When people start their fitness journey, getting well-developed abs is usually one of the main goals. I was no different. Looking back, I used to do a ton of crunches in the hopes of getting ripped abs. But I did all of this without putting enough thought into my nutrition.
Now several years of training and coaching experience later, it has become increasingly clear that the key to getting abs is not the number of crunches you do, but how lean you are. We all have a rectus abdominis (the six-pack shaped muscle) and obliques, you just may not be able to see it yet because of stored body fat. So oftentimes the only thing that’s separating you from your six pack is a good fat loss phase that gets rid of the fat on top of your abdominal muscles.
With that said, abdominal training still has its use. Like any muscle, you can train your abdominal muscles to grow. This can help your abdominal muscles become more apparent and “pop-out” more when you get rid of the stored body fat on top of it.
But something to consider with abdominal training is that you still need progressive overload. You can’t constantly do 20-rep flutter kicks or crunches and expect your abs to continuously grow from this. So to help you more effectively train your abs, in this article I’ll show you 3 simple weighted ab exercises that allow you to consistently overload your abdominal muscles.
Weighted Ab Exercise #1: Ab Pulldown
This exercise trains spinal flexion, which is the main function of your rectus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is the “six-pack” shaped muscle of your core. The movement of a cable crunch is quite similar to a regular crunch, but then with a better resistance curve.
In this exercise, you want to focus on fully extending and flexing your spine to train your rectus abdominis with a full range of motion. This may sound counterintuitive since we are taught to keep a neutral spine during most exercises. But in this
case, training spinal flexion is desired and also perfectly safe for those with
no pre-existing back issues.
Focus on bringing your elbows towards your knees during the exercise to effectively flex your spine. In terms of reps and sets, perform 3-4 sets of this exercise with 10-15 reps per set.
Weighted Ab Exercise #2: Wood Chops
This is a great exercise that trains trunk rotation, which helps you develop your obliques. But next to more developed obliques, this is also a great functional exercise. In many strength training programs, the rotational movement pattern gets neglected. Directly training upper body rotation is something that can help you prevent excessive muscle imbalances.
Training rotation is also useful for many sports since you often need to produce force in rotational movement patterns during training or competition.
In terms of performance, set the cable at around chest height and take a big step away from the cable. While keeping your hips mostly stable, rotate your upper body towards the cable machine and come right back to the other side.
You can also set the cable higher or lower to train rotation in a slightly different way. As with the cable ab pulldown, perform 3-4 sets of the cable wood chop with 10-15 reps.
Weighted Ab Exercise #3: Weighted Planks
Planks are another good example of an exercise many people use to train their abs but do not make consistent progress on. But with the help of a partner, you can quite easily overload the plank by adding a plate on your back.
If you would like to focus less on the rectus abdominis and more on your obliques, you could even do weighted side planks. These are a bit easier to load since you can just place a dumbbell around hips and hold the plank position.
The reason I like doing weighted planks is that it can transfer to better performance in your compound lifts as well. For instance, during a compound exercise like the overhead press, your abs need to resist spine extension, just as in a plank. So becoming stronger at planks can help you become more stable during the performance of a few compound exercises.
With the plank, I would aim for 3-4 sets of around 15-20 seconds. Once you can plank for longer than 20 seconds, it’s time to increase the weight.
When To Perform These Exercises
A simple way to structure these weighted ab exercises is by doing one after each of your training sessions. This will allow you to train your abdominal muscles more frequently, which may help develop them more quickly. So, if you have 3 full-body training sessions in a week, you can add a different weighted ab exercise to the end of each session.
If you would prefer to get a more thorough visual explanation of these 3 weighted ab exercises, you can check the YouTube video I made discussing this same topic:
But that’s all for this article! I hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and I’ll get right back to you.