The ideal image of health and fitness is, you guessed it, a chiseled set of 6-pack abs. More and more we are seeing everybody from your Average Joe to celebrities jumping on the abdominals bandwagon. In a land where plastic surgery is cooler than the other side of the pillow, working hard for your trim mid-section seems like too much to ask. Nobody wants to perform 5,000 crunches a day to achieve Ryan Reynolds’ peak physique. But who says achieving your own set of rock hard abs requires all that?
One thing remains certain. No matter how developed your abdominal muscles are they will never make a visual impact with a layer of fat covering them. Your diet alone may be the deal breaker when it comes to achieving your very own six-pack. You can do a million crunches to try to burn localized fat deposits, but a combination of consistent diet and exercise is necessary to rid your belly bulge.
Why Train Abs in the First Place
Developing your abdominals in to a defined six-pack, aside from being aesthetically pleasing to the eye, results in many significant benefits. A strong core is essential for preventing lower back pain or injury. The transversus abdominus and obliques act as a “belt” providing trunk stability. Strong abs also assist in proper breathing as the diaphragm is attached to the abdominal wall.
On the flip side, studies are proving that people who carry more body fat around their waist are at a higher risk of developing heart disease. Plus, weak abdominals don’t make daily living any easier. Simple everyday tasks will leave you fatigued.
Abdominal Debate of the Century
Just last night someone asked me how often I train abs. My answer: once per week. The expression on this guy’s face was one of shock and horror. Apparently he is the same guy that says the abdominals require stimulation every single day in order to see visible changes. The only thing I see is a whole lot of wasted time. Would you perform 5000 bicep curls expecting to build 20” arms? I think not.
Then there are those people who don’t train their abs at all. They say that because they have a layer of fat covering their abs that it’s pointless to work them. Those people should do themselves a favor and forget that thought all together. Instead, use the excess body fat around your waist as motivation to stick to your diet and training routine so that you CAN see your abs in the near future.
You are probably expecting the next paragraph of this article to say something to the effect of your abdominals are like any other muscle, you must only train them once per week with adequate rest. An excellent point, because yes, your abdominals are just like any other muscle group. To build muscle you must hypertrophy them, and your abs are no exception.
Hypertrophy the Ab Muscles + lowering body fat = A stomach you could wash your clothes on!
Frequency of abdominal training should stay between 1-3 times per week. Anything more may be unnecessary and can even blunt your plump ravioli like abdominal gains.
Loaded or Unloaded?
There’s a lot of hype about weighted ab exercises causing a “thick” waist. Show me the studies to back up these claims and maybe I will take them in to consideration. At this point, that statement is hearsay.
Why choose one or the other if you can utilize both and get better results? Utilize rep ranges of both 6-12 (with added resistance) and 13-15 (unloaded). Beginners (or those with weak abs) should start with unloaded exercises at a slow tempo, while focusing on contracting the abdominal muscles. A great way to establish the mind/muscle connection is by “touch training.” Touch training is where you would touch your finger to the targeted muscle group while performing an exercise. Try it, touch your abs while you are performing something as basic as crunches and I guarantee you will get a better contraction. Slow controlled movements are important, where Time Under Tension (TUT) is between 10-40 seconds.
Keep It Interesting
There’s no need to go beyond three (3) exercises per session. Be sure to include one crunch variation, one reverse crunch or double crunch variation, and one exercise using a twisting motion.
Swiss Ball Crunch: A basic, yet effective exercise when focusing on full contraction of the abdominal muscles. Sit on an inflated Swiss Ball with your feet shoulder width apart. Slowly roll forward so that the ball is now positioned at your lower-mid back. With knees bent and arms crossed at chest, slowly bring your chest forward with your hips down. Focus on the concentric portion of the exercise (the lifting portion).
Cable Crunch: A more advanced movement, but when performed correctly can be one of the best exercises to build the thick blocks that make up your six-pack. With a Rope and a cable pulley machine, kneel in front with your legs about shoulder width apart. Grasp the rope and keep arms at about ear level. The idea is to use your abs only to pull the weight downward. Imagine you are trying to bring your elbows to your knees. Slowly allow the weight to rise to the starting position, and repeat.
Incline Weighted Crunch: Using an incline crunch bench and a small weight plate. Hold the plate at your chest and focus on the concentric portion of the exercise (the lifting portion). Word of caution – this exercise has a tendency to target the hip flexors. In that case you may need to begin with no weight, and try said touch training technique to ensure contraction of the abdominal muscles.
Reverse Crunch or Double Crunch Variations
Hanging or Supported Straight Leg Raises: Keep your back straight, chest out and shoulders back. With a slight bend in the knee raise your legs, then slowly return to starting position and repeat. Focus on using your abdominal muscles to raise your legs against gravity.
Seated Knee-Ups: Utilizing a flat bench, sit on the edge of the bench. Grasp the bench close to your body for stability. Simultaneously bring your knees and torso together, focusing on contracting the abdominal muscles. Slowly return to starting position and repeat.
Twisting Motion Variations
Lying Side Crunch: Performed the same as a regular crunch except your knees should be angled to the right or left. Perform 13-15 reps on one side; then repeat with the other.
Swiss Ball Lying Twist: Lie with your back flat against the floor. Raise your legs and hold a Swiss Ball between your feet. Slowly twist the ball from side to side. Perform 13-15 reps per side.
Cable Crunch…………….2 x 10-12 reps
Supported Straight Leg Raise…………2 x 13-15 reps
Swiss Ball Lying Twist……………..2 x 13-15 reps per side
Don’t neglect to train your abs. With the right diet and training routine you too can have a tight mid-section that is sure to stop traffic!