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  • Nicola Dale

Isolate Your Abs - Yes or No?

You’ll hear some people say you never need to train abs in isolation whereas other’s will promote workouts which consist of isolated ab exercises only. Thus, it can be a little confusing to figure what’s right. So, should I train abs in isolation?


Below, I’m going to explain how and why I incorporate abdominal exercises into my workouts but remember this is my opinion. At the end of the day it comes down to what you enjoy doing.

To start with I want to clear up that doing 100 sit ups a day alone will not give you visible abs and you cannot spot reduce fat from your stomach. It’s also important to remember that when you see images of super lean individuals, they probably don’t look like that all of the time. Social media is a highlight real, so don’t compare what you look like at the end of the day after dinner to someone’s perfectly angled, flexed photo on Instagram.

Personally, I don’t focus any of my workouts purely around abs, instead I add abdominal work within most of my workouts. This is through a mixture of compound exercises and isolated accessory movements.

Compound Exercises – These are exercises which work multiple muscles groups at the same time. For example, the squat works the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and abdominals (legs & core) and the deadlift works the quads, glutes, hamstrings, lats, traps, rhomboids, abdominals and oblique’s (legs, back & abs).

Accessory Exercises – These are exercises the isolate one muscle group or one side of the body. Think lunges, bicep curls and isolated abdominal exercises like crunches, dead bugs and Russian twists.

One of my favourite ways to add accessory ab work into my workouts is to add a tri set onto the end of my session. I choose 3 ab exercises and complete them for a set number of reps, one after the other without rest. I repeat 3-4 times, resting for 1-2 minutes between rounds. For example:

1. Runners Crunch x 10each side

2. Plank Hip Dips x 10each side

3. Dead bug x 10each side

(Whilst I’ve added a plank variation in with my accessory ab work here, they could also be counted as a compound exercise as they strengthen you back, chest, arms, bum and legs as well).

Alternatively, if my workout for the day is an interval circuit I’ll incorporate abdominal exercises within my exercise selection. For example:

1. Squat into Curtsy Lunge

2. Plank Shoulder Taps

3. Rotating Push Ups

4. Reverse Lunge with Knee Drive

5. Plank Up Downs

Perform each exercise for 30secs, rest for 30secs. 5 rounds, 1-2mins rest between rounds.

All of these exercises require your core to work, so whilst you’re not solely isolating the abdominals you will definitely feel them burn.

This is just how I choose to train abdominals. I’m sure you’ll get different opinions based on who you talk to and this is where trial and error comes in. What works for one person might not work for another, so the key is to trial different styles, find out what you enjoy and what works for you and stick to it. There are so many different ways to structure your workouts and you can incorporate these movements into any of them, including AMRAP, EMOM and HIIT which I discussed in a previous post. The common ground is consistency. To see any progress, you need to be consistent in whatever way you choose to train.

So, the answer to should I train abs in isolation? Yes and no. I don’t think you should ignore isolated ab exercises all together. Strengthening your core can be beneficial for other exercises and physical activities, reducing risk of injury and improving your posture. But, I don’t think you need to focus entire workouts to your core or train abs every day. Little and often is what I’ve found most efficient for me.

For visual demonstrations of the above exercises and more workouts head over to my instagram @nicolaa_dale. I post a full workout every Wednesday plus mobility, exercise variations and tips throughout the week. Or, type the exercise name into youtube.


How do you like to train your abs? Let me know in the comments below, along with any questions.


Nicola x