You won’t run into a single individual who doesn’t want the classic “six pack” abs. Ripped, muscular, lean abs are right up there, if not higher on the list than huge, peaked biceps. A well-defined midsection is the hallmark of fitness; it is the benchmark of your level of leanness.
But what to do if those always sought after ripples of muscle are not yet visible? What principles can you apply to your training to finally help you down the path to your very own six pack? Although it is well known that diet has a paramount role in the outcome, there are certain training principles you can put into action to ensure success. Below are 20 key points to help you reach that goal.
1. Rectus abdominis: This is the coveted six pack. It is actually a single muscle separated by connective tissue that works to stretch and flex the rib cage and pelvis. Although it is a single muscle, most trainees like to split the area into upper and lower. The entire area is contracted during any exercise; however, you are able to stress the upper or lower abs with specialized training focusing on those specific areas.
2. Obliques: The internal and external obliques aid in the rotation of the torso – think twisting and crunching down. They are located on each side of the abdominal wall and give the tight appearance of the abs. Moves to target this area include twisted crunches, leg lifts and sit-ups, Russian twists and seated twists.
3. Upper abs: As noted earlier, although the entire abdominal wall is contracted for a given movement, it is possible to focus most of the stress on the upper region when warranted. For example, some upper ab moves that mainly flex down the rib cage include floor crunches and sit-ups, incline crunches, sit-ups, and ball crunches.
4. Lower abs: As with the upper region of the rectus abdominis, focused contraction of the lower region by pulling in the pelvis will help stress this area. Some examples of lower ab moves include straight leg and bent leg lifts, Roman chair raises, hanging leg raises, and bicycle crunches.
5. Transverse abdominis: This area has had a lot of press lately regarding training the core sufficiently. The transverse abdominis lies underneath the abdominal wall and wraps around either side of the torso. Its function includes providing thoracic and pelvic stability. Although it is stressed in almost all abdominal moves, it is especially important during static exercises such as planks, side planks and any other static hold exercise. It is also vitally important during many weight training moves.
Training The Abs
1. When to work them: It has been thoroughly researched that abdominal training is best performed after weight training. Reason being, since your core plays a significant role in overall strength, power, and stability; weakening the region prior to the big lifts isn’t advisable. However, there is nothing wrong with performing a few low intensity abdominal movements at the beginning of your workout to help warm-up the core and assist in blood flow.
2. Frequency: Midsection muscle is best worked with a relatively high frequency. Having a propensity for quick recovery, the abs are considered an endurance muscle. In other words, they can take a hit and be worked over and over again. Now, this isn’t to say you NEED to train them every single day. Three days per week is a good plan for enough frequency to significantly impact their development.
3. Intensity: Much like frequency, intensity is another key ingredient for better results. Abs are like everything else, you have to apply focused and deliberate intensity. Without it you will find yourself spinning your wheels and with nothing left to show for your pitiful efforts at the end of the day. Whatever your program calls for, be sure to apply intensity to every square inch of the movement; stretch, contract, hold, flex. If you are going to spend the time, spend wisely and make it worth it.
4. Volume: Working abs doesn’t constitute a couple of sets of crunches thrown in at the end of a workout – the area of interest deserves more attention and volume. The good thing is that abs are a great candidate for such training techniques as supersets, giant sets and staggered sets. You can superset upper and lower moves, do a series of four of five moves as a circuit or even do a set while you are resting during a chest or arm workout. There is no excuse to skimp.
5. Work all areas: Be sure to cover all bases; rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, serratus anterior. Train all areas of the midsection or “core” as many call it now. Leave no area untouched. Many moves will cover several sections if done properly and with the right volume, intensity and frequency. You don’t need an exhaustive list, just a few moves to annihilate your abs such as leg lifts, floor crunches and three-point planks, for example.
Keep Your Abs Guessing
1. High reps: High reps and ab training have gone hand-in-hand since the days of Jack Lalane, but there still is some merit to this old-fashioned technique. High rep training has some performance benefits to help you with other lifts. Increasing your endurance capacity can help with endurance issues on moves like squats and deadlifts by helping to maintain power in the abdominal area over a period of time. As you continue your sets over an entire workout, your abs will be less fatigued over the duration.
2. Low reps: Just as high reps have their benefit, so do low reps – utilizing a lower rep range will normally call for adding weight and/or slowing down the rep cadence, but this technique will call on more of the strength side of the midsection. This, in turn, will help provide a strong core for big lifts like squats and deadlifts. Lower reps will also force you to slow down and focus on form, range of motion and the stretch and contraction of each rep.
3. Fast reps: We’ve all seen those in the gym flying through short, fast, choppy sets of crunches and sit-ups and we’ve all read about how we need to slow down and feel every inch of the move, but do faster reps really have any benefit? Recent research has shown as you increase the speed of your reps, the more number of muscles get involved in the move. For example, as you increase the pace of crunches, oblique activity increases as well. So, for variety, increase rep speed at times.
4. Slow reps: Just as fast reps have benefit, so do slow reps; whether it involves a low rep range or adding weight to certain moves, slowed reps ensure a complete development over the entire range of motion. This will also help strengthen the core at all points of flexion such as for squats, overhead triceps moves, biceps curls and overhead presses.
5. Use weight: This goes right along with lower reps and slower reps – adding weight strengthens the midsection which helps stabilize the core during the big, multi-joint lifts. Stabilizing the abdominal wall centralizes power and helps control strength distribution focusing on the lift and improves form. Avoid an exorbitant amount of weight – a little goes a long way. Weighted leg lifts, crunches and planks are good choices.
6. Static moves: As mentioned above, static moves are those that do not require any dynamic effort or movement. In addition to planks, other modes of exercise that specialize in holding and strengthening static positions include yoga and pilates which call upon all areas of the midsection.
The Diet Disclaimer
One of the most overlooked factors in building and shredding an award-winning midsection is diet. This is not to say you must enter into starvation mode and sacrifice your hard-earned muscle and strength; it is just a little advice that you can do 1000 reps for your abs every day and still not see a single line or cut. Following a sound eating plan is paramount on the road to your goals. Bottom line, you will not have visible abdominal muscles until you get your body fat percentage down. We recommend checking how How To Get Shredded
Benefits Of Getting A Six Pack
Assistance on all moves: The importance of midsection strength cannot be stressed enough regarding the application it has toward assisting other major resistance training lifts. Increased ab strength and stability play a major role in holding in and centralizing total body power so that power can be transferred to the leveraged limbs and joints involved in the specific lift. For example: Abdominal pressure is increased dramatically during the decent and initial accent of the barbell squat. By “holding in” the abs during this critical times of the lift will ensure not only the ability to power through the bottom of the lift, it will also help with spinal stability.
Lower back first aid: Many trainees with hurt lower backs and/or with chronic pain in that area often (not always) suffer from a weak abdominal wall. One can possess a strong lumbar region, but without a strong abdominal area to balance out strength and stability, they will not be able to tap into the full potential of strength and, subsequently, more muscle. The trigger of the lower back episode may have been caused by an acute action, but more than likely, the underlying problem may stem form a weak midsection.
The sought after six pack: Everyone wants a ripped midsection, but you have to stop for a moment and seriously think about your priorities and habits as they apply to your goals. Are you taking the correct steps toward those goals? Are your training, diet and recovery habits in line with those goals? Are you setting a realistic timeline? Only you can answer these questions honestly. Don’t sell yourself short and make the best of your time and efforts.