If a strong, toned core is what you're after, there are plenty of effective ab exercises that'll help you get there. But should you be using weights to help yourself along the way? Can weighted exercises get you the results you're looking for faster or more effectively than bodyweight moves can?
Weights Can Help You Build Abs
No surprises here: weights are a good choice if you're looking to build abs. "Utilizing external resistance, including weights, can be an effective way to challenge the abdominals and provide variation," said Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist who serves as a fitness advisor for Bowflex.
However, he cautioned that adding weights of any kind will make ab moves more difficult — that's kind of the point. You should only add weights "when you are able to perform the moves using strict, proper form," Tom explained. If you use too much weight or jump in with poor form, you put yourself at risk of injury, he added, especially to your lower back. As a beginner, first build a base of core strength through simple bodyweight exercises, like planks and bicycle crunches. (Here's a list of 35 bodyweight ab moves to get you started.) Once you're ready to up the intensity of your ab workout, you can start implementing weighted moves.
According to Tom, there's a wide array of different weights you can grab for your ab workout, including dumbbells, kettlebells, cables, medicine balls, and weight plates. Most weighted ab moves will call for a specific type. As far as how much weight you should be lifting, that all depends on your fitness level and goals. Tom recommended beginning with a light, manageable weight to start. Then, in a process called progressive overload, you'll "gradually increase the resistance after the final repetitions have become easy and you have mastered the move." Here's more on how to choose the right weight.
If you're ready to get started, Tom recommended Russian twists, kettlebell swings, and cable crunches as three effective ab moves with weights. For more options, check out 18 of our favorite weighted ab moves. Remember to focus on form over speed or weight — you won't be able to build your best abs if you're injured!