I tried this intense 6-minute ab workout — and wow

a photo of a man with strong ab muscles
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to building strong abdominal muscles, you don’t have to spend hours sweating in the gym to get results, as proved by this intense workout. Designed by Jeff Cavaliere, a strength coach and trainer on the YouTube channel Athlene X, the six-minute circuit is designed to torch your core, and target all of the muscles that make up a six-pack. 

Of course, strong abs aren’t just an aesthetic goal — they can help you run faster, lift heavier, have a better posture, and reduce back pain. If visible abdominal muscles are your goal, however, no amount of sit-ups or planks will out-exercise a bad diet, as visible abs are all down to your body fat percentage. Here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters

To find out whether you can really burn your core in six minutes, I unrolled my yoga mat, and followed along with Cavaliere — read on to find out what happened. 

Looking for more inspiration? Read what happened when I tried Lily James’ 600-rep ab workout, and when I added 50 oblique crunches a day to my workout routine

What is the six-minute ab workout? 

The YouTube workout allows you to follow along with Cavaliere, but if you like to know what you’re in for before unrolling your exercise mat, here’s what happens: 

Hands back raise: 60 seconds

To do this exercise, start by sitting on your mat, with your hands back behind you, palms flat on the floor, and fingers pointing towards your toes. Engaging your core, press down on the mat and crunch your legs up towards your torso. For this exercise, Cavaliere recommends you think about crunching your knees up to your forehead rather than your chest to really hit the lower abs. 

Drunken mountain climber: 30 seconds 

Like traditional mountain climbers, for this exercise, you’ll start in a plank position, with your weight on your elbows. Bring your left leg in underneath your body, towards your right elbow, then switch sides. Keep alternating sides. “You want to get the obliques working by getting that rotation,” Cavaliere adds. 

Cross knee planks: 60 seconds 

“Now we’re going to slow it down,” Cavaliere says. This is the same move as the drunken mountain climber — holding a plank position and crossing the knee underneath the body to touch the elbow on the opposite side, but this time the exercise is done slowly, with control. 

Rest: 30 seconds 

Scissor V-ups: 60 seconds

This exercise is a combination of two different exercises — scissors, and V-ups. As you perform a V-up, lifting your legs up towards your torso, scissor your legs, crossing one over the other in quick succession. “The scissor at the bottom is challenging the lower abs,” Cavaliere explains. 

Starfish crunch: 30 seconds 

Stretching your arms and legs out, crunch your right hand up to your left foot, and keep swapping sides for the entire 30-seconds. “Lift and turn, lift and turn,” Cavaliere advises. 

Rest: 30 seconds 

Upper circle crunches: 30 seconds on each side 

For this exercise, crunch your head, neck, and torso up off the mat, and make a slow circle around, lifting one shoulder blade away from the mat, then the other. Do 30-seconds in one direction before switching. “We’re working both the upper abs, and the obliques,” Cavaliere explains. 

I tried the six-minute intense ab workout — here’s what happened

Cavaliere says “with ab workouts, you want to put yourself into a bit of a zone and try to ignore the burn.” I’d argue that with this workout, trying to ignore the burn is like trying to ignore a bulldozer careering through your living room while you’re watching TV. This workout is a follow-up to Cavaliere’s original 7-minute ab workout, which currently has over 21 million views on YouTube, and even though he made the workout a minute shorter, he’s made it far more intense. 

From the get-go, this one is on you — sure, you’re only working for five minutes, but the two 30-second breaks do not feel like a lot of let up when your abs are burning. The drunken mountain climbers into the cross knee planks were particularly brutal, and I spent the first 30-second break questioning my career choices. 

The scissor v-ups seemed to combine two of my least favorite ab exercises ever, and I found I couldn’t move anywhere near as fast as Cavaliere did as I struggled to keep my lower back pressed into the mat. By the time I got to the upper circle crunches, I had a new least-favorite ab exercise and a seriously shaky core. 

While it’s a reminder that workouts don’t have to take hours to work you hard, this felt like some of the longest six minutes of my life. It’s a fantastic ab workout, but one I won’t be repeating in a hurry. 

Next: I just ran 10 miles with the Apple Watch Ultra — and this feature is a game changer.

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.