Considering they’re front and centre of the body, it’s no surprise that your abs get a good workout even when you’re not doing exercises that target them directly. Compound moves that transfer power between the lower and upper body hit the abs hard, and they’re an important stabiliser for many exercises from static holds to explosive jumps.

However, while compound exercises like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses will all do your core muscles the world of good, if you want to show off a ridged six-pack, you will also need to do some focused work on your abs. Fortunately, that’s exactly what these four-move circuits are designed to do.

There are three six-pack sessions below, each of which focuses on a different area of your abs. One is all about the upper abs, one hits the lower, and one concentrates on the obliques – also known as the side abs – and deep-lying core muscles. You don’t need to set aside a special visit to the gym to do these; just add one of them on at the end of your main workout to ensure your abs get the attention they require, although you can also do them as quick stand-alone abs blasts.

How it Works

Each of these abs workouts is a mini-circuit you can do at the end of your main workout. The circuits are designed to work the maximum number of muscle fibres as quickly and effectively as possible, so you’ll do all four moves in order, sticking to the reps and rest periods detailed. The first move of each circuit is the hardest, then they get progressively easier as the number of reps per move increases. This works your abs harder and places them under greater tension for longer, which is ultimately what stimulates muscle growth. After the final move, rest for the allotted time, then repeat the circuit. Do three circuits in total.

Upper Abs Workout

1 Dumbbell crunch

Upper abs workout: Dumbbell crunch

Reps 10 Rest 10sec

Hold a dumbbell or weight plate across your chest with both hands. Maintain tension in your upper abs as you lift, then lower, your torso.

2 Tuck and crunch

Upper abs workout: Modified V-sit

Reps 15 Rest 10sec

Keep your fingers to your temples and initiate each rep smoothly without jerking your torso up. Don’t let your feet touch the floor between reps.

3 Modified V-sit

Upper abs workout: Tuck and crunch

Reps 12 Rest 10sec

Keep your arms straight as you raise your torso so that your chest meets your knees at the top of the move. Then lower under control.


Upper abs workout: Crunch

Reps 20 Rest 90sec

Your upper abs will already be close to fatigue but try to hold the top position of each rep for at least one second to make them work as hard as possible.

Lower Abs Workout

1?Hanging leg raise

Lower abs workout: Hanging leg raise

Reps 10 Rest 10sec

Start in a dead hang with your legs straight with knees and ankles touching. Keep them together as your use your lower abs to raise them, then lower back to the start under control.

2 Hanging knee raise twist

Lower abs workout: Hanging knee raise twist

Reps 12 each side Rest 10sec

Start with your legs straight and knees together. Twist your body and raise your knees up and to one side, then return to the start. Continue, alternating sides.

3?Hanging knee raise

Lower abs workout: Hanging knee raise

Reps 15 Rest 10sec

Raise your knees powerfully to activate more of the muscle fibres in the lower abs. Lower back to the start under control to prevent swinging.

4 Garhammer raise

Lower abs workout: Garhammer raise

Reps 20 Rest 90sec

Start with your knees already raised, then lift them as high as you can. Lower back to the start under control, keeping your abs engaged throughout.

Obliques And Core Workout

1 Decline plank with foot touch

Obliques and core workout: Decline plank with foot touch

Reps 10 each side Rest 10sec

Start with your hips raised and core engaged, then lift one foot off the bench and move it to the side to touch the floor. Return it to the bench. Continue, alternating sides.

2 Seated Russian twist

Obliques and core workout: Seated Russian twist

Reps 12 each side Rest 10sec

Start at the top of the crunch position so your abs are fully engaged. Turn from side to side smoothly and under control.

3?Bicycle crunches

Obliques and core workout: Bicycle

Reps 15 each side Rest 10sec

Lie on your back and bring your opposite elbow and knee together, alternating sides. Keep your shoulders and feet off the ground to force your abs to work to stabilise your torso.


Obliques and core workout: Plank

Time Max Rest 90sec

Keep your hips up, glutes and core braced, and head and neck relaxed. Breathe slowly and deeply to hold the position for as long as possible.

Abs Training Tips

Look beyond deadlifts

In this CrossFit-and-strongman era, it’s a common claim that deadlifts are all the abs work you need. Dead wrong. In fact, the most recent study to compare key exercises found that press-ups and plank holds beat even heavy back squats and deadlifts for core activation. Although the weighted movements produced the most force on the lower back, the bodyweight moves proved most effective for the rectus abdominis and external obliques.

What’s the frequency?

Once upon a time, the myth was that, as “endurance” muscles, the abs should be trained every day. Now it’s more common to encounter claims that you only need one dedicated core?workout a week – but the truth lies somewhere in between. “Two or three abs workouts a week might be optimal for most people,” says trainer Jonny Jacobs. “Breaking it up into separate days – for static, anti-rotation work and dynamic movements – is one good option.”

Bringing flexion back

You should know by now that doing hundreds of sit-ups is doing nothing good for your back, but that doesn’t mean you ought to ditch spinal flexion entirely. In 2017, back health expert Dr Stuart McGill co-authored a paper explaining: “If flexibility is important… the trainer may want to select full-range curl-ups and crunches…if maximal muscular development is the goal, including the crunch and its variations may help.” A few are fine.