When it comes to abs training, most people tend to gravitate toward bodyweight exercises like crunches and sit-ups. That’s hardly surprising given that the abs are a relatively small group of muscles that isn’t all that strong. For a lot of exercisers, bodyweight abs training is more than intense enough to produce good results, initially at least.
However, while the abs aren’t a particularly powerful muscle group, they will get stronger if you train them regularly. That set of 20 crunches that used to leave you shaking and sore will eventually become too easy to be effective.
Yes, you CAN do more reps, but once you start doing 30, 40, or 50 reps of any exercise, your workouts will soon become too long to be practical. You can also change the length of levers or the angle of your body to make bodyweight abs exercises harder, but those progressions will soon plateau too.
The good news is that there are lots of weighted abs exercises that you can use to develop the midsection of your dreams. Because you can increase the weight a little at a time and almost indefinitely, you can keep making your abs workouts harder without having to do hundreds of reps.
In this article, we reveal seven of the best-weighted abs exercises. You don’t have to give up bodyweight abs training but, if you’re serious about getting the best possible results from your workouts, you’ll probably want to include at least a couple of these moves in your next midsection workout.
Weighted Abs Exercises
Anatomy Of The Abdominal Muscles
The term abs are often misused. When a lot of people talk about abs training, they actually mean the muscles that make up their entire midsection. In contrast, abs are short for rectus abdominis, which is just one of several muscles that make up your core.
The muscles that make up the core are:
Rectus Abdominus – This is the flat muscle on the front of your abdomen that runs from your sternum down to your pubis. Its functions are flexion and lateral flexion of your spine. The abs also compress your abdominal contents. Incidentally, it’s abs and not ab – the abs are always described in their plural form, like biceps.
Obliques – The obliques cross your waist and are responsible for lateral flexion and rotation of your spine. A lot of people avoid training their obliques because they’re worried that they will make their waists thicker.
The structure of the obliques means that they don’t really grow outward. While eating too much and not doing enough exercise will undoubtedly make your waist thicker, things like cable woodchops and side bends won’t.
Transverse Abdominus – while you can’t see your TVA, you’ll be able to feel it working. Encircling your midsection like a weightlifting belt, your TVA contracts inward to create the intra-abdominal pressure that helps to stabilize and support your lumbar spine from within.
Erector Spinae – part of your lower back, the erector spinae helps to stabilize and extend your lumbar spine. This muscle is often forgotten during abs training, but it’s actually very important. If your erector spinae is weak, you won’t be able to work your abs as hard, and some of the best abs exercises could even cause injury if your lower back is not strong enough.
7 Weighted Abdominal Exercises For Shredded Abs
If you want a strong, healthy, aesthetically pleasing midsection, weighted abs exercises are a must. Using external weight means you can train your abs harder than usual and without having to do hundreds of reps.
However, weighted abs exercises are also helpful when you need EASIER core exercises. After all, there is nothing to stop you from using light weights. This is helpful when you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, and even bodyweight abs exercises like crunches or leg lifts are beyond your current abilities.
Here are seven of the best weighted abs exercises.
1. Cable Crunches
Cable crunches mainly work your rectus abdominis, located on the front of your torso. This is an excellent way to progress from standard bodyweight supine crunches.
How to do it:
- First attach a rope handle to an adjustable/high cable machine. Take one end of the handle and kneel down. Pull your hands down to the side of your head and hold them there for the duration of your set.
- Keeping your legs still, flex your spine and pull your shoulders down toward your hips. Your spine should form a C shape. Do not sit forwards and down from your hips. Force your abs to do all the work.
- Sit up tall and then repeat.
2. Cable Woodchops
This exercise mainly works your obliques or waist muscles. Woodchops also teach you to brace and use your midsection to transfer force from your upper body into your legs, which is one of the jobs your core does in nature (like chopping wood with an ax!).
How to do it:
- Attach a D-shaped handle to a high cable machine. Hold the handle in both hands and then stand sideways on.
- Step out and away from the machine with your arms straight, feet about shoulder-width apart, and knees slightly bent. Straighten your arms and keep them locked in place throughout your set.
