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Belt and Braces Abs Workout: Build Muscle & Get Six-Pack Abs In 8 Weeks

I’ve got a big problem with most internet abs workouts… 

They don’t train the core properly at all – they focus on vanity, not functionality. 

To combat this, I’ve designed the ‘Belt and Braces Abs Workout’. This is a comprehensive abs workout plan that will train your core properly. It will help to… 

  • Improve your core strength and stability. 
  • Reduce your injury risk. 
  • Make you a better athlete.

The beauty is that when you do this workout you get the vanity benefits of a six-pack anyway! (Note- only if you eat a calorie deficit, which is way more important than exercise for 6-packs)

It’s a collection of exercises built up over my 20+ years in the personal training and weightlifting world. A combination of scientific research and anecdotal observation, both on myself and through thousands of coaching hours has led me to this approach.

Some of these exercises aren’t ‘normal’ abdominal exercises. 

You won’t see a single crunch in the Belt and Braces abs workout program. Nor will you be asked to contort yourself into bizarre shapes to target your obliques.

It’s simple. 

Safe. 

And effective.

In this program, you’ll learn how to train your abdominals effectively. And why it’s important to look beyond the re-hashed programs you’ll find online. By following the Belt and Braces approach, you’ll never train your abs the same way again.

Say goodbye to crappy abs programming, and hello to a serious core workout program that will deliver the results you want and a whole load more. No more weak links, lots of progression on other lifts and an injury resistance you never had before.

Best of all, it can all be done in your home gym, without the need for any crazy machines or dedicated equipment.

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Belt and Braces Abs Workout: Build a rock-solid core in 8 weeks

abs workout at home infographic

So what does Belt and Braces mean exactly?

According to the Oxford English dictionary, belt and braces is a policy or action providing double security, by using two means to the same end.
In the case of an abdominal program, it means we’re going to train two different types of exercise to achieve a rock solid, strong, functional and injury-resistant core. We’ll work on building strength and stiffness in the core, which is proven to be the most effective way of protecting the back and developing athleticism in the torso.

If you were hoping for a few crunches, you’re in the wrong place. If you want to rid yourself of back issues and build a solid base for future progression, keep reading…

A real abs workout program has to be about more than just making you look good – you have to be able to perform effectively as well. A strong core is a huge asset to the human body. Here are a few of the reasons why…

Injury Resistance

A strong core is fundamental to protecting the spine and helping to prevent back injuries. 

By making the muscles, tendons and ligaments strong they’re able to withstand significant forces that are caused by lifting, direction change and impacts. Force resistance is an excellent injury prevention ability, especially if you play a high-impact or contact sport.

Generate more power 

A strong core allows you to generate far more power. 

It makes you stable and gives you a perfect base to help you generate force. The old fitness saying is that trying to generate force with a weak core is like trying to fire a rocket from a canoe – it’s impossible! 

This program will develop your static and dynamic core strength.

Makes life easier

Exercise doesn’t just benefit us in the gym – it’s supposed to help in day-to-day life as well. 

The Belt and Braces abs workout plan helps in this way by improving our ability to carry out everyday tasks. Lifting, carrying, bending, rotating etc are all made easier and safer by strengthening your core with the Belt and Braces approach.

If you want to be truly athletic, a strong core is non-negotiable. It’s vital for force generation and resists you being crushed under a heavy weight…

A man doing a power snatch

5 Steps to Use the Belt and Braces Abs Workout to Improve your core

Step 1: Train this program 4 times per week around your other training

The Belt and Braces exercises are divided into two types – the statics and dynamics (more on why later in the article). What this means is that the program will run alongside most of your regular programming – you don’t drop everything else for this. 

The exercises actually have carryover benefits in other aspects of fitness, so you may be able to substitute some of the exercises in your regular programming for the ones in the Belt and Braces abs workouts.

Break the two different Belt and Braces workouts into non-consecutive days, so you don’t do two repeating days of statics for example. Something like this would work well…

Monday: Statics Workout

Tuesday: Rest

Wednesday: Dynamic Workout

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Statics Workout

Saturday: Rest 

Sunday: Dynamic Workout

Step 2: Ensure you are warmed up fully

I personally like to program exercises that are primarily training the abdominals relatively early in the workout – shortly after the warm-up. This is because the movement quality needs to be great in order to maximize the effectiveness of the exercises. 

