Ab Exercise Rules I Always Break — Here’s Why You Should Too

Getting a six-pack is no easy task. First, you must have the proper diet for fat loss, and then you can work on targeting those upper and lower abs through exercise. There are plenty of rules you’ve heard before — maybe that crunches put too much strain on your neck, or certain moves are more effective than others.

But when I train my core, I throw most of those rules out the window. Here are the principles I never abide by, and why.

1. Never do crunches

A group of women workout during a fitness class.

Amp up your crunches to keep your abs in check. | Antonio Diaz/iStock/Getty Images Plus

You remember doing tons of crunches in grade-school gym class, but since then, you’ve probably been told to ditch this exercise and go for something else. It’s true doing crunches alone won’t help you get the strong, solid core you’re looking for — but they can certainly be part of a well-rounded repertoire.

I always add reverse crunches into my routine to blast those hard-to-reach lower abs, and the obliques can be worked with a standing crunch. Just make sure you’re engaging your core and not yanking on your neck when you do them.

2. Don’t work your abs every day

A woman does an ab workout in a studio section of a gym.

Don’t let “ab day” keep you from working your core daily. | Antonio Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

When you work your muscles, they need a break to recover and become stronger. This is true for the abs as well, though I still incorporate core work into my daily exercise routine. Now, this doesn’t mean I crunch, plank, and Russian twist every time I’m at the gym — I work my core muscles with balancing exercises, yoga, and weight lifting, too.

Many exercises indirectly work the abs and also help develop a strong back, so it’s a win-win.

3. Planks are king

A young woman does a side plank at a gym.

We might have to disagree with your Pilates instructor on this one. | G-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images

You’ve certainly heard this one before — planks are the best ab exercise. But Dr. Wayne Westcott argues to the American Council on Exercise that planks aren’t really the best way to build muscle strength. Westcott states any plank held beyond 90 seconds isn’t doing your core any favors, and it can also put a lot of pressure on your spine.

I still perform planks from time to time, but I make sure they vary. These variations are a good place to start.

4. Add extra resistance

A woman with a pink sports bra and black pants stands with her hands on her hips.

Get your dream abs without the bulk. | Jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images

To make your muscles bigger and stronger, you’ll want to steadily increase your weight load over time. You can do this with your abs, too — weighted side bends and Russian twists with a dumbbell provide opportunities for adding more resistance. But Livestrong.com reminds us too much growth around the abs and obliques can leave you with a blocky appearance, and additional weight isn’t really necessary to begin with.

I tend to shy away from weighted ab exercises and focus instead on my form and duration.

5. Do your reps quickly for the most burn

A woman with toned abs and purple pants stands in front of a wall.

You don’t have to rush your ab workout routine. | Nikolas_jkd/iStock/Getty Images Plus

If you’re used to doing your bicycle crunches at the speed of light, I recommend you stop while you’re ahead. Counting reps is one way to go about your routine, but Coach explains static holds improve the overall strength of all your stabilizer muscles. And strength and conditioning coach Nick Grantham tells the publication slowing down your reps is the best way to see major gains. As for me, I do my ab exercises slowly for maximum burn.

6. Do your ab training first, and then cardio after

A man and woman talk while using treadmill machines.

Feel free to mix up your workout. | Sjale/iStock/Getty Images

There’s a reason most recommend doing strength training before cardio. HuffPost explains this method generally results in a stronger and slimmer physique because you’re burning through your glycogen stores before you even start your cardio session. And this goes for ab training, too — getting your core-strengthening workout out of the way first is generally a good rule of thumb.

As for me, however, I do my best when I get my least-favorite gym activity out of the way first — and that’s cardio. After my interval training, I’m warmed up and ready to take on abs, giving me better results.

7. Breathe through the exercises

A woman does an ab workout on a blue mat.

Holding your breath could help control your movements. | CreativaImages

Breathing while you exercise is incredibly important — no one needs you passing out on your gym mat. But when you’re working your abs, it can actually be beneficial to hold your breath while the muscles contract. Bodybuilding.com comments doing so results in your core working harder during the exercise. Try to exhale exclusively when you’ve completed the range of motion, and then inhale again before your next rep.