- Rotate your upper body like a tank turret through 180 degrees. Draw a diagonal line with your hands from high to low, so your hands finish up about hip-height.
- Rotate back to the start and repeat.
- Switch sides and do the same number of reps.
3. Weighted Planks
Planks are a popular abs exercise, but if you can do them for more than a minute or two, they soon become a waste of time. Adding some extra weight makes this exercise harder, more time-efficient and means you have another progression method other than doing them for longer.
How to do it:
- Lie down on your front and rest on your elbows. Your forearms should be pointing forward. Ask a training partner to rest a weight plate on your lower back, just above your butt. Wrap it in a towel for comfort.
- While bracing your abs and lift your hips off the floor, so your shoulders, hips, and knees form a straight line.
- Hold this position (but NOT your breath!) for the prescribed duration.
- Increase the weight if you can plank for 60 seconds or more.
4. Dumbbell Crunches
Crunches are a useful exercise for isolating your rectus abdominus. But, because you’re only lifting your head and shoulders, and the movement is relatively small, crunches can soon become too easy to be beneficial. Use dumbbells to make this exercise productive again.
How to do it:
- Find an open space and lay down on your back with your legs bent and feet flat.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand you are going to press them up and over your shoulders. Note: You may need to anchor your feet to stop any movement.
- Then lift your head and shoulders off the floor and simultaneously push the dumbbells up toward the ceiling.
- Lie back down and repeat.
- Keep your arms straight throughout.
5. Saxon Side Bends
Saxon side bends are named after old-school British strongman Arthur Saxon. This is a challenging weighted abs exercise that works your entire core, so don’t go too heavy too soon.
How to do it:
- Raise and hold a weight above your head, such as a weight plate, barbell, dumbbell, or medicine ball.
- With your selected weight you need to stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart, and knees slightly bent for balance.
- DON’T twist your shoulders or your hips, lean over to the left as far as you can. Stand up straight and then lean to the right.
- Keep leaning left and right for the duration of your set.
6. Barbell Rollouts
Barbell rollouts work your entire core, with a useful emphasis on your rectus abdominis and transverse abdominus. This is a difficult exercise, so don’t use too much weight too soon. However, if you want a strong midsection, this is the exercise to do it.
How to do it:
- Load a barbell with two equally sized weight plates. Secure them in place with collars. Place the barbell on the floor and kneel behind it. Hold the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip, arms straight.
- Brace your abs and roll the bar away from you. Lower your chest down toward the floor but do not allow your hips to drop.
- Pull the barbell back into your knees and repeat.
- The further you roll the barbell away from your legs, the harder this exercise becomes. Reduce your range of motion if you feel this exercise in your lower back.
7. Renegade Row
Renegade rows are often used to build back and biceps strength, but they’re great for your core too. Think of renegade rows as a plank-type movement (not like a rowing machine) with added obliques activation.
How to do it:
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand, squat down and place them on the floor. Walk your feet back and into the push-up position. Brace your abs.
- Bend an arm and row one dumbbell up and into your ribs. You want to keep your hips and shoulders nice and square and your supporting arm straight.
- Put the dumbbell back on the ground and then do the same on the other side.
- Alternate arms for the rest of your set.
- Add a push-up to make this already awesome exercise even better.
If you want a midsection you can be proud of, you had better be ready to do some intense workouts. You need to train your abs from all the angles to ensure that you work all of the muscles that make up your core. A few sets of crunches won’t cut it!
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to “spot reduce” fat from your abdomen by doing high reps sets of sit-ups or leg lifts. Spot reduction is nothing but a myth. High-rep abs exercises are just a waste of time.
After all, the aim of any exercise is to fatigue the target muscles. If it takes 50 reps to start feeling the effects of an abs exercise, you’re just wasting time would have been better spent doing more exercises or sets. Weighted abs exercises mean you can tire your muscles out quicker, saving a lot of time in the process.
As a general rule, if you can do more than 20 reps of an abs exercise, you need to look for ways to make it harder. That might mean changing the angle of your body, such as decline sit-ups and crunches or doing a weighted abs exercise instead.
Use the exercises in this article to make your abs workouts more productive and a whole lot more time-efficient.