top of page

Why Your Ab Workouts Don’t Work

The saying "abs are formed in the kitchen" may be true, but it only partially explains why so many individuals undertake countless ab workouts without getting the desired results.

More planks and crunches, anyone? Just because you put time and effort into working out a specific body region, doesn't imply your body will respond the way you expect. While your appearance will always be influenced by your genes, your largest obstacle is likely to be the activities you choose and the way in which you use your muscles while executing them.


Most core exercises are simple to "feel," in contrast to other exercises where it may be difficult to determine whether you are performing an activity correctly. And because of it, it's simple to believe that your efforts are paying off.

But, what you don’t realise is that how you perform the exercises you choose — no matter how much they burn — make a big difference in the results you see.

Think of them as the guidelines for ab exercises that work. By adhering to them, you can be confident that the workouts you perform will help your body function at its peak and prevent ailments like lower back discomfort.

Core Rule #1: Create Tension in Your Abs

The rectus abdominus, sometimes known as your 6-pack muscle, which runs down the front of your body, is typically all that comes to mind when people think about bracing their abs. This is excellent if you're about to take a punch to the belly, but it also typically entails some spinal flexion (imagine rounding your back) and a reduction in the activity of other spinal supporting muscles.

Using all of your muscles, not just the ones you think of when you look in the mirror, will help you build the strongest core possible.

To preserve your spine and avoid injury while deadlifting heavy weights while standing up, you'll need a lot more than just your six-pack.

How to Build Ab Tension

Try this: wherever you are, sit up straight and place your hands on your lower back, one on each side of your spine and flat to the muscles next to it.

See what you can feel under your palms by flexing your abs.

If you didn't experience anything, you're probably only flexing your spine and not engaging your entire spinal column. Retry your flex, but this time make sure all of the muscles in the area surrounding your waist are included. What you hope to encounter is as follows:

Feel your ribs draw in towards your midsection.

Push your shoulders back a little bit.

Feel your lower back contracting beneath your hands, all the while feeling immensely powerful and strong.

You want to try to imitate this experience with your exercises. Now comes the challenging part. Don't let the tension slip when you inhale and exhale. (Also referred to as bracing.

It's problematic because excessively tight bracing will prevent you from breathing, but if you didn't breathe, you probably wouldn't do as well during longer-duration exercise. Not to mention, unless you want to appear in the upcoming trending YouTube video, you should generally avoid passing out in the gym.

Core Rule #2: Activate Your Glutes During Core Exercises

Flex your glutes when doing core workouts if you want to feel your abs burn like never before. Although using a muscle group on the other side of your body may seem illogical, your glutes have distinct purposes that influence the way your abs work.

In addition to causing hip extension, the glutes also force your pelvis to "tilt posteriorly." Imagine trying to twist your hips in this motion to bring your tailbone up towards your knees. There is significant ab activity with this posterior tilt.

How to Activate your Glutes

Plank while squeezing your glutes as firmly as you can to notice what happens to your abs. Squeeze your armpits as well by pressing your forearms into the ground if you want even more tension and absurd amounts of misery (and benefits).

Core Tip #3: Improve Your Mobility

Although it could feel amazing to hold a static stretch for a few seconds or even a minute or more, doing so won't likely make you more mobile. Before you respond, "who cares about your mobility," the truth is: you do, if you care about your abs.

Better stability results from greater movement. Increased muscular activation results from improved stability. The secret to improved abs, more strength, and fewer injuries is increased muscle activation.

One particularly efficient technique involves performing core stability exercises in brief bursts while increasing tension. Anything resembling a plank, side plank, or half-kneeling hold is a core stability exercise.

This concept can be used effectively as part of a warm-up for a workout, or in between challenging sets of more traditional weight training exercises. An example of this would be as follows:

Warm-up version

Perform 3 “reps” of 10-holds of each of the following:

  1. Standard plank

  2. Side plank (3 reps on each side)

  3. ½ kneeling hold with elastic pulling you to the side, each side

  4. Glute bridge, max contractions

Repeat for 2 sets each.

In-between sets version

  1. Exercise A (any move you’re doing in your workout)

  2. Front plank, 3 x 10 seconds

Complete this series as a superset before resting.

  1. Exercise B

  2. Rotational planks, 8 reps each side

Complete this series as a superset before resting.

Exercise C

Glute bridge leg swings, 8 each (Complete this series as a superset before rest)

Core Tip #5: Master Your Breathing

You should breathe drastically differently when performing a max-weight squat, run, sparring match, or participating in yoga. Additionally, understanding how to adjust your breathing to particular tasks can not only improve your performance but also have a surprising core and abs advantage.

Here are a few things to think about depending on the activity you engage in.

How to Breathe During Max Lifts

If you’re looking to lift a max weight, you would likely benefit from taking a massive inhale prior to starting the rep and then holding your breath. You want to squeeze your breath as hard as possible to help increase spinal stability and core pressure to prevent losing control of the weight.

How to Breathe When Sprinting

If sprinting is more up your alley, breathing in a pulsed manner when your foot hits the ground would give you an instantaneous burst of stability and core activity that would help propel you down.

This is preferred over long, slow breathing or holding your breath. This is similar to sparring, where timing your exhales to your punches would help you generate more power and last longer before you run out of steam.

How to Breathe For Yoga

For mobility or activities like yoga, longer and deeper inhales and exhales are ideal. It can be a little tricky to understand, so let’s break it down.

Try this: Sitting up nice and tall, put your hands on your stomach and take a deep long inhale, trying to fill your belly. If done correctly, you should feel your stomach press out into your hands.

Exhale nice and slowly and see how your abdominal muscles feel. They’re likely soft and supple.

Now try to take a big inhale, then close your mouth and squeeze your abs hard, like squeezing a balloon without letting the air out. Your abs will likely feel solid and like you’re not going anywhere. Then, breathe out hard and try to flex the abs as hard as possible while doing it.

Lastly, keeping your hands on your stomach, take a fast hard sniff in through your nose. Feel what your abs did, and then exhale in a sharp, short, and hard breath like a martial artist throwing a jab or punch.

Your abs probably had more of a twitch-type contraction where they saw a massive shapeshift, became rock hard for an instant, and then went back to their resting state. This quick on-off cycle is one of the keys to athleticism and speed development.

These quick and simple tips will not only help you see the difference in better-defined and stronger abs, but you’ll feel the difference when it comes to moving weights, running, and being more athletic.

bottom of page