Whether or not you should work out your abs every day is a topic hotly debated in the fitness community. Some professionals claim your abs are just like any other muscle that need recovery time between workouts to stimulate growth. Your abs, however, are relatively unique in how they function. And, unless you're adding significant resistance to your ab routine or working them so hard that they are noticeably sore the next day, you're safe to work them every day. But, just because you can work your abs every day doesn't mean it's the most effective way to attain a strong core, flat abs or lean physique.
The Abdominals are a Unique Muscle Group
Your abs engage regularly during the day -- not just during crunches and leg lifts. They serve as the axis of all your activity -- providing you the ability to stabilize, twist and bend. When you stand tall during lunges, balance on one leg in yoga or maintain good posture during a shoulder press, your abs activate. This means you essentially do "work" them every day already, even without meaning to.
Working your abs is quite different than working most of your other muscle groups. During squats, presses and curls, you progressively increase the resistance to provide challenge for muscles to grow. Ab-specific exercises usually involve using just the weight of your torso with a relatively limited range of movement. It's unlikely that you work them hard enough that they actually need a protracted rest.
Daily, Direct Ab Training May Not Be What You Need
Before you crunch, Russian twist and plank daily, take stock of your goals. If you're trying to lose belly fat and get a slim middle, daily ab exercises aren't what you need. No matter how strong your middle muscles are, if there's a layer of fat covering them -- you'll never see a washboard stomach.
Perhaps you don't have a desire to show off magazine-cover six-pack abs, but do want a strong core to protect your back's health, improve daily function and make gains in a sport. Too many ab exercises, without performing ones to strengthen your lower and middle back, encourages the front side of your body to hunch as the abs tighten and shorten. The strong, tight abs also create an imbalance and pull on your back and hamstrings, possibly causing back pain.
Diet and Comprehensive Exercise for Your Abs
To slim down a stout belly, eat a diet consisting mostly of whole, unprocessed foods, such as lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Limiting processed foods and added sugar helps prevent excess fat gain. Consume fewer calories than you burn daily if you have belly fat to lose.
Total-body exercise, including regular high-intensity cardio and strength training -- for all your major muscle groups, not just your abs -- helps burn calories and boost your metabolism. You'll build more muscle, which burns more calories at rest than does fat. A 20-minute comprehensive fitness routine daily will more efficiently tone your belly than just working your abs. Go longer if you have the time and stamina.
When to Work Your Abs
For most people, working the abs three to five times per week is sufficient. Choose a variety of moves to work a range of ab muscles -- not just those you see in the mirror. Effective choices include bicycle crunches, plank holds and anti-rotation exercises. Your abs will also benefit from adding comprehensive core moves, such as bird dogs and cobras, which activate your lower and middle back as well as your abs.