A good warm-up consists of a basic 5 minutes of gentle cardio (I like skipping/jump rope), running, rowing etc. Followed by 3 sets of 10-15 of the following exercises…

  • Body weight squats
  • Push-ups
  • Very light kettlebell swings
  • Mountain climbers (not an exercise I program often, but it helps to mobilize the legs, hip flexors, abdominals and encourage spinal stability so is worthwhile here). 

Once these are done, you are ready to train.

Step 3: Work to ‘mechanical failure’ with your exercises

Working to failure is different depending on who you ask. For the avoidance of any doubt, in this program I want you to work to what I’d call ‘mechanical failure’ – this is where your ability to execute an exercise with perfect form is lost.

Sure, you might be able to squeeze out a few more reps if you sacrifice technique, but that’s not what I’m after. The second you feel your form drop, that’s the set over and your rest period starts. Don’t risk injury by compromising on your form. That’s how injuries happen.

Here’s a good idea of an example sets and reps to aim for (more on each exercise later)… 

Static exercises workout plan

ExerciseSetsReps
Bird Dog415 (per side)
Front rack holds51 (30 seconds each)
Palloff Press312 (per side)
Side plank clamshells312 (per side)
Swiss ball roll out310

Dynamic exercises workout plan

ExerciseSetsReps
Hanging leg raises310
Farmer’s walks450 yards minimum
American kettlebell swings320
Romanian deadlifts46
Landmine rotations310 (per side)

Step 4: 30-minute workouts and recover between sets

With core training we’re not aiming for outright fatigue – that’s where things get risky and injuries happen. The focus isn’t on raising heart rates and burning fat. It’s on strengthening the core properly.

What this means is that you should be fully recovered between sets. Full recovery allows you to perform your exercises and movements effectively.

Take at least 60 seconds between sets to recover. If you need to, take even longer. You should be able to complete all but one or two reps of the final sets of an exercise if you’re fully recovered. 

Each workout has 17 or 18 sets. Allowing 1 minute per exercise and 1 minute rest between sets you should be able to complete these sessions within half an hour.

A man lifting a barbell in standing position

Step 5. Make progress every workout

Despite my urging you to be careful on some exercises, that’s not at the cost of progression. 

You should be looking to make weekly progress with weights, or reps if you can’t manage the full sets of the bodyweight exercises too. Just be careful and work with good form, but constantly seek improvement and progression. 

Static exercises workout plan

ExerciseHow to progress
Bird DogAdd weights
Front rack holdsIncrease weight by 5% per week (if possible)
Palloff PressIncrease weight
Side plank clamshellsSlow the movement down to 5 second
Swiss ball roll outAdd more reps

Dynamic exercises workout plan

ExerciseHow to progress
Hanging leg raisesAdd a weight between your feet
Farmers walksIncrease the weights per side
American kettlebell swingsIncrease weight 
Romanian deadliftsIncrease weight by 5% per week (if possible)
Landmine rotationsIncrease weight by 5% per week (if possible)

Belt and Braces abs program – static and dynamic exercises

I mentioned there are two types of exercises in the program, so I’m going to take the time to explain what they are and why they are important.

Google ‘abs workout’ and you’ll find the same handful of exercises in different orders and rep ranges. Most of them revolve around spinal flexion (crunches, sit ups, etc). Whilst some spinal flexion at low loads is perfectly safe, high repetitions can lead to a higher rate of disc herniations requiring surgical intervention.

Additionally, crunches aren’t very effective at training the core. According to research by renowned spinal specialist, Dr Stuart McGill, they rely heavily on the hip flexors and psoas muscles to complete the movement, which defeats their purpose. 

True core strength is about function. It has to functionally support the spine to deal with the requirements of its daily existence.

To make the core functionally strong and effective, I believe we have to do two things…

  1. Improve its ability to retain stiffness – this helps with exercise technique, force development and resist impact from external forces that could increase injury risk.
  2. Make the trunk muscles (front and back) strong through different ranges of motion – the reality is our bodies need to move, so it’s not enough to be strong whilst we’re static, we need to carry that strength over into a variety of movements.

