Ab Day At The Gym: How To Do It Properly + Sample Program

ab day at the gym

Training abs at the gym has its benefits, but without a proper diet your training may go unnoticed. Assuming you’re eating properly to lose body fat, your workout program can be designed to help you uncover ab muscles and fuel performance. 

But, do you NEED to spend an entire hour training abs?

Devoting an entire workout day strictly to direct ab training is not necessary, however taking 15-20 minutes a few days a week to train abs can be beneficial to your overall fitness, strength, and waistline.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of training abs at the gym, how to incorporate them into your workouts, and share with you 20+ ab exercises to target the abs using bodyweight and a variety of machines and equipment.

Ideally, you would train abs both directly (ab exercises) and indirectly (compound exercise) in a program designed to help you gain muscle and strength. If you are looking for such programs, let Fitbod build your custom workout plan that also includes all the progressions from day to day to keep your results going.

Should You Have A Dedicated Ab Day At The Gym?

It is not necessary to train the abs for an entire hour workout session.  Rather, you can train the abs directly multiple times per week after other muscle groups. 

Generally speaking, taking 15-20 minutes, a few times a week after your main lifts or on lighter days (such as arms and abs day) will do wonders for your ab strength and muscle development. 

Related Article: Should You Do Abs Every Day At The Gym?

Benefits of Training Abs At The Gym

benefits of training abs at the gym

While you do get a lot of core training from including compound exercises into your program, you can certainly find additional benefits when training abs directly as well.

Below are three main benefits of training abs through targeted exercises. 

You Won’t Skip Them If They Are Programmed

We have all said we will train abs when we finish our squats or something else. 

While some of you may be stronger willed than others, it can be difficult to train small muscle groups after a hard grueling session. 

When you program them on a given day, or even on a day where it is the main focus, you may be more apt to train them with the intensity and focus they deserve.

Can Help Improve Core Stability for Compound Exercises

Building stronger abs and obliques can help you stabilize your torso under heavy compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and presses. 

Sure, you could train those lifts and not do any additional ab direct training, but you may be leaving some gains on the table. 

Just like how you add leg presses and lunges to help you squat more (or at least you should be doing those), adding some direct ab exercises in your workouts also has its benefits.

Related Article: 17 Resistance Band Core Exercises

Improve Lower Back Pain and Posture

Stronger abs help improve lower back pain and posture, as they work to add stability under loads, decrease excessive lumbar extension, and help improve your posture throughout daily life. 

Lower back pain can be impairing, and with the right ab training you can build core strength, help establish better pelvic stability and control, and progressively improve posture and lower back health.


Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.


25 Core Exercises For Ab Day At The Gym

Below I’ll discuss how to target the abs with a variety of equipment, such as bodyweight, pull up bars, cables, bosu balls, dumbbells, and barbells.

Bodyweight Ab Exercises

Bodyweight ab exercises are great for any level of fitness, and can be done literally anywhere. Below are a few of the best bodyweight ab exercises to target the abs at any level.

1. Bodyweight Deadbug

How To

  • Lie on your back with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees and feet off the floor. Your arms should be extended upwards. This exercise is great for teaching core stability and bracing.
  • To do this, actively push your lower back into the floor, minimizing lumbar extension, and then extend your left leg and right arm towards the floor (extend them away from your body).
  • Pull them back into the start position, and then repeat with the other side, making sure to never let  the lower back come off the floor.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, place a cable attachment around your leg or arms, and work against resistance to pull the limbs back and forth. You can also do these slowly to increase the time under tension of the movement.

Making it Easier

If you are having trouble keeping your lower back on the floor as you move your limbs, then simply hold the start position (feet and arms up off the floor) for time, without doing any limb movement.

2. Bodyweight Sit Up

How To

  • Lie on your back, with your legs either extended in front of you or your knees bent with the feet on the floor. The key is to not let your lower back come off the floor at the bottom of the movement (lumbar extension).
  • To do this, place your hands across your chest, and curl your body upwards until your torso is upright and your shoulders are stacked above your hips, then slowly lower yourself to the start position.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, you can hold a dumbbell or medicine ball on the chest to add external loading. You can also do these on a decline bench to increase the range of motion.

Making it Easier

If you cannot do bodyweight sit ups, you can always do a bodyweight crunch, which is the first half of this movement. To do a crunch, you will sit up just until your middle and upper back are off the floor, keeping your lower back on the ground at all times.

