Abs and cardio go together like peanut butter and jelly, but unlike classic sandwich spreads, it does matter which goes on first. (We’ll talk about your PB & J structuring preferences another time.) Most of us tend toward the cardio-then-abs approach: You get your body warmed up with cardio, so you’re loose and ready to go when you get to abs. But if your goal is a strong core, you should really be doing the opposite, said Lee Wratislaw, NASM-certified personal trainer and manager of digital programming at Gold’s Gym.
You’ll get more out of your ab workout if you do it before cardio because you’ll have more energy, “which will allow you to train with more intensity,” Lee explained. “This will also allow you to focus on form and completing your reps with consistency.” He recommended building up your core strength through resistance training, which is “best done at the beginning of a session when completely fresh. You’ll be less likely to cut your ab training short if you make core training the focus of a session and not just an afterthought.”
Working through ab exercises before a cardio workout will also help you activate your core, which will stabilize your body and protect you from injury as you go through your cardio routine. (Here’s a set of ab activation exercises that will get your core firing before a cardio workout.)
You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) do abs for hours before your cardio; Lee recommended 20-30 minutes of core work before moving on. Schedule time for an ab workout two to three times a week, aiming for earlier in the week if you can. “This is a great way to prioritize this area of the body so that it isn’t neglected,” Lee explained, adding that “it can be very beneficial to designate an entire session completely focused on the core so that it becomes more of a priority in your training split.”
If you prioritize abs and still aren’t seeing results (i.e. definition) in your core, take a look at your nutrition. “You’ll need to achieve a body fat percentage low enough for the abs to become visible,” Lee told POPSUGAR. That’s around 24 percent body fat for most women and 17 percent for men, although it depends on factors like genetics and hormones, which determine where fat gets stored, on your body. Nutrition-wise, you’ll want to eat in a slight calorie deficit and consume lots of whole foods and vegetables. As for your fitness routine, Lee recommended weight training (including abs!) followed by cardio a few times a week. Between weight training, cardio, making abs a priority, and eating a healthy diet, you should be on your way to a stronger core, a lower weight, and a better workout experience — whichever of those goals you’re reaching for today.