These two points need to be addressed in different ways, so we can’t rely on the same basic exercises to do both jobs. This isn’t an opinion either – if we look back at research by Benjamin Lee and Stuart McGill, we know that isometric (static) exercises are more effective at improving spinal stiffness than dynamic (requiring a lot of movement) exercises.

There’s certainly a requirement for dynamic exercises, as I mentioned above. They help to improve core strength whilst moving, and they help to improve our ability to generate force while moving. 

There’s no universal definition that exists for static and dynamic exercises, so in the Belt and Braces abs workout program we’ll use mine…

Static exercises for abs

These are exercises that are performed with the back maintaining a stiffened, mostly still position. 

Whilst there may be distal (limb) movement, the proximal (central) element of the body will remain as stiff and still as possible.

Dynamic exercises for abs

The dynamic exercises are those requiring significant movement either proximally or distally. 

In some cases, the core and torso will remain stiff and rigid, whereas in other exercises more movement will be allowed.

A person working out hard with a barbell

Belt and Braces Abs Workouts

In this section, we’re going to look at the exercises themselves, with video explanations and a written guide. Follow the advice throughout the program and you’ll enjoy the results.

For clarity, the exercises and workouts have been separated into static and dynamic, so you won’t be confused between the two.

Belt and Braces static exercises for the core

The idea here is to work on pure core stiffness and stability. This helps to maintain a strong, stable core that is resistant to external forces. It’s also a way of strengthening the back and core with almost no risk, because there’s very little movement.

Belt and braces static exercises infographic

1. Bird dog

Anyone who has ever had to rehab a back injury is likely to have come across this exercise. It’s one of the ‘McGill Big 3’ exercises recommended for improving spinal stiffness. I like it for that, but it’s also made this program because I like the fact that it forces slow, deliberate movement.

  • Assume a position on all fours
  • Slowly extend alternating top and bottom limbs (right arm and left leg, then vice versa)
  • When the limbs return to the body, switch them over
  • Keep the torso and back rigid and straight throughout

2. Front rack holds

I love this exercise, but almost nobody does it or programs it outside of weightlifting circles. It’s probably because many people are (unnecessarily) scared of the heavy weights required. This is an excellent exercise for improving core strength and spinal stiffness and requires no technique.

  • Load the bar with a very heavy weight (a weight you couldn’t squat, but can hold for around 30 seconds)
  • Take the bar in the front rack position
  • Lift the bar off the squat rack and maintain the front rack position for 30 seconds
  • Make tiny adjustments to position as to ensure core activation

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3. Palloff press

A super simple, yet really effective anti-rotation exercise. The Palloff press is easy to perform in a home gym and doesn’t require much in the way of expensive equipment or difficult technique to master. 

  • Secure a strong band to a fixed position (you can also use a cable attachment if you have one)
  • Pull the band taught (or cable out from the stack), so it would naturally pull you to the side if you weren’t resisting it
  • With both hands on the band or cable handle, bring the hands towards your chest, then back out directly in front
  • Resist rotation the entire way through the movement – arms should follow a straight pattern in and out

4. Side plank clamshell

Another classic exercise, I like this one because it engages the glutes and lower back, which are also important parts of the core. Additionally, it trains the obliques so helps with more than just the rectus abdominis.

  • Assume a side plank position – upper body weight on a single forearm, lower body weight spread across the side of the foot, side calf and thigh
  • Lift your body weight up by lifting the hip, keeping the core stiff throughout
  • Once you reach the top height, slowly lower it back to the start position and repeat

If you want to focus more on your calves – consider checking out our article on calf exercises.

5. Swiss ball roll out

The Swiss ball roll out is one of the more under-appreciated abdominal exercises. When most people think of Swiss ball ab exercises, they go to crunches or leg raises. I like the anti-extension element of the roll outs, because they require perfect stiffness of the lumbar spine, so are a great static exercise.

