Abs Training for Strength and Definition

Since we’re fed images of ripped models and athletes by the media, we may be cornered into thinking a six-pack is the ideal. But for most of us, abs training means achieving a strong, protective core along with a body composition we’re comfortable with.

Reverse crunches are my favorite for lower abs

Yes, I am talking about your “core” here, not just your abs. The term “core” is used to define the area that controls our center of gravity – the abs, lower back, glutes, lats, and hips –the stabilization and movement center of your body. A weak core can cause other muscles to overcompensate, work inefficiently, and, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine:

“A weak core is a fundamental problem that causes inefficient movement and can lead to predictable patterns of injury.” 

Do you have low-back pain? Studies show that people with chronic low back pain (85% of U.S. adults) have weak core stabilization muscles. You need your core muscles to be endurance rock stars to protect your back, and this means integrating plenty of stabilization exercises into your workout. Letting your body be unstable and fighting against gravity is one of the best things you can do for your body.

This should all be enough reason to strengthen your core. But you also want them to look good, right?

What Does Ab Definition Mean to YOU?

There’s nothing wrong with simply wanting to look good in clothes while not having an obvious pooch. Seeing ab definition is hard to attain and maintain; even fitness competitors lean out close to competition and don’t have perfect abs year round. Seeing abs definition also has to do with genetics – you may need to have extremely low body fat to see your lower abs. And a six-pack isn’t just about abs training; you have to follow a strict clean eating diet to see your abs.

So if being strong and having some upper ab and oblique definition is what you want, you’ll need to dedicate some abs training to strengthening your stabilization muscles and a clean diet.

Abs Training Protocol

Most of the following exercises train your entire core, not just your abs. Train your abs as you would any muscle group, leaving a day of rest in between.

Tip: Use the drawing-in maneuver to increase pelvic stabilization and protect your lower back. Draw in the area just below your naval into your spine when you perform these exercises and throughout the day. 


If you’re new to training, do one to two sets for 10-15 reps, working up to three sets.


If you’ve been working out at least six months and lift weights, perform two sets each for 20-30 reps.

  • Back Extension. Works low back, hamstrings, and glutes – thus your core.
  • Side Plank (obliques). These are harder than regular planks but are very effective at firming up your sides.
  • Woodchop (obliques – medicine ball or cable). You can also do this side-to-side.
  • Hanging Leg Raise. Can progress to straight legs.


If you’ve been working out consistently for at least a year and don’t have low-back problems, perform three sets of each for 15-20 reps.

This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.

18 thoughts on “Abs Training for Strength and Definition

  1. I do SO much ab work and I’ve tried really hard this winter to strengthen my core. I have noticed my efforts and I’m happy with it but at the same time I still have flab and loose skin on my stomach instead of abs. 😦 I wish that would improve!


    • Lisa, you’ve lost over 100 pounds so it’s not surprising you have loose skin there now. Options I’ve heard of are creams to help stimulate blood flow and surgery, but of course continuing core work is important too. Don’t get discouraged… you have already done amazing things with your body and there are still more to come.


  2. Thanks Suzanne! I know it’s pretty normal for people who have lost a lot. Eventually surgery will be the option but I’d rather do that AFTER I have kids someday. 🙂


  3. As I sit here reading this, I realize my lower back hurts. Remind me again about how this is a project. I am SO impatient.

    deep breath

    Okay, I will definitely start with the beginners. Can I do these every day?


    • No, please do not do these every day. You need to rest a day between, so 2-3 times a week is enough. Yes, this is a project. You are already on it with the stability routine but you need to do some core work too. Good job lady.


  4. cool! Thanks so much, Suzanne. I’ve needed some guidance for a LONG time now, but I am a stubborn b*tch and it takes a while for me to admit I can’t do everything on my own..


  5. Good morning Suzanne,

    I found your blog via twitter this morning while doing a fitness search. #fitbloggin

    Wow! You’ve got some awesome tips and info here. I’m going to try the Rotation Chest Pass tomorrow at the gym. That’s a variation of the exercise I haven’t seen before. As you know, it’s crucial to keep things fresh and interesting. 🙂

    Have a great day!



    • It’s so nice to connect Marcello, thanks for stopping by. I love variety too and hardly ever do the same thing two days in a row. What I enjoy lately is simply progressing the same exercise!


  6. Yeah, I would agree that seeing those abs has to do with low body fat. I used to think the way to a flat stomach and visible abs was doing 1,000 situps and not adjusting my diet. It wasn’t until I really started paying attention to what I was eating that I got good results. I, too, love reverse crunches for the lower abs as it seems to seriously target them especially for those of us (like me) who have had multiple pregnancies.


    • Glad to hear you’ve had good results with the diet + exercise…. Reverse crunches are awesome. I’d probably have to have 2% body fat to see mine, unfortunately!


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