If you’re wondering if it’s possible to build abs without using weights, the answer is absolutely. No pun intended, we promise.
Of course, adding weights like the best adjustable dumbbells, kettlebells, and resistance bands increases the intensity, but some of the best ab workouts out there are based on body weight alone.
Below, we list three ways to strengthen your abs without weights and why the methods produce results. Just remember that building your abs shouldn’t just be an aesthetic goal—there are various reasons to strengthen your core. Here’s why and how to do it.
Should I train abs with or without weights?
Bodyweight abs workouts are extremely effective at targeting, isolating, and strengthening your core muscles. Some research has shown that bodyweight training helps build lean muscle mass and increases muscle coordination and endurance.
Your core includes various muscle groups, not just your abs. The external (superficial) and internal (deep stabilizer) muscles provide support to the trunk, produce movement, and protect the spine. A strong core could help you lift heavier weights, run with better posture, and prevent injuries.
These muscles wrap around the entire torso. The glutes, hip flexors, and erector spinae (the muscles that hug the spine) are also referred to as core muscles. So while sit-ups and crunches sound tempting, you may be getting more bang for your buck by being smarter with your ab workouts.
If you add weights, the increase in intensity might help build muscle, strength and stability throughout the core musculature, but it’s not make or break. Here are other ways to strengthen your entire core without weights.
3 best ways to strengthen your abs without weights
1. Compound exercises
We love Tom’s Guide ab workouts, but our best tip for building core strength is to add compound exercises.
The difference between isolation and compound exercise is simple: Compound movements are defined as multi-joint, multi-muscular exercises like squats or planks, while isolation exercises target only one muscle group at a time, like crunches. An exercise program that includes compound exercises invariably recruits more muscle, and greater effort could burn more calories.
We’ve made it even easier to plan your workouts by rounding up the 10 best compound exercises for beginners and advanced. These can be done with or without weights and require a lot of core activation to support and coordinate your torso as you move.
You may also improve your chances of burning calories by combining these movements with high-intensity circuits, which activate the EPOC process — when your body uses up more oxygen after a workout, resulting in an increased metabolism.
Calisthenics is a fancy way of saying bodyweight exercise. It is in the functional training camp because exercises, such as sit-ups or pull-ups, closely resemble everyday movements.
Calisthenics can include gymnastics, which is why you’ll find it incorporated into CrossFit and Hyrox workouts—for example, think of a muscle-up or a planche (a floating plank). But what does this have to do with core strength?
Functional bodyweight exercises are one of the best ways to build core without weights. By recruiting only your body weight, you will be calling upon your core muscles to remain stable and mobile during each movement. You may also improve your mobility and build functional muscles and stronger bones and joints.
If you’re new to weightlifting, full-body bodyweight exercises recruit your core muscles heavily, which helps build the core strength needed for weightlifting. Stronger bones, joints and muscles mean you move better with less chance of injury even as you get older. We love this 10 minute bodyweight workout if you need some inspiration.
3. Progressive overload
If you don’t need weights to build core strength, then how do you add intensity?
You’ll need versatility to challenge your ab muscles to adapt and grow. The last few reps of any exercise should feel hard to finish, and if not, here are some ways to increase the intensity.
The progressive overload method is not just about gaining weight. You might slow down the tempo, increase sets, and reduce rest to make a basic exercise more difficult.
Supersets they are an asset to core workouts. Combine two exercises with no rest in between, then rest after each set. This workout from Arnold Schwarzenegger works well and twists muscles all over using cluster sets. Supersets include two exercises, but cluster or giant supersets combine three or more moves.
Another benefit of supersets is that it taps into another method called time under tension, which means you work your muscles longer through a range of motion. For example, try slowing down a sit-up to a count of four as you lower your body and backing down to a count of four as you sit up. Extra effort strains muscles, and we know muscles need challenges to grow.
A great way to combine the above principles is to use a complex. Complexes involve performing each exercise sequentially, one after another. You won’t rest until you complete the set, and you can also add reps each round. Typically, complexes involve weights, like this 5-beat barbell complex workout, but you can use them during core bodyweight workouts as well, and the barbell complex above can be used for inspiration.
Can you build abs without weights?
It’s worth noting that building strength and muscle aren’t the same thing, so you’ll need to determine whether your goal is to build definition or strength in those muscles. You can learn more about hypertrophy versus strength training here.
If muscle definition is the goal, body fat percentage is important. Imagine spending hours cleaning the windows and then drawing the curtains—you can’t see the work, but you know you did.
Regular exercise (including cardio and resistance training) and diet play a huge role in how much fat you store, but so do other factors. High cortisol levels (stress) and poor sleep could be dampening your training efforts. Here are 5 reasons why you still can’t see your abs, despite working out, and how to overcome them.
Should you do sit-ups every day?
As mentioned, you don’t need weights to develop your core, but you do need consistency. Exercising regularly (at least several times a week) is important, but be sure to add enough rest for your muscles to recover.
One way to stay active on rest days is to increase your daily NEAT, adding opportunities to get up or move around during the day; this could boost your metabolism and prevent sedentary habits that lead to weight gain.
We do not recommend daily targeted ab workouts. Your abdominal muscles, like all muscles, need time to repair themselves. That’s when full-body sessions using compound exercises come in handy.
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