3. Bodyweight Plank

How To

  • The bodyweight plank can be done either from the elbows or the fully extended arm position. To do this, place your feet together and fully extend the legs and hips, making sure that your lower back is flat (not hyperextended).
  • With your elbows on the ground, or your arms fully extended and wrists under the shoulders, pull the belly button into the body and hold the plank position for time.

Making It Harder

You can make this harder by holding the plank for longer periods of time, or by adding external load to the back, such as pacing weights on the back or manual resistance.

Making it Easier

If you are struggling to maintain good posture (or if your lower back hurts), you can do an incline plank. To do this, perform a plank, however have your hands planted on a bench or box, making your torso more upright.

4. Bodyweight Leg Raise

How To

  • The leg lift is done by lying on your back, with your feet out in front of you fully extended, resting on the floor.
  • Push your lower back into the ground, as you would in a dead bug or sit up. Lift your legs upwards, until the feet are above the hips, then slowly lower them downwards.
  • Be sure to not let the lower back extend or come off the ground.

Making It Harder

If you find these too easy, you can make them harder by progressing them into a V-up or a Dragonfly (keep reading).

Making it Easier

To make these easier, you can first start by lifting only one leg up at a time. If this is still too difficult, do a knee pull in rather than leg lift, which is done by pulling the knees into the chest.

5. Bodyweight V-Up

Start by lying on your back with your feet fully and arms fully extended away from you, resting on the floor. Lift your legs and arms together, so that they come together above your hips or stomach, creating a V-shape with your body. Lower your legs and arms slowly, then repeat.

How To

  • Start by lying on your back with your feet fully and arms fully extended away from you, resting on the floor.
  • Lift your legs and arms together, so that they come together above your hips or stomach, creating a V-shape with your body.
  • Lower your legs and arms slowly, then repeat.

Making It Harder

To make this harder you can add a long pause at the top of the V-up (isometrics). You can also do V-ups while holding a weight in your hands, making it also like a weighted sit up.

Making it Easier

If you cannot do a V-up properly, or if you feel it in your lower back, you should regress the movement. To make the V-up easier, start by lifting only one leg at a time, and keep the other leg on the ground. You can also restrict the range of motion of the movement, such as not being your legs and arms as high above your body.

6. Bodyweight Dragonfly

How To

  • To do this, you will perform a lying leg raise, however instead of stopping with the legs lifted to the upright position, you will also add a hip lift, which will have you reaching the toes as high as you can into the air.
  • With the legs and hips lifted off the ground, you will then slowly lower the legs down by extending them as far away from your body as you can. 

Making It Harder

This is one of the most challenging bodyweight ab exercises out there. If you wanted to make it harder, you could slow down the lowering phase of the movement, making the eccentric the main emphasis (even more so). You could also do these lying on a bench, with the legs hanging off to allow for a great range of motion.

Making it Easier

If you cannot do these, first I would try the V-up and leg lifts. Once you have done these,then you need to do the Dragonfly, but rather than keep the legs fully locked out the whole time, you could perform a knee pull into the chest, then extend your legs upwards and lift the hips. This will decrease the amount of leverage you need to overcome in the lift, and then you can either come down the same way or keep the legs extended and lower them as normal.

Pull-Up Bar Ab Exercises

The pull up bar allows you to fully extend and flex the hips from the hanging position, and often allows you to get a wider range of motion in your movements. 

The pull up bar does require additional grip strength and core stability, as you need to hold your body in position throughout the entire movement.

Related Article: 3 Best Ab Workouts You Can Do On A Pull Up Bar

7. Hanging Leg Raise 

How To

  • To perform this movement, start by hanging from a pull up bar, with your legs pressed together and fully extended toward the floor.
  • Pull your belly button inwards to achieve the core and not allow the lower back to go into excessive exertion.
  • Lift the legs upwards out in front of you, to hip level or higher (toes to bar).
  • Slowly lower the legs down to the start position, making sure to not relax at the bottom or use momentum to swing the legs back up.

Making It Harder

You can make this harder by slowing the movement down, performing more reps, or taking the leg raise higher in the air (increase range of motion). To increase the range of motion, take your toes to the bar if you can, without using momentum or leg swing. Lastly, you can make this a serious muscle building exercise by going slower in the eccentric phase of the movement.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, you can do knee tucks, or lift one leg at a time. If you still are struggling to hang from the bar, you can do lying leg raises on the floor, and pair them with hanging from the bar (to build grip strength) to bridge the gap until you are ready.