  • Assume the plank position on the ball – forearms and elbows in contact with the ball
  • Roll the ball away from you, maintaining perfect stiffness and stillness in the torso – only the arms move here
  • Push away until you feel the abs really engage, and make sure the lumbar spine stays straight and stable – if you feel your lower back start to sag, you’ve gone too far
  • Pull the ball back towards you by bringing the elbows close to the body
  • Repeat

Static exercises workout plan

ExerciseSetsReps
Bird Dog415 (per side)
Front rack holds51 (30 seconds each)
Palloff Press312 (per side)
Side plank clamshells312 (per side)
Swiss ball roll out310

Equipment required for the static exercises workout plan:

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Belt and Braces dynamic exercises for the core

The dynamic exercises help the core generate strength whilst moving. These exercises help the core generate force and power across a range of different movement patterns and directions. They’re designed to train the whole trunk, not just the abs.

Belt and braces dynamic exercise

6. Hanging leg raises

Readers who are familiar with my work will know that I love to include exercises that offer multiple benefits, and hanging leg raises do just that. They’re an excellent abdominal exercise and easy to progress. They also though help to strengthen grip and stretch the shoulders, so offer multiple wins.

  • Hold on to a pull up bar, dangling with arms and back at full extension
  • Keep a stable, still position (no swinging forwards and backwards)
  • Lift your legs up to horizontal with the floor. Keep them straight throughout, unless you’re a beginner, in which case lift your knees into your abs and allow the legs to bend
  • Pause briefly at the top, then slowly lower them back to the starting position
  • Keep the movement slow throughout, otherwise you’ll introduce a lot of swinging into the movement, which you want to avoid

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7. Farmer’s walk

The farmer’s walk is a really underrated exercise and one that offers core, legs and grip benefits as well. It’s an exercise that can be done with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, farmer’s walk handles or even bags loaded with heavy things! It’s simple, effective and easy to do at home!

  • Take a weight in both hands (can be anything, but it has to be heavy – I’d suggest 50% of your bodyweight as a minimum)
  • Stand up tall – keep your back straight, core engaged
  • Walk for a given distance – ideally a minimum of 25 yards
  • Turn around and walk back

8. American kettlebell swings

Not one for the kettlebell purists, but I’m a fan of the American kettlebell swing when the bell is taken far enough overhead. You can really feel the core tighten at full extension overhead, plus it’s an exercise that trains the glutes and lower back too – all part of the core.

  • Take the kettlebell with a double hand grip, then stand up straight
  • Tilt forward slightly at the hips, using a ‘hip thrust’ to generate momentum in the kettlebell
  • Using your hamstrings, glutes and core, thrust hard enough that your kettlebell will reach a full overhead extension
  • You’re aiming for the bell to be directly overhead, with the core engaging to stop it going further
  • Repeat for the full set

9. Romanian Deadlifts

This is a variation on the classic deadlift, with the emphasis being on the glutes, lower back and hamstrings rather than the whole leg. I like it because it engages the back more throughout the lift, because there’s no ‘dead’ time in the lift where the barbell is on the floor and muscles are unengaged.

  • Take the barbell off the floor and lean back slightly to ‘set’ the back in position – it should be straight and fully engaged
  • With only a slight bend in the knee throughout, tip the torso forward (maintaining the straight back throughout), and push the hips back
  • Slowly lower the bar to below the knees, keeping the hamstrings, glutes and lower back engaged throughout. Don’t let the bar touch the floor
  • When the hamstrings are stretched, pause and stand back up using the hamstrings, glutes and lower back to drive the movement

You can find some other deadlift alternatives here. 

10. Landmine rotations

This is an exercise that I like to use to cover a rotation element of core training. It’s easy to set up, doesn’t need heavy weight to be effective and allows a wide range of rotational movement on both sides, so offers excellent core training and spinal health benefits.

  • Position the bar with one point on the floor, so it can allow rotation to both sides. Use a plate to add more weight if needs be
  • With a slight forward lean, hold the bar with both hands, arms fully extended
  • Engage your core and rotate to one side, keeping the torso upright throughout the rotation
  • Go as far as you can before it starts to pull your torso into a rotation
  • At this point, pause and rotate the opposite way, initiating the movement with the core

Dynamic exercises workout plan

ExerciseSetsReps
Hanging leg raises310
Farmers walks450 yards minimum
American kettlebell swings320
Romanian deadlifts46
Landmine rotations310 (per side)

Equipment required for the dynamic exercises workout plan:


Belt and Braces Abs Workout Program – bonus tips

A few additional pointers to help you get the most from the program…

1. Move deliberately

These exercises aren’t powerful, explosive movements. They’re designed to be executed carefully, with perfect form and deliberate precision.

