You’ll forge a functionally strong core and a razor-sharp six-pack with this kettlebell ab workout. Armed only with a single kettlebell, a slice of space, and a soft training mat you will be able to sculpt a torso that looks like it was hewn from Venetian marble.
But this workout is not all about building abs that look like slabs.
To broaden the fitness benefits of this kettlebell ab workout bodyweight and cardio exercises have been included. While these additional exercises aren’t an integral component of the session, doing them will promote weight loss and enhance muscle endurance.
Simple though this workout is, it is still completely customisable. You can modify the exercises and training volume to suit your fitness aims. So, with that said, either start the workout or read about the fitness benefits.
Kettlebell ab workout target muscles
The exercises selected for this workout will ensure that all areas of your abdominals are targeted. A mistake many make when working their abs is to focus exclusively on the rectus abdominis – that sheet of muscle stretching from your pubis to your plexus colloquially called the ‘six pack’.
This is a mistake for three reasons.
First, focusing on the abs neglects the many other muscles that comprise the core. Second, ab exercises selected for sculpting are typically substandard in promoting physical functionality and core stability. Other than causing a bad back and wasting time, what other purposes do crunches serve? Third, training the abs can result in anterior/posterior strength imbalances – that is, strong stomach muscles (anterior) but weak lower back muscles (posterior).
At its most extreme such an imbalance can increase injury risk and adversely impact postural alignment. That ‘hunched over’ look isn’t just unsightly. It can also damage the intervertebral discs and cause discomfort. A rounded back, also called kyphosis, 'is particularly troublesome' as it can develop 'segmental stiffness' while also impairing the spine's ability to absorb shock (Back Sufferers' Bible).
This KB ab workout can improve body composition
To ensure that this workout doesn’t expose participants to those risks outlined above, a broad range of exercises has been included. For example, as well as targeting all areas of the abdominals, some exercises engage the core, lower back, legs and muscles of the aerobic system.
In addition to shaping and sculpting a lean defined torso, the mix of exercises can also improve body composition. The resistance movements will build lean muscle tissue while the bodyweight and cardio finisher (if you choose to do it) will burn fat.
This is an important factor that all ab workouts should feature, but it's one that is often neglected. After all, if aesthetics is your aim, what good is it training your abs when there's a layer of fat covering them?
Related: Best Workouts to Lose Weight
For those that are unfamiliar with the many muscles that comprise the abdominals, and would like to know more about them, what follows is a tour of the anatomy of your abs. As well as an outline of the muscles and their corresponding functions, relevant exercises have been listed. This way you’ll not only know your way around your abs and what each muscle does, but you’ll also know which exercises work them.
The structure of the abdominals is layered somewhat like an onion. If we say that at the core are your organs, the first layer of muscle we meet is the internal obliques. This corset-like band enables us to compress the abdomen ‘helping to support the abdominal viscera against the pull of gravity,’ (The Concise Book of Muscles).
Tightly encasing the internal obliques is the transverse abdominis. This muscle assists forced expiration – sneezes and coughs – and help maintain correct postural alignment. It also enables us to compress the abdomen such as when sitting or performing a crunch.
The next layer is the external obliques. At almost double the size, the external obliques originate at the ribs right up to the sternum and stem down to the pubis. The primary function of this long sheet of muscle is to facilitate trunk rotation.
Our final outermost layer which, like the external obliques, is visible, is the rectus abdominis. Also known as abs, slabs and the six-pack, this is the set of muscles that are coveted by men and women the world over. Honestly, who doesn’t want a rippling set of super-chiselled washboard abs? I rest my case.
Because the origin and insertion points span a significant chunk of the trunk, the rectus abdominis facilitates a broad range of actions. For example, they assist spinal flexion, around the lumbar region, while also depressing the ribcage and stabilising the pelvis when walking (The Concise Book of Muscles).
Kettlebell ab workout
The exercises are organised into a circuit. To shake things up a bit and keep you on your toes, the reps are structured in an ascending and descending ladder. This may sound a little complicated but it really isn’t. Here’s how it works.
Starting at the first exercise – press-ups – you will perform one rep. Yep, you read that right – just one rep. Concluding that single press-up, you will progress to the next exercise – kettlebell twists. Again, you are to perform one rep.
When you have completed a full lap of the circuit, you will then increase the reps to two. Following this process, your objective is to progress up the ladder until you have completed 10 reps on each exercise. If you successfully ascend the ladder, you will have performed 550 reps in total.
At this point, you can either hit the shower or stick around for the descent. To do so you will complete another round of 10 reps prior to progressing down to one.
Kettlebell ab workout key points
Warm up thoroughly before commencing the circuit. A workout-specific warm-up has been created for those that forgot to bring their own.
Assuming that the circuit is set up and you have a session plan to hand, begin at press-ups.
Remember, you are only performing one rep for the first lap of the circuit. The workout will feel deceptively easy at the start. But, believe me, it quickly gets more challenging.
Once you reach the final rung of the ladder – 10 reps – either call it a day or start the descent.
Rest periods have not been factored into the circuit. Ideally, you should avoid resting until you reach the top of the ladder. If you feel as though you need a rest before making your descent, take a minute or two.
Kettlebell ab workout hints and tips
Though the kettlebell ab workout is organised into a circuit that observes an ascending and descending rep progression, you don’t have to follow this formula. Instead, you could apply a fixed rep count – 5, 10, 15, 20 – and aim to complete a prespecified number of laps.
Alternatively, in place of reps, you could factor in a time per exercise – 20, 30, 40, or 60 seconds. Because you will be spending longer on each exercise, the focus shifts from intensity to consistency. Remember, it's not possible to sustain near-maximal output for much more than 20 seconds.
Make this circuit a gym workout
But let’s say that you’re not a fan of circuits. Hey, no one's perfect. However, you can still do this workout. Simply scrap the circuit and in place implement a series of sets and reps.
For example, you could complete between 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 20 reps on the 10 exercises. Concluding each set, you would take a short rest. Of course, if you opt for this conventional training model, the focus again shifts but now to technical proficiency.
In addition, as the volume and intensity have significantly decreased, it is standard procedure to increase the resistance. This is the most effective training formula for developing strength and promoting muscle mass.
A final suggestion has to do with the exercises. Put plainly, don’t feel obliged to implement the plan to the letter. While it is supposed to be prescriptive – meaning the plan has been designed to be followed – it is still infinitely modifiable – meaning you can change the number of exercises, their ordering, or the exercises themselves.
With these changes, coupled with the alternative approaches outlined above, you have what the philosopher and uber-brain Daniel Dennett calls a ‘combinatorial explosion.’ That is, subtle reconfigurations of a simple set can send the possible permutations through the stratosphere. The one workout with the aforementioned suggestions is now multitudinous.
Related: Need exercise ideas?
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