8. Hanging Knees Tucks

How To

  • To perform the hanging knee tuck, you will do everything you would in the hanging leg raise, with the only difference being that you are pulling your knees to your chest rather than lifting the legs out front.
  • This will be slightly easier to do, however still a super effective ab exercise.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, bend the knees less and turn this movement into a leg lift with slightly bent knees. The more the knees are bent, the easier the movements will be (in comparison to the straight leg raise).

Making it Easier

To make this easier, you can do these with one leg at a time, or do the knee tuck or leg raise variation from the floor.

9. Strict Toes to Bar 

How To

  • This is done by doing a straight leg raise, but instead of stopping the lift at hip height, you lift the toes all the way up to the bar without swinging your body.

Making It Harder

You can make this harder by doing the movement slowly, without any momentum. On the way down, lower the legs slowly, and keep them extended as far away from you as possible.

Making it Easier

If you cannot do these, you can bend the knees slightly to make the movement easier. You can also do lying V-ups on the floor to have a similar benefit without hanging from a pull up bar.

Cable Machine Ab Exercises

Cables offer you the opportunity to train the abs and obliques from a variety of angles, and also incorporate rotational core training. Lastly, the cables allow you to add external loading to all movements, which makes it great for adjusting levels of resistance for all levels.

10. Cable Sit Up

How To

  • To do this, you will start by lying on your back and facing aways from the cable system. Be far enough away that you can reach back and grab a rope attachment.
  • Perform a sit up, haling the rope attachment behind the head.
  • Make sure at the bottom you are far enough away from the cable weight stack that the abs are still loaded under tension as you are lying on the floor.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, add more weight. You can also slow the eccentric phase down.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, use less weight. You can also limit the range of motion and do crunches. If you cannot do regular bodyweight sit ups properly, then master those first.

11. Cable Crunch 

How To

  • Start by facing the cable stack, and setting the pulley height to the tallest position, with a rope attachment (or other attachment you find comfortable that allows you to use two hands).
  • Take a knee sling position, facing the weight stack, and grab the rope attachment with both hands.
  • With the hands by the ears, and holding the rope, the weight stack should already be lifted and have tension.
  • Flex the upper back and spine to perform a crunch, taking the elbows to the front of the hips (hands still be the ears), then come up slowly and repeat.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, add more weight and slow down the movement. You can also perform teh crunch all the way to the ground, rather than stopping about half way.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, use less weight.

12. Cable Wood Chopper

How To

  • Stand to the side of the cable machine, and set the pulley either at head level, chest level, or knee level.
  • With a single handle attachment, grab the handle and step out away from the stack a few feet (2-3 feet) until you have tension on the cables. The hands should be closest to the weight stack, off to your side.
  • Rotate the body in place and move the hands from one side of the body to the other, with straight elbows, as if you were swinging a bat or tennis racket.
  • If you have the pulley at head level, you will pull the hands downwards, let your body bend as well to keep the back flat. If the pulley is at chest level, rotate straight across. If the pulling is at knee level to start, you will rotate and move the hands upwards.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, add weight.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, use less weight.

13. Cable Pallof Press

How To

  • Set yourself up like you would a cable woodchopper with the pulley at chest height.
  • Grab the handle and pull the hands to the chest, making sure the weight stack is lifted.
  • With your turned 90 degrees from the weight stack, reach the arms directly out in front of you, and pull the belly button inwards to achieve the core. This is an isometric core hold, with resistance trying to rotate the hips and body. You can perform holds for time, or you can press and pull the hands back into the body for reps.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, you can add more resistance. Additionally, you can perform this movement from the knees, which will not allow you to use your lower body for support, and will emphasize proper pelvic positioning.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, use less weight.

Bosu Ball Ab Exercises

The bosu ball can be a helpful ab exercise tool as it requires you to use stability to perform the movement on an unstable surface. 

Keep in mind that while training on an unstable surface does have benefits, if strength and muscle growth is the goal, adding in weighted training exercise done on stable surfaces will also offer immense benefits.