When you do the exercises, I want you to really feel the target muscles working. I want you to adjust your positions until your core engages and you really activate the parts of the body that you’re aiming for. 

In bodybuilding, this is known as the ‘mind-muscle’ connection, and it can really help you to improve your exercise effectiveness. Actively engaging the brain as you perform your exercises will help you to get more benefit from the same exercise.

It’s not hippy nonsense either – it really works! Research conducted in 2016 by renowned coaches and sports scientists, Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras concluded that…

“It is likely that the molecular signaling for all 3 primary mechanisms of muscular hypertrophy, namely mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage, are increased when the exerciser focuses their attention internally, which could ultimately result in greater muscular development for a given exercise and load.”

2. Don’t confuse the outcome goals

The fitness industry has a horrible habit of making everything about vanity. 

Don’t confuse the Belt and Braces abs workout program with a beach-body, get you a 6 pack in 3 weeks type of thing. This is a strength and performance plan. Not a fat loss one. Train it as such.

3. Train hard, but don’t be stupid

If you have a history of back pain issues, you really need to be careful when you’re training your core. 

None of the exercises in this list are inherently dangerous – in fact, their protective of issues, but you still have to exercise a degree of caution. Don’t lift beyond your capabilities, don’t compromise form. 

4. Don’t mix the workouts

Each workout has a focus, and I want you to concentrate on the outcome each time. 

In the statics program, I want you to really focus on bracing the core and creating true stiffness. In the dynamics program, you should be focused on using the core to generate the movements. Keep these separate to give them the attention they require.

5. Complete every exercise

The programs are written with care – they’re designed to ensure that you train the core in a number of ways and you develop real functional strength and stability. 

That means you don’t pick and choose the exercises, you do them all. If there’s an exercise you don’t like… good! You probably need to do more of it!

A person exercising with heavy weight

Belt and Braces abs workout – FAQs

The workouts add a lot of time to my session – can I drop something from them?

No. Instead, drop something from your main workout. These exercises are about capability and they work together, so keep them all in – don’t miss anything out here.

Shave a little off your cardio work, or drop some isolation exercises. Just don’t mess with this.

I’m already doing ab work in my program – should I keep it in and do the belt and braces program as well?

Any current abdominal work in your program, get rid of. You won’t need it in, because the belt and braces exercises will provide you with all of the abs exercises you’ll need in there. Anything else is overkill.

How long should I keep up the belt and braces program?

You should follow this program for a minimum of 8 weeks, 4 workouts per week. Progress with weight and/or reps each week and after the (minimum) of 32 workouts across the 8 weeks, your core will be an entirely different beast.

Can I use this to get a 6-pack?

It won’t give you a 6 pack on its own – it’s not a fat loss program. It’s a core strength program. It’ll certainly build the underlying abdominal muscles, but you’ll have to combine that with a calorie deficit if you want to make your abs visible.

Your diet is more important than anything else if you want a six-pack!

Can I add to it with additional abdominal exercises?

No – the workouts have a focus, and we don’t want to mix the modalities here. Stick to the program and execute each and every rep with purpose and intention. That’s all you need to do in order to maximize the effectiveness of the belt and braces abs workout program.


The Belt and Braces abs workout program: The bottom line

If you’ve read this far, you’re serious about building a strong core. All you need to do now is get busy in the gym.

There’s somewhat of a re-education here. This program doesn’t look like a lot of the abs workouts out there. There’s a good reason for that – this is one written by an experienced personal trainer and weightlifting coach… not somebody who just copied what he’d read in other articles.

Read the programs, practice the movements, execute them well and trust the process. Soon enough you’ll build a rock-solid core and rid yourself of injury risk, whilst improving performance for life.
If you are looking to complement this program with another workout then check out our popular beginner weight lifting workout here. Or find our other workout programs here.

Want to Improve Your Own Home Gym?

Check out our guide on how to build a home gym for any budget.

Our team of fitness experts has spent thousands of hours testing and researching equipment. It’s all compiled in one place with the essential items your gym needs to see results.

Photo of author
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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