Ab Workouts That Are Actually Good: A Conversation With James McMillian

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Since starting WOLACO, we've learned that there's a ton of crappy info out there in the health and fitness world. Especially when it comes to helping guys try to stay in shape while leading busy, professional lives. 

That's why we've made it our mission to help our community cut through the junk by delivering well-vetted content. Ultimate goal here is to give guys the resources to stay in shape and, in the process, become better, healthier people.  

Why the preachy prelude? 

Because we're about to talk about ab workouts. And a lot of ab workout programs are downright awful. There's honestly no area of fitness more overrun with meathead scam artists... though you probably know this already.

If you've ever googled "ab exercises" or watched cable TV, you know all about the gimmicky ab exercise programs out there: 5-Minute Abs!!! The AB Burner 5000!!!

Okay, maybe they aren't all that egregiously bad. But we knew we could find a more trustworthy source for awesome, effective core workouts. So we spoke with an expert.

Say hello to James McMillian. He's an Instructor at Tone House and probably the fittest guy we know. Read the interview below to get all James's workout suggestions.

Yeah... you're gonna listen to every word this guy has to say.

Yeah... you're gonna listen to every word this guy has to say.

What are 4 ab exercises you believe every guy should be doing?

I think every guy should be doing these core ab workouts:

  • Weighted Russian twists
  • Hanging Leg Lifts
  • Ab Roll Outs (Or if you don’t have an ab roller, walk your hands out and walk them back in)
  • Alternating Leg Raises (Get the lower, hard-to-get portion of your abs)

Straight up, how do guys get abs like yours?

I'm a firm believer in doing what gets the job done at a great price and less time, and what better way is there to shed some pounds while learning about your mind and body than bodyweight workouts?

As major gyms and studios continue to open, we begin to lose the traditional route of getting pounds off for the shred with the “cool” ab machine that a fit model promotes.  A simple Hanging Leg Lift will help form a killer six-pack.

This is my go-to: Find a pull up bar, grab on to the bar, and with your legs extended straight, lift them up until your toes touch the bar where your hands are placed, and return to start. As you get better, try bringing your ankles to the bar.

But first and foremost, abs start in the kitchen. Don’t starve yourself because that defeats the purpose. 4-6 small meals throughout the day will keep your metabolism pumping.

To add an overall effect, include a traditional bicycle and twist workout in a circuit fashion. This doesn't only raises your temperature and metabolism, but it chisels your obliques and builds endurance. What’s perfect about all of this is that it's free.

James dominating a Hanging Leg Lift at Tone House.

James dominating a Hanging Leg Lift at Tone House.

Are there any other simple ab workouts guys can do without going to the gym?


  • Toe Touches
  • Wind Shield Wipers from the floor
  • 6 inch off the floor flutter kicks
  • Bicycle Twists
FYI, that's a proper bicycle twist.

FYI, that's a proper bicycle twist.

For the slightly more advanced, can you elaborate on your personal go-to ab exercises?

My go-to's:

  • Hanging Leg Lifts into a Wind Shield Wiper (beginners can do windshield wipers from the floor)
  • Dragon Flags (Be careful with these)
  • Standing Ab Roll Outs
  • Sprints (Sprints are the perfect ab blaster, just check out any sprinter in the Olympics)
  • Weighted Russian Twists
A few WOLACO guys cranking out some Windshield Wipers.

A few WOLACO guys cranking out some Windshield Wipers.

How do you get that V-shaped cut in the lower abs?

The V-Shape is all about rotation and hitting the lower portion of your abs. The best but most difficult workout for this is Hanging Windshield Wipers. For beginners, try them from the floor.

My all time favorite, of course, are my Hanging Leg Lifts. For beginners, start with Hanging Knee Tucks. The motion of lifting your legs to the bar not only blasts the lower portion of your abs but it also helps with your stabilizer muscles for other intense workouts. 

Hanging Knee Tucks.

Hanging Knee Tucks.

When in the course of your workout do you do your ab exercises? 

I like to do it after warming up. You're fresh and can add more fire to the workout. You're not exhausted from your other workouts, so you also pay more attention to form. 

But to be honest, I also do abs as my rest between workouts. It's rare I stay still during a workout. If one muscle is tired, the others are not! 

Have you pretty much always had an 8-pack?

Haha, no I had to work for it like everyone else. I played football growing up, and my coach believed in having a strong core as a running back, so he killed my abs. I would have to have legs six inches off the ground and this man would walk across my stomach making sure it was tight.

Now imagine this, I was only 15 at the time. From there I took my core work to the gym mixing weighted core exercises with some cardio. I was known in the town as the guy who always worked out.

What foods are best for the abs?

Almonds (Good Protein and Fiber)

Apples (Great with weight loss)

Leafy Greens (Low with calories, they help fuel your grueling workout)

Whole wheat pasta


Sweet Potatoes


Would you say the journey to getting rock-hard abs is more mental or physical?

The journey is all mental. Your abs are stubborn muscles that need to be placed in an exhausted state during your workout. It is by far one of the most important muscles for your body, because it is the center of everything.

A strong core means a good squat, a strong core helps with a good sprint. So treat this muscle like it’s the biggest muscle on your body. Everyone has abs, it’s all about removing the fat on top of the hidden gems. Mentally you will need to find it in your heart to push past exhaustion as well to stay committed to a healthy diet.

Abs start in the kitchen but end with that last set that has you out of breath. Stay committed and stay hungry mentally. But in all the best things you can do for your core and your life is to laugh more, enjoy the journey, and enjoy the lifestyle.

You can follow James McMillian's journey at @j_fit4life

InterviewsWOLACO Team