Ab Workout Routine

Karen Frazier
Women doing crunches

Having a good ab workout routine is important to your body's overall level of fitness; however, getting a great abdominal workout involves more than just doing sit ups or crunches. The right ab workout routine can strengthen not only your abdominal muscles, but also the core muscles that support your body. There are a number of considerations to keep in mind as you craft the perfect workout for your abs.

About the Abdominal Muscles

Your abdominal muscle group is made up of six muscles extending from your pelvis to your ribs. These six muscles are the transverse abdominis, the internal obliques (one on each side), the external obliques (one on each side) and the rectus abdominis. Each of these muscles supports posture and provides strength for the trunk to move in various directions. The transverse abdominis, for instance, wraps around the trunk like a belt and provides support for the upper body. The internal and external obliques support lateral trunk flexion (bending side to side), and the rectus abdominis supports trunk flexion (bending forward).

Creating an Ab Workout Routine

The ideal ab workout routine exercises each of these muscle groups, either alone or in combination with other muscles of the abdominal wall. Ideally, the routine will balance out all of the muscles of the abdominal region. Many exercisers inadvertently exercise only one primary muscle or muscle group, causing imbalances that can lead to pain or injury. When designing your abdominal workout, choose one of the following exercises for each muscle group.

Exercises for the Transverse Abdominis

Here are two exercises that strengthen the transverse abdominis, the plank and the stomach draw-in. The draw-in is a great beginner exercise, while the plank is more advanced.

Stomach Draw-In

This is a good exercise for beginners. It is performed in a supine position on the floor. It requires a small pillow and a rolled up towel to perform.

  1. Lie on your back in the supine position with your arms at your sides. Place a pillow behind your head to support it. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Place a rolled up towel between your knees.
  2. Take a deep breath. Now squeeze on the towel and draw your abdominals down towards the floor by flattening your buttocks and tightening your abdominal muscles. At the end of the move, your entire back should be flat on the floor. In the meantime, keep the rest of your body immobile.
  3. Release and repeat for a set of five or six repetitions, working your way up to 10-15 repetitions.

The Plank

The plank is an isometric exercise that really works the transverse abdominis. To perform the plank:

  1. Start in a prone position on the floor, resting your entire body on the floor.
  2. Place your elbows on the floor about a shoulder width apart at chest height and slightly raise your chest, head and shoulders from the floor.
  3. Now place your toes on the floor and pull your stomach in tight.
  4. Keeping your body straight and your abdominals tight, pull your body into a modified push up position on your elbows and toes. Take a deep breath as you initiate the movement.
  5. Keep breathing, and hold your body straight for as long as you can before you lower it to the floor once again.

Oblique Exercises

These exercises strengthen both your internal and external oblique muscles. They need to be performed on each side for balance. The first exercise is a beginner exercise and the second is advanced, so choose according to your current level of fitness.

Side Lifts

Side lifts are performed by lying on each side of your body with your knees bent.

  1. Lie on your left side with your legs together and knees bent. Place your left arm in front of you and place your right hand behind your right ear.
  2. Take a deep breath and lift to the side. Lift your left knee and upper body simultaneously.
  3. Exhale and release the motion in a controlled manner.
  4. Perform a set of 10-15 and then repeat on the right hand side.

Leg Overs

The leg over is performed in the supine position on the floor. Use carefully controlled movements to avoid injury.

  1. Lie on your back with your arms straight out from your shoulders in a cross position and your legs extended into the air in front of you.
  2. Take a deep breath, and using your oblique muscles, lower your legs to the right side towards the floor.
  3. Exhale and return your legs to the starting position.
  4. Inhale and lower your legs to the left side.
  5. Exhale and return your legs to the starting position.
  6. Don't pause between movements and keep your abdominals pulled in tight.
  7. Repeat for a set of 10-15 repetitions.

Rectus Abdominis Exercises

The best exercises for working the rectus abdominis are crunches.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your hands resting lightly behind your ears.
  2. Take a deep breath. Using your abdominal muscles only (don't pull on your neck), raise your chest towards your knees until you feel a contraction.
  3. Exhale and lower yourself to your starting position in a controlled manner.
  4. Repeat for a set of 10-20 repetitions.

Each of the exercises above can be performed at home with a minimum of equipment. Abdominal exercises should be performed on alternating days, with a day in between workouts for the muscles to repair themselves.

If you belong to a gym that has specialized abdominal equipment, a personal trainer will be able to help you develop a workout routine that you can perform at the gym.


Maintaining core strength is important for good health, an active lifestyle and remaining injury-free. By establishing a regular abdominal workout routine that works all of the muscles of your abdominal region, you're well on your way to a lifetime of fitness.

Ab Workout Routine