Related Article: 30-Min Outdoor Ab Workouts

14. Bosu Ball Sit Up 

How To

  • Start by lying on your back on the bosu ball. The ball should be resting on your lower to mid back. The higher the ball is on your back, the easier it will be.
  • Perform a sit up, making sure to keep your hips somewhat supported on the ball as you sit up.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, you can increase the range of motion by having more of your upper body and torso hanging off the back of the ball. You can also add weight and external loading like plates, dumbbells, or even combining this movement with the cable sit up (perform the cable sit up while on a Bosu ball)..

Making it Easier

To make this easier, have less of your upper back off the ball, or restrict the range of motion. If you are having issues due to lack of ab strength, do sit ups on the floor. If you lack the stability and balance, keep training and it will come.

15. Bosu Ball Plank

How To

  • This is done by placing your feet onto the ball, with your hands on the floor, in the top of the plank position. The bosu ball plank requires you to stabilize the hips and body, as the ball is unstable. This increases the demand on the core muscles.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, you can increase the amount of loading on your back (like a weighted plank). You can also perform plank pull ins (see below).

Making it Easier

If you cannot do these, then you can try the regressed bosu ball plank, which has you place the feet on the floor, and the elbows on the ball. This gives you slightly more stability (as your feet are grounded), yet still less stability than a standard floor plank.

16. Bosu Ball Knee Tucks 

How To

  • Start at the tip of the bosu ball plank, with the feet on the ball and the arms fully extended and hands on the ground.
  • To start, stabilize the body and torso, and pull the knees into the chest, rolling the bosu ball into you. You may also need to lift the hips some to make room for the ball to roll under you body.
  • Hold the tucked position, then extend the legs back upwards into the start position, and repeat.

Making It Harder

You can make this harder by increasing the reps, slowing down the roll out, or doing the rolling by keeping the knees straight and lifting the hips (pike).

Making it Easier

You can limit the range of motion of the roll in and slowly progress to where you are able to roll the ball in so that the knees touch the chest.

17. Bosu Ball Pike

How To

  • This exercise is very similar to the bosu ball roll in, however you will lift the hips and keep the knees straight as you roll the ball in, creating an “A” with your torso. You will invert yourself.

Making It Harder

You can do this for more reps, or go slower during the eccentric lowering phase.

Making it Easier

You can limit the range of motion of the roll in or regress back to the knee pull in.

TRX Ab Exercises

The TRX ab exercises are very similar to the bosu ball exercises listed above, and offer many of the same benefits.

18. TRX Plank

How To

  • To perform this exercise, place your feet in the TRX foot straps and assume a plank position. Your feet should be roughly 6-12 inches off the ground, depending on whether or not you are doing an elbow plank or a plank with your arms fully extended. You can adjust the strap height accordingly.

Making It Harder

To make this exercise harder, you can add weight to the body once set up, as you would a normal weighted plank.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, either perform a plank without the TRX straps, or perform a bodyweight plank with the feet on the floor and arms or elbows on an elevated surface. The more elevated your upper body is in relation to the feet, the easier the plank will be.

19. TRX Knee Tucks

How To

  • Perform this exercise in the exact manner you would with the bosu ball. The only difference is that you will place your feet in the foot straps rather than on the ball.

Making It Harder

You can do these for more reps, with slower repetitions, or perform a TRX pike.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, try pulling in one leg at a time, leaving the other leg fully extended out. If you still cannot perform these try a lying knee tuck without the traps (lying on your back).

20. TRX Pike

How To

Perform this exercise in the exact manner you would with the bosu ball. The only difference is that you will place your feet in the foot straps, rather than on the ball.

Making It Harder

You can do these for more reps or with slower repetitions. If you still find these too easy, then try performing the bodyweight dragonfly..

Making it Easier

To make this easier you can place a slight bend in the knees. If this is still too difficult, then perform knee tucks

21. TRX WoodChopper 

How To

  • Start by grabbing the TRX handles (both) and hold them in front of you, as you turn your body 90 degrees from the straps (facing sideways).
  • Split your feet and walk them under the straps. The more you walk your feet under the anchor point, the more your body will be at an angle, and the harder this movement will become.
  • With your hands out in front of you, let the arms rotate towards the TRX anchor, and turn your body to face the anchor point by pivoting you feet.
  • Then, pull the hands back to the starting point and rotate the body back to the original set up.
  • Repeat on both sides.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, walk your feet more underneath the anchor point. Make sure to keep your arms as straight as possible.

