Picture this. You’re at the beach. You slowly remove your shirt to reveal a set of washboard like, rock hard and chiselled 6 or 8 pack abs. All eyes turn to you with a mixture of jealousy and admiration. Good image isn’t it? Pop! Sorry to burst that thought bubble but let’s bring most of you back to reality. For the majority of us non-genetically blessed individuals, the above situation can often seem like an elusive dream. Try as we might, countless situps, crunches and hours on odd looking, almost torture like abdominal machines just doesn’t seem to add to any decent results. But no more. This article will get you on the track to achieving a toned stomach and some serious definition.
But First Check Out Our Ab Building Training Video
Abs & Genetics
Genetics is the factor which will determine whether you have a toned stomach, a subtle set of abs or some serious chiselled, grooved 6 packs. Unfortunately, while we may not be able to change our genetics, there is no doubt that with enough hard work and determination, you can get your stomach looking enviable to most people. Understand that it can affect how training influences your adaptations but do not use this as an excuse.
Abs & Diet
10….11….12. Ahh, you just completed your last set of crunches. Time to eat. Cue large portions of steak, chicken and brown rice followed by a protein bar. No wonder you’re not getting the results you want. Your diet is possibly the most important modifiable factor which determines whether or not you’ll get the core you want. No matter how many exercises you do, if you don’t back that up with a proper nutrition plan then forget about achieving results. For visible abs, you want