure in your abdomen and keep all your inner workings tucked neatly inside your core. 

Rectus Abdominis

The rectus abdominis muscle extends down the middle of your abdomen from the ribs to the front of the pelvis. This muscle group holds internal organs in place and keeps your body stable during various movements.

This glamor muscle is known as the “six-pack” and is visible when someone’s done the hard work to reveal a tight, toned set of muscles.

External Obliques

External obliques are a pair of muscles that lie on each side of the rectus abdominis. They are the largest set of flat muscles in the body, running from the sides of your body toward your middle. External obliques provide the important ability to turn and twist the abdomen from side to side.

Internal Obliques

Internal obliques lie on the external obliques, just inside the hip bones. Much like their larger outside cousins, they run from the sides of the trunk toward the middle, working in tandem with the external obliques to allow for bending, twisting, and arching motions. 

Transverse Abdominis

The transversus abdominis lies at the bottom of your abdominal stack. This deep-set, flat muscle group stabilizes your trunk and helps maintain proper internal abdominal pressure.

When all the abdominal muscles play nicely together, they provide a comprehensive system of movement and protection that enhance your health and mobility. A well-conditioned, well-toned set of abdominals always work better than flabby, underappreciated muscles.

Take a look at some of the many functions and movements that these wonder muscles perform for you on a daily basis.

Many Abdominal Talents

Your abdominals are a talented and tireless group of muscle fibers, providing strength and support for most, if not all, of your daily activities. Even breathing requires a certain amount of abdominal prowess to maintain efficiency!

Here are just a few of the many movements your core muscles help you perform each day:


Flexion is one of the movements most essential to protecting the spine, yet many people shy away from movements that improve this mechanism. Abdominal flexion tightens internal abdominal muscle fibers while adding additional strength to the whole core.

Flexion should be the basis of a solid abdominal workout plan as a way to enhance and improve all other movements of this muscle group.

Lateral Flexion

Lateral flexion involves bending the abdominals from side to side, working the internal and external obliques.

This also involves an isolated contraction or a simple, fluid movement to increase mobility and improve strength across both sides of the body.


Flexion’s counterbalancing move extension provides welcome relief for some of those internal ab muscles while stretching and toning muscles in a completely different way.

The two movements complement one another by improving strength and range of motion to make abdominal muscles more efficient.

Woman doing ab fitness


Turning and twisting as you bend, lift, and straighten yourself into various postures is all part of the rotation movement that your abdominal muscles help facilitate to make daily activities easier. You may know the pain that comes with a pulled back muscle after engaging in some over-the-top movement; this is likely because your core muscles are not as strong as they could be, and your back muscles overcompensate to make movement possible.

Time for a little redefinition of your core workout: Pay some additional attention to this essential group of muscles that work together to move your entire body.

Benefits of Developing Strong, Lean Abdominal Muscles

Strength training is essential to maintaining good health as you age. Your core muscles provide a proper foundation for all of your other cardio and strength training endeavors. Sure, sporting that coveted six-pack is nice, but there are many more benefits to engaging in ab exercise than just looking your best.

Here are a few of the many benefits gained from improving core muscle and core strength:

Reduced Back Pain

Abdominal exercises reduce back pain by strengthening the abdominal muscles, improving posture, and stabilizing the spine. Stress on the lower back muscles is reduced which, in turn, reduces pain and improves function.

When the abdominal muscles are weak, you can start to suffer poor posture, imbalanced muscle strength, and increased stress on the lower back. You improve posture and balance by strengthening the abs and reducing pressure on the lower back vertebrae and muscles surrounding the spine.

Choose exercises that target the deep core muscles, such as the transverse abdominis, rather than just the surface muscles like the rectus abdominis. Planks, bird dogs, and side bridges effectively strengthen the deep core muscles and reduce back pain.

Of course, maintaining proper form is a vital part of protecting the muscles of the girdle as well as the spine to reduce injury.

Improved Posture

Strong abdominal muscles improves posture by providing support to the spine and maintaining proper upper-body alignment. The abdominal muscles – especially the transverse abdominis – play an important role in stabilizing the trunk and preventing excessive movement and rounding of the lower back.

