How to Strengthen Your Abs

Men can strengthen their abs with consistent targeted resistance exercises

man performing active plank

dima_sidelnikov / Getty Images

Strengthening your abs is an excellent way to support your overall physical health. Strong abdominal muscles work with the rest of your core to stabilize your spine and hips and help provide power for upper and lower body movements.

Over time, you may lose the strength or muscle size you once had in your abs if you've stepped away from consistent training. If you are concerned about the strength of your abs, adding strength training movements to your routine specifically for these muscles will help.

Exercises to Strengthen Your Abs

Below are some of the best exercises you can do to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Incorporate them into a routine that works all the muscle groups of your body, ideally twice per week or more. Leave 24 to 48 hours between training a specific muscle group before you work it again for the best results.

Hanging Leg Raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Hanging leg raises are an excellent exercise for the rectus abdominus, also known as the six-pack muscles.

To do a hanging leg raise, use a captain's chair or pull-up bar. Focus on bringing your ribs to your pelvis, using your abs to lift your legs in the hanging leg raise.

  1. Stand on the platform of the captain's chair and grasp the handles. Alternatively, you can hold onto a pull-up bar.
  2. Press your back into the pad of the captain's chair or hang from a pull-up bar, contracting your core.
  3. Bend your knees, or keep your legs straight for more challenge and focus on moving your ribs to your pelvis causing a contraction that will lift your knees to hip level or your feet out straight in front of you. Do not use momentum or swing your body.
  4. Control your legs for the descent and repeat for desired reps. Aim for 8 to 10.

Pallof Press

Pallof press uses an isometric contraction against a pulling force. It's an anti-rotation exercise because you fight against a rotational force. Everyone should include this type of core exercise in their programming to strengthen the abdominals and core muscles for a functional body.

  1. Stand with your left side beside a cable machine or safely anchored resistance band. Brace your core.
  2. Hold the handle using both hands, then push it straight out in front of you at chest height.
  3. Feel your core muscles fire up as they resist the pulling force. Hold this contraction for a slow count of five, before releasing and slowly returning to starting position.
  4. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps per side.

Cable Crunch

The cable crunch takes the typical crunch exercise and adds adjustable resistance, so you can increase the challenge over time, which is essential for continuing to see progress.

  1. Kneel in front of a cable machine equipped with a rope attachment at the top.
  2. Hold the rope handles at forehead height.
  3. Hinge at the hips and flex your lower back, similar to when a cat arches its back.
  4. Keep your hips in place while you contract your ribs toward your pelvis using your abs. Your elbows should move along the center of your thighs. Hold the contraction for a count of one.
  5.  Return to the starting position slowly with control. Aim for 10 to 15 reps.

RKC Plank

The RKC plank, or active plank, is a plank variation that incorporates active resistance, making it much more effective. The traditional plank is not easily scaled and doesn't provide much external resistance. Using the RKC plank will build strength in your abdominals and entire core.

  1. Get on all fours and activate your abdominal and core muscles.
  2. Keep your core activated and clasp your hands together with your elbows on the floor.
  3. Depress your shoulder blades and contract your shoulder muscles, so you feel as though your elbows, shoulder blades, and forearms are pulling.
  4. Keep your core and shoulders in this contracted state, then extend one leg at about hip-width, creating tension in your glutes.
  5. Extend the other leg the same way slowly and with control, maintaining the contraction.
  6. Keep your glutes up and spine neutral, with your knees straight, creating your isometric hold.
  7. Try 10 seconds of maximal contraction with 30-45 second rest periods.

Simultaneously, pull your toes and legs toward your arms and your arms toward your toes, maintaining a solid position. Your body remains in place, but everything contracts, pulling toward your middle.

Stability Ball Rollout

Ben Goldstein / Verywell

  1. Kneel on the floor with a stability ball in front of you within reach.
  2. Position your forearms on the ball, elbows bent 90 degrees, and your body forming a straight line.
  3. Use your arms to roll the ball forward, straightening out your body with a slow and controlled motion using your abdominal muscles to support the movement.
  4. Reverse the movement slowly by pulling the ball toward the starting position using your core muscles to do so.
  5. Repeat for 10 to 20 reps.

Nutrition That Supports Your Goals

To build strength or muscle size, appropriate nutrition will help you achieve the best results. It's unlikely you will consistently get stronger if you eat too little or are dieting intentionally to lose fat. Fat loss phases help reveal the muscle mass you've previously built, but are not appropriate for increasing strength or muscle.

Ensure that you consume plenty of protein, up to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, when trying to gain muscle and strength. Carbohydrates are also essential for fueling activity and supporting muscle growth. Incorporating enough healthy fats support proper hormonal function.

Do I Need a Six-Pack?

Strong abdominal muscles do not always result in a sculpted six-pack. Having strong, functional abs is much more vital for your overall health than having visible abdominal muscles. However, working on strengthening your muscles can often lead to increasing their size, which makes them more visible at higher body fat percentages.

Keep in mind that abdominal exercises won't create a visible six-pack on their own. Diet and exercise in tandem can lead to visible abs, but this doesn't necessarily mean you are healthier. In fact, some of the methods people take to achieve a six-pack may damage health such as chronically undereating or overexercising.

A Word From Verywell

Building a strong and functional body includes focus on your abdominal muscles. Your abs are part of your core, which is like the powerhouse of your entire body, providing the stability and mobility for moving your limbs. While concern over seeing your six-pack might be present, achieving visible abs doesn't ensure you are strong or healthy. For more help with strengthening your abdominals, you can seek the guidance of a personal trainer.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hsu SL, Oda H, Shirahata S, Watanabe M, Sasaki M. Effects of core strength training on core stabilityJ Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(8):1014-1018. doi:10.1589/jpts.30.1014

  2. Park DJ, Park SY. Which trunk exercise most effectively activates abdominal muscles? A comparative study of plank and isometric bilateral leg raise exercisesBMR. 2019;32(5):797-802. doi:10.3233/BMR-181122

  3. Mullane M, Turner AN, Bishop C. The pallof press. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2021;43(2):121-128. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000596

  4. La Scala Teixeira CV, Evangelista AL, Pereira PE de A, Da Silva-Grigoletto ME, Bocalini DS, Behm DG. Complexity: a novel load progression strategy in strength training. Front Physiol. 2019;10:839.

  5. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Protein and exerciseJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

  6. Craven J, Desbrow B, Sabapathy S, Bellinger P, McCartney D, Irwin C. The effect of consuming carbohydrate with and without protein on the rate of muscle glycogen re-synthesis during short-term post-exercise recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysisSports Med - Open. 2021;7(1):9. doi:10.1186/s40798-020-00297-0

  7. Kolnes KJ, Petersen MH, Lien-Iversen T, Højlund K, Jensen J. Effect of exercise training on fat loss—energetic perspectives and the role of improved adipose tissue function and body fat distributionFront Physiol. 2021;12:737709. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.737709

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.