Is a two-week period really long enough to see and feel stronger abs? Writer Alice Porter took on fitness star Chloe Ting’s two-week ab challenge to see the 6 million views its had on YouTube means anything in terms of efficacy.
During the pandemic, many of us discovered new ways to challenge ourselves. At-home fitness challenges became more popular than ever as people fantasised about coming out of lockdown stronger and fitter than they went into it.
Ab challenges were one of the most common ways people put their bodies to the test, with influencers like Danielle Peazer and Cassey Ho creating YouTube videos for people to follow along to for certain time frames.
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But there was one fitness influencer who became known for her challenges during the pandemic as her videos gained millions of views and people all over the world attempted her workouts: Chloe Ting. Ting is an Australian YouTuber whose videos gained huge traction on TikTok during the pandemic, as she created challenges for a bigger butt, overall body strength and, of course, stronger abs.
But do ab challenges really strengthen the core and have long term health and fitness benefits? I tried Ting’s two-week ab challenge which involved doing a 10-minute ab workout every day for 14 days to see it lives up to the hype.
Everything you need to know about ab workouts
Before we go into the challenge, here’s everything you need to know about bodyweight ab workouts and challenges.
What are abs and are they the same thing as the core?
“People often conflate the abdominals and the core but they’re actually different things,” explains PT Pippa Sealey. “The core is composed of different muscles, one of which is the abdominals.”
When we talk about abs, we’re mostly talking about the rectus abdominis – the muscles that sit in the six pack region “The core is made up of many other different muscles including the obliques and the erector spinae,” Sealey says.
“Almost every exercise you do requires you to engage the core so it’s really important,” says Sealey. “It helps with stability, posture and it can also prevent injury.”
According to Sealey, a strong core is a key part of movements like squats and deadlifts so building up core strength will improve your overall fitness.
Why do some people have more defined abs than others?
Many ab challenges promise to transform the way your stomach looks, which Sealey says is a very unrealistic expectation. “Whether or not your abs are defined comes down to body fat percentage and your personal anatomy,” she explains, adding that: “Everyone has abdominals already. You don’t get them when you start strengthening your core.”
Body fat percentage (the fraction of your body that is made up of fat) will play into how defined your abs look but some people also have more naturally defined abs than others. “A lot of us don’t have the anatomy or the body fat percentage to achieve a six pack and having defined abs won’t necessarily improve your performance anyway,” Sealey says. “Also, women tend to store more fat in their abdominal region and that’s totally normal.”
Why do our abs ‘burn’ when we’re doing core work?
You’ll often hear people say that their abs are burning when they do core workouts. Sealey explains that this takes place because you’re isolating a single muscle (usually the rectus abdominis) which leads to muscle fatigue and causes this burning feeling.
With Sealey’s advice in mind, I was curious if doing this ab challenge would really strengthen my abs. Here’s my diary of what happened.
The 2-week Chloe Ting ab challenge
I started the challenge on a Saturday morning with a workout that targeted different parts of the core. My main difficulty was that many of the movements were quite complex for someone who never usually does pilates-style workouts and Ting doesn’t explain things in massive detail so I was convinced for much of the first week that I was doing the moves wrong.
On the second and third day, I tried workouts that targeted the core and arms, throwing in the odd leg session at the gym too. By day five, things felt like they were getting easier but my legs (and not abs) were still sore from working out a couple of days earlier.
The second week of the challenge saw me travelling to Gran Canaria. The great thing about an ab workout is that you need no equipment and very little room, so I did a full core workout the next morning.
By day 10, I started to notice more definition in the ab area… but it’s hard to tell if I was just less bloated than usual. The next few days saw the challenge focusing on side planks and obliques, and the penultimate workout said it was designed to “get you a flat stomach”. Problematic language aside, it was ironic that I woke up more bloated than ever that day after a delicious dinner out the night before.
On the final day, I did the same workout as on day one and found it much easier. I sweated a lot less and I was able to do the up and down planks and plank jacks. There is a tiny difference in how defined my abs look but I have to look pretty closely to see it. Although I can tell I’ve improved at the exercises Ting encourages us to do, I would have felt more fulfilled if I had learnt how to do them properly.
Ab challenge verdict: not worth the faff
I don’t think there was any harm in doing an ab challenge, but I didn’t find it particularly beneficial for my health or strength. For me, exercise is all about enjoying myself and these pilates-style workouts are not something I’d usually choose to do, so I often didn’t try hard enough and gave up quickly.
It was also tricky to track my progress as I was on holiday during the second week of the challenge and that meant changing my diet and exercise regime which I’m sure affected the results of the challenge.
Saying that, when I went back to the gym the week after the challenge ended and did some planks, I found them infinitely easier than usual. Whether that was because my abs were stronger, I was more used to planking or I was better rested than usual, I’m not sure.
I never really felt like I was doing the exercises right, despite Ting going on about how important form is. Her instructions were sparse and so I came away feeling like I’d have got more bang for my buck had I done these moves in an actual class or with a PT.
Sealey explains that an ab challenge like this one is probably not the best way to strengthen your abs and core: “It’s a great thing to do if you’re simply looking to do more exercise and ab workouts are something you enjoy but don’t be misled into what two weeks of ab workouts will do for your body.”
If you’re looking to improve your core strength, Sealey recommends incorporating full body movements that target your abs into your normal workouts, making sure you’re engaging your abs as often as possible. “Bodyweight ab exercises that we see online and on Instagram are very repetitive crunching movements and they’re not necessarily the best for core strengthening,” she says. “There are more exciting ways to strengthen your core than doing 1,000 sit-ups in your bedroom.”
Full-body compound movements like deadlifts and squats will strengthen your core, according to Sealey. She also recommends stabilisation exercises like planking, much to my dismay, as these exercises can help you improve your overall core strength and balance.
For me, the ab challenge was a good way to keep me active while I was on holiday and taking a break from my normal exercise routine but I think that I would have benefited more from moving in a way that I actually enjoy, with more guidance on how to make sure I was getting the most out of the exercises by doing them correctly.
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Images: author’s own
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