Should You Train Your Abs While Bulking?


One question I get a lot is whether or not someone should train their abs while bulking. So, what’s the answer here?

Should you train your abs while bulking? Whether or not you should train your abs while bulking depends on your goal. If you want bigger abs that pop out more, then training them directly while bulking is a great choice. Your abs grow just as any other muscle, which is by training them with progressive overload in mind.

What I’ve found is that most people start to train their abs first when they begin cutting, simply because they realize that they are getting leaner. But, this is a mistake. Read on to learn why this is a mistake, how to define your goal and also how to best train your abs depending on your goal.

Your Abs Grow in The Same Way as Any Other Muscles

The reason why I mentioned that only training your abs while cutting is a mistake, is because your abs grow in the same way as what any other muscle group do.

Your abs will get bigger by:

  1. Being trained with sufficient volume, intensity and frequency
  2. Being progressively overloaded overtime (you do more work overtime)
  3. Being fed enough calories and protein to grow.

If you’re only training your abs while in a calorie deficit, i.e when cutting, they will not grow at their fullest potential. I’m sure you know that muscles grow most effectively when you’re eating enough calories, preferably when you’re in a calorie surplus, i.e when you’re bulking.

So, if you want to grow a great six pack, then I recommend that you always train your abs, not only when you’re cutting.

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What’s Your Ab Goal?

This is a very important question to ask yourself. Your goal will determine how and when you should train your abs. Here’s a great question to ask yourself:

What does my goal physique look like?

You see, if you want to build a physique that has big and blocky abs that really pop out, then you should do a ton of direct ab work all year around, both when bulking, cutting and maintaining.

But if your goal is to achieve a slimmer waist with decently popping abs, then your compound lifts will mostly take care of the ab growth needed and you don’t need to think about training your abs directly.

Sure, genetics plays a huge role here as well. Some people can do a ton of direct ab work and still never get those blocky abs, while others only do compound lifts and still builds huge abs.

But in general, the more direct ab work you do, and especially while eating enough to fuel growth, the bigger and more blocky your abs will become.

Which type of physique do you want?

In the picture above you have to the left crossfitter Ryan Fischer, who is known to train a lot of direct abs, and on the right you have Jeff Nippard, a pro natural bodybuilder who is known to train less direct abs.

My point here is that what you focus on you will achieve. So, decide now, what do you want? Do you want to build outstanding abs? Or do you believe a physique with a slimmer waist and less blocky abs is the correct look for you?

How to Train Your Abs Depending on Your Goal

Okay, so we know that abs grow just in the same way as any other muscle groups. But with that said how should you train your abs correctly depending on your goal?

How to train your abs if your goal is to build big & blocky abs

If you want to go with big and blocky abs, like Ryan Fischer. Then here’s what you should do:

1: Train with big compound lifts

Heavy compound lifts such squats, deadlifts, rows and overhead presses will help build your inner abs (transversus abdominis and obliquus internus), which will mostly lead to better stability in the core, but developing these muscles will also help slightly with overall core size.

Compound exercises also trains your outer abs (your six pack and external obliquus) but not to the same extent as what more direct ab work do.

2: Train with ab isolation exercises

It is these exercises that will put the most meat on your core. The reason why isolation exercises are more effective for ab growth as opposed to compound exercises is that with isolation exercises you can achieve spinal flexion and spinal lateral flexion, which is where your abs work to either bend your spine forward or to the side.

  • Spinal flexion = Works your rectus abdominis (your six pack muscles)
  • Spinal lataral flexion = Works your external obliquus

What’s the best direct ab exercise?

To build a great core I recommend the following three exercises:

  1. Hanging leg or knee raises (done properly with strict technique using rectus abdominis to lift your legs)
  2. Weighted crunches
  3. Dumbbell side bend

3: Work for progressive overload

Training for progressive overload is the most important thing to do, besides good technique, if you want to build outstanding abs.

Progressive overload is where you consistently do your best to improve in the gym overtime. This could be done by increasing weight, increasing reps, reducing rest times etc.

4: Train your abs when bulking, cutting and maintaining

Lastly, if you want to build great abs, make sure that you always train them! Your abs will grow the best if you train them hard when you’re bulking. Then continue to train them hard when you’re cutting to maintain their size as your fat comes of.

How to train your abs if your goal is to achieve a slim waist with less blocky abs

There’s really no step by step here. All you need to do is train with big compound lifts and your abs will become decently developed, providing you that slim and lean looking waist.

This is what I’ve personally worked towards. I like the slim waist look more than the blocky one. Here’s what my abs looked like the past summer:

ripped physique

If you’re not doing compound lifts (which I recommend) then you will need to train some abs directly even if you’re just looking to get a slim waist. If you’re not doing compound lifts or training your abs directly your waist will just look skinny, kind of like you’re not even lifting bro.

Your Body Fat Percentage Matters a Lot

No matter what type of abs you choose to go for you eventually need to lose body fat to reveal your abs. One thing worth mentioning is that the more developed your abs are, the higher your body fat percentage can be while still keeping your abs visible.

If you choose to go for the slim waist with less blocky abs, you need to become very lean for your abs to really show. For me my abs show well once I reach around 10% body fat. But I know people who have clearly visible abs at around 15% body fat simply because they have more developed abs.

What’s Next?

There’s a lot that goes into building a ripped physique. If you’re just getting started, or if you’re simply uncertain about what to do, then I recommend that you check out The ShredSmart Program! It’s affordable and takes you to the next level.

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas Lampi and I work as a fitness writer, nutritional consultant and personal trainer. My favourite exercise is the bench press and my favourite food is pizza!

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