Making it Easier

Walk your feet out from under the anchor point, to make your torso as upright as possible (the more you are leaning the harder the exercise).

Barbell & Dumbbell Ab Exercises

The barbell and dumbbell can be used to add loading to common ab excesses, such as most of the bodyweight exercises. 

The key is to add loading to movements that are already done with good form. Adding loading to ab training is a critical way to further develop muscle strength and core stability.

22. Barbell Sit Up

How To

  • Start by lying on the floor with a barbell in your hands, as if you were going to perform a barbell floor press.
  • With your feet anchored, perform a sit up by reaching your hands upwards, pushing the barbell to the sky.
  • You should end in the seated upright position with the barbell directly overhead.

Making It Harder

You can make this harder by adding weight to the barbell, and by slowing down the movement during the lowering phase (eccentric).

Making it Easier

To make this easier, use less weight. If you cannot go any lighter, then use a dumbbell instead of a barbell.

23. Dumbbell Sit Up

How To

Lie on your back with a dumbbell resting on your chest. Perform a sit up, keeping the dumbbell high on your chest, then slowly lower yourself back down to the ground and repeat.

Making It Harder

You can make these harder by adding more weight to the movement. Additionally, you can perform dumbbell sit ups from a decline or increase the range of motion.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, use lighter weights. If you still cannot perform weighted sit ups, then perform bodyweight sit ups. 

24. Dumbbell Weighted Side Plank

How To

Perform a side plank, which is like a plank but you are turned to your side, with your elbow or hand on the ground. This exercise has you then place a weighted dumbbell on the side of your hips, to add weight. Do one side, then repeat for time on the other side.

Making It Harder

To make this harder, add more weight.

Making it Easier

To make this easier, use less weights or do a bodyweight side plank.

25. Dumbbell Side Bench

How To

  • Start by standing upright, holding one dumbbell in one hand only. You will feel the dumbbell wanting to pull your torso over to that side.
  • To start the movement, stand tall, and bend laterally in the direction of the dumbbell, making sure not to lean forwards or backwards. You should feel  stretch on the opposite side of the torso (obliques).
  • Once you have that full stretch, use the obliques to come upright and then lean to the other side, working against the dumbbell weight, like a side crunch

Making It Harder

To make this harder, slow the movement down and work through a full range of motion. From there, you can add more renaissance by holding a heavier dumbbell.

Making it Easier

Make this easier by using less weight.

Ab Day At The Gym: 3 Sample Workouts

3 sample ab workouts

Below are three sample ab workouts you can do to target the ab muscles. 

Each of these workouts should take 15-20 minutes to complete and can be added to the end of a workout or done exclusively on your next ab day at the gym.

Bodyweight Only Ab Workout

  • Bodyweight Dragonflies: 3 sets to Failure (no more than 15), slow lowering. If you cannot do these, then perform lying leg lifts (add a reach as well) with slow lowering
  • Bodyweight Sit Up: 3 sets of 15-20 reps, pause at the top to get a max contraction on the abs. If you cannot do these, then do bodyweight crunches.
  • Bodyweight Plank: 3 sets of 60-90 seconds

Strength-Based Ab Workout

  • Dumbbell Sit Up: 3 sets of 10 reps, slow lowering. Do these on a decline bench to make it even harder. If you cannot do more than 10 sit ups with weight, then go lighter or just use bodyweight.
  • Cable Crunch: 3 sets of 10 reps, pause at the bottom to get a max contraction on the abs.
  • Weighted Plank: 3 sets of 30 seconds, add weight to your back by adding weight plates to them. Go heavy.

Cable Ab Workout

  • Cable Pallof Press: 3 sets of 30-45 seconds per side, either holding hands in front, or holding and adding presses. 
  • Cable Sit Up: 3 sets of 10-15 reps, slow lowering. Do these on a decline bench to make it even harder. If you cannot do more than 10 sit ups with weight, then go lighter or just use bodyweight.
  • Cable WoodChoppers: 3 sets of 15-20 reps per side

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.


Other Core Training Articles

Final Thoughts

Spending a whole day devoted to direct ab training may not be the most efficient training split, nor a necessary part of getting stronger core muscles and defined abs. 

Adding 1-3 ab exercises of your choosing a few times a week to you recurrent workout routine will be enough to buil scores strength, especially when you are also performing compound heavy exercises.


About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.