When the abdominal muscles are weak, the back muscles must work harder to maintain posture, which leads to fatigue, strain, and pain. Strong abs evenly distribute your weight load and take some pressure off the lower back, allowing you to maintain good posture throughout the day.

Man performing core exercise

Improved Functional Strength

Core training goes beyond supporting the spine and lower back. Even actions such as bending down to pick objects off the floor or tying your shoes is a significant undertaking with weak core muscles. Injuries often occur during the most mundane activities when your back and core are out of shape.

Establishing a varied, graduated workout routine allows you to gradually change your fitness level, giving you the best possible framework for better overall health and strength.

Improved Sports Performance

A solid and stable core is essential for many athletic activities including running, jumping, and lifting weights. Strengthening the abdominal muscles improves overall athletic performance and reduces your risk of injury.

Jumping Into a Workout Routine

Starting a new core exercise routine is challenging, particularly if those first few sweat sessions result in a burn that makes movement difficult for a few days.

Take it easy, start slow, and add progressively more challenging exercises to your routine to slough off unwanted body fat and reveal those six-pack abs you’ve long been coveting.


You may have used planks in a workout routine before, but you must be sure you’re doing them right to see results.

Tension is essential for a proper plank. While squeezing your lower back, glutes, and core, make sure to keep your buttocks down and hold strong and steady for one minute to start. Increase your strength and stamina with each workout by adding isometric hold time in small increments.

Hollow Holds

Hollow holds should be incorporated into all core strength workouts, as they efficiently fine-tune great posture and build deep, internal abdominal strength that stabilizes the body.

The key to success with a hollow hold is to flex your abdominals and press your lower back into your mat as you raise both arms and legs into the air. You’ll be able to maintain proper position more easily without worrying about putting strain on lower back muscles. 

Russian Twists 

Russian twists are the perfect way to work upper abs, lower abs, and oblique muscles, tightening and toning the entire core.

Use a pillow or mat under your buttocks for extra support, and focus on twisting your upper body from side to side to zip up the obliques and improve your abdomen’s twisting and flexing motions.

For a little extra oomph, consider throwing a weight between your hands and rotating it from side to side, isolating the movement at the bottom of each twist. 

Leg Raises

Leg raises target the muscles in the lower back and lower abdominals beautifully.

Whether you perform them on the floor or an incline abs bench, the result is a stronger sacrum and pelvis, as well as no more muffin-top on those favorite jeans.

Pacman Crunches

Pacman crunches isolate muscles in the upper and lower abdominals, allowing you to isolate them at the top of the movement and indulge in a welcome stretch at the bottom.

As you perform each rep, take care not to pull the neck and shoulder muscles forward with your hands; isolating the muscles of the abdominals gives you that tight, toned look and an increased chance of seeing visible abs with each subsequent workout.

Superman Holds

When targeting core muscles, you must focus on the muscles in the back to improve core stability. The superman hold is the ideal blend of front, back, and all-around abdominal goodness.

Lying on your belly with limbs fully outstretched, focus on pulling your legs and arms off the ground as you channel your superhuman strength through your midsection. 

V-Sit Crunch

You’ve done traditional crunches; now it’s time to get serious about results.

The v-sit crunch targets all the muscles in the girdle, from the pelvis to the rib cage. Hold your legs at a 45-degree angle and bring your upper body from the floor into a balanced v-sit, arms reaching toward your toes. This challenging exercise is not for the faint of heart.

Man performing ab exercise

This move may take a while to master, but the results you’ll get from incorporating this exercise into your workout routine are impressive.

Next-Level Goodness

Once you’ve mastered the basics of an abdominal workout, it’s time to take your efforts to the next level. Shredding belly fat and targeting some of those deep muscles involves adding weight and the assistance of an abs workout bench to amp up your efforts and improve your results.

Adding weight to your abdominal exercises increases the resistance that your muscles have to work against. This leads to greater muscle activation and fatigue, resulting in increased muscle growth and definition. 

Most mat abdominal exercises are easily performed on a weight bench with a few accommodations. Adding a weight bench to your workout increases your range of motion, making all movements more effective. This makes most movements more challenging, helping to keep your workouts interesting and engaging.

Using resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, and a weight bench allows you to target specific muscle groups in your abs and focus on building those areas up, increasing muscle mass, and sculpting lean, sleek abdominals you’ll be proud to show off.

Do yourself a favor, zealous ones. Start with lighter weights, and gradually increase weight as you get stronger. Improper form or use of too much weight increases your risk of injury and sets you back rather than ahead.

Regardless of your starting fitness level, it’s essential to listen to your body and choose movements and equipment that allow you to maintain proper form and technique. 

Eating To See Results

When you begin abdominal training, what you put in your mouth is just as important as what you do on the mat.

Nutrition plays a crucial role in achieving visible results with any workout, especially abdominal training. Make these changes to your nutrition plan to support your workout efforts.

Reduce Caloric Intake

If you are carrying around excess abdominal fat, you must reduce your caloric intake to the point where you create a deficit, consuming fewer calories than you burn each day.

A healthy, sustainable way to do this is by making small, gradual changes to your diet, such as cutting back on fatty snacks and reducing portion sizes at meals.

Increase Protein Intake

Protein is a vital part of building and repairing muscle tissue throughout the body. Aim to consume 1 to 1.5 grams of protein daily for every pound of body weight to support your muscle gains and recovery. Good protein sources include lean meats such as poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, and legumes. 

Reduce Refined Carbs and Sugars

Refined carbohydrates from foods such as white flour, bread, cakes, pasta, and sugars cause rapid and uncontrollable blood sugar spikes, leading to weight gain and volatile energy fluctuations.

Switch out your high-carb snacks with complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Man doing core fitness

Limit Processed Foods

Processed foods are laden with added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, which contribute to weight gain and poor health. Focus on cooking with and eating whole foods that are nutrient-dense and minimally processed. This ensures that you receive the critical vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health.


Drinking plenty of fresh water is essential for your health, and supports your weight loss efforts too! Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces daily, and you’ll look and feel better than you have in years.

Eat Regularly

Skipping meals leads to overeating and weight gain. Instead, aim to eat small, nutritious meals and snacks throughout your day. This keeps your metabolism fired up and prevents the cravings that often lead to poor food choices.

Can You Get Abs in Two Weeks?

While it would be wonderful to wave a magic wand and achieve a stellar six-pack in as little as two weeks, it takes a bit more time and consistency to achieve the lean and ripped results you’re looking for.

Achieving visible abs involves reducing body fat to low enough levels that your workout results are evident. A process like this typically takes several weeks to several months of consistent diet and exercise.

However, there are steps to take to optimize your training results and drop body fat percentages to see those sexy muscles faster. Focus on these steps to bring out that beach body within.

Focus on Your Calorie Deficit

Creating a calorie deficit with a combination of diet and exercise is one of the most essential steps in reducing body fat enough to reveal your abdominal muscles.

Men should aim for a percentage between 14 and 17 percent, with women shooting for between 21 and 24 percent for visible results.

Increase That Protein

Protein is essential for building muscle, and it should be a regular staple in your diet. Plan to consume at least one gram of protein for every pound of body weight per day.

Excellent sources of lean protein include chicken, fish, egg whites, brown rice, and good-quality protein powder without added fillers.

Incorporate Strength Training

Strength training helps build and tone all the muscles in your body, including your abdominal muscles. Adding dumbbells or resistance bands to your workout quickly increases strength and improves muscle tone.

As your body gets stronger, you’ll see results when muscles adapt to rapidly changing conditions and adaptive stress.

Add HIIT Workouts to Your Routine

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a type of workout that alternates periods of intense activity and periods of rest. These workouts are great for shredding additional fat, boosting metabolic rates, and building muscle.

Incorporate HIIT workouts into your weekly exercise routine, alternating with strength training and abdominal work for optimal results.

Stay Hydrated

Keep that water flowing to help you optimize all systems of the body, including cellular renewal, metabolic processes, and detoxification. This allows you to shed weight quicker and finally reveal those results you’ve been working so hard to achieve.

Woman doing abdominal exercise

Get Started!

It’s important to remember that there’s no shortcut to visible abs. This level of physical fitness requires patience, dedication, and consistent diet and exercise. Making these changes may take time and effort, but the end result is worth every bead of sweat you wipe off your brow.

Want those beach-worthy abs? Ready, set, crunch!

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