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Why an “Ab Routine” Isn’t Necessary (and What I Do Instead)

One of the first things people do when they start working out is focus on their abs—crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts, bicycles, and the like. I mean, who doesn’t want a six-pack? Entire fitness schools have sprung up around the idea of targeting your abs with direct work. Take Pilates. In its purest iterations, it’s considered a “total body” philosophy, but the way most classes seem to go you end up spending all your time doing a bunch of complicated crunches and other targeted ab work (and grimacing every time you cough for the next week).

Let me make a radical proposal here. All this ab work isn’t necessary.

Don’t get me wrong. The “abs” are extremely important. Not only do they round out the physique and look great, but abdominal strength also provides stability, supports good posture, and improves movement. Strong abdominals allow and enhance the full expression of a person’s athleticism. Running, jumping, lifting, throwing (balls, spears, or punches), and basically any movement all require—and are improved by—strong abs (i.e. a strong “core”).

When you think about training the abs, consider what the abdominals’ purpose is: to provide a stable foundation for the rest of your body as it moves. They can move, but it’s not their primary function. As such, the way most people train abs is completely superfluous and ignores that essential function—maintaining stability and resisting movement. When you think about it that way, crunches and sit-ups don’t make a whole lot of sense.

What Kinds of Ab Work Make Sense?

But crunches? Abs are best at holding steady and supporting all the other tissues and limbs as they move through space. Using your abs to move heavy weight a few inches is just weird. It “works,” but is it ideal? No.

If you insist on direct ab work, focus on movements where the abs don’t actually move all that much.

In both cases, you’ll be blasting the hell out of your abdominals, but you won’t be flexing and extending your spine.

Okay, with all that out of the way…

What Do I Do For Ab Work?

I don’t do much direct ab work. You won’t find me doing crunches or bicycles. Instead, I’m using my abs all the time.

Heck, when I’m driving my car or carrying my groceries or walking the dogs, I’m tightening my abs.

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. The abs figure prominently.

There’s probably one exercise I do specifically for my abs, and that’s the plank. But again, the planks work the abs by resisting movement, by keeping your body straight and solid against the pull of gravity. They aren’t moving.

I made a short video on how I work my abdominals without a specific abs routine. Take a look.

Finally, the single most important thing you can do for your abs in terms of looks, of course, is to become a better fat-burner. Hidden underneath even the most sedentary, flabby exterior is a rippling six pack. Simply possessing basic human anatomy means you have visible abdominals somewhere under there. Get lean enough and you’ll see them.

Thanks for stopping in today. Questions, thoughts? I’d love to hear them.