I tried adding five minutes of ab exercises to my strength workouts - here's what happened

I'm lazy with ab workouts but wanted this to change so I tried adding a few core building moves to my staple weight training workouts

Fit&Well writer Jessica Downey performing a plank in the gym
(Image credit: Getty)

I've grown a real love for weight training over the last couple of years and enjoy the physical and mental strength I gain from practicing it. But as I have channeled my time and effort into learning this skill I've taken less time to focus on growing my abs. So I've been trying to muster back up the motivation to train my core without taking the fun out of my usual workout schedule.

Rewind to being in lockdown during the pandemic and I was completing many of the best workouts for abs near enough every day to pass the time and feel like I was staying in shape. But as soon as I could get back to the gym I was set on building up my strength and muscle again using equipment like the barbell and some of the best kettlebells to challenge my lower and upper body.

Lo and behold, core strength is essential when it comes to weight training in order to improve form, help with posture, and protect the back from injury. I may have learned how to deadlift properly but if I wanted to progress in my training and lift heavier, I knew I'd have to pick up some core strengthening exercises sooner rather than later.

I decided that the only way I'd be able to form some kind of habit with ab training and remain consistent with it was to add a short bout of moves onto the end of my usual workouts. After every strength session, I grabbed one of the best yoga mats from my gym and rounded off things with a five-minute ab finisher. I tried to target all areas of my core by performing 45-60 seconds of different exercises like planks, side planks, crunches, and deadbugs. This is what I noticed.

1. I enjoyed the pain

Without sounding too sadistic, I liked the soreness that I felt in my core after working it out. It was reassuring that I had successfully targeted my abdominal and core muscles even though I was only doing five minutes of bodyweight moves to get results.

It also was very normal for me to experience muscle pain in my stomach when laughing or sitting up in bed following my ab training. The American Council on Exercise, explains that DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a natural process of the body following intense exercise. It usually develops between 24-48 hours after a workout and within 72 hours your body typically will have repaired the tears in your muscles. 

Don't get me wrong, the first week of workouts was pretty brutal. My abs weren't used to being challenged in this way and needed longer to recover. However, the more sessions I finished off with abs, the less sore the exercises felt. It reminded me of the painful feeling your butt feels after getting on a bike seat after a long time. The first ride is agony and the pain lingers until your lower half adapts to the feeling of sitting on a small bike seat again.

2. It was a different challenge from weight lifting

The free weight section of a gym can have a more intense feel to it than other sections do. Depending on your goal it often has a focus on moving up a weight. For me, I try and use the progressive overload technique to avoid hitting a plateau and continue making strength and muscle gains. When I move up a weight plate or dumbbell I typically see this as a signal of improvement and power but I still like to have a more holistic approach to fitness and not just define my strength by weights.

It was certainly humbling, finishing up a big leg day, placing myself in a plank position, and struggling to hold a perfect plank position for more than a minute. I had more admiration for the people around me in the floor section holding V-sits and performing heavy weighted Russian twists than anyone else in the gym as it takes just as much discipline and consistency as it does the person in the gym who can squat the heaviest.

Woman performing a plank over dumbbells

(Image credit: Getty)

3. Ab workouts can incorporate weights

The stronger my core became, the more challenging I could make my five-minute ab finishers. Rather than increase the duration that I was spending on abs at the end of my strength sessions, I decided to incorporate some weights into my exercises. 

Sometimes this looked like adding these dumbbell ab exercises onto the end of my training and incorporating the weight into well-known moves such as crunches, dead bugs and plank variations. If ever I don't make it to the gym, I can use a set of the best adjustable dumbells at home to get in an ab workout and can still increase the challenge by increasing the weight load on the spot.

Or for the days, when I have no desire to get on the floor for core training or have a bit of an achy back I complete standing ab exercises. Some of my favorites to do are weighted side bends, crossover toe touches, and around the worlds using a kettlebell. 

Weights or no weights, five minutes of ab, and core exercises now form a staple part of my regular gym routine. It's a time-efficient activity that makes me feel good and complements my strength training. If you fancy an even simpler ab challenge, you can find out what happened when one writer did a plank everyday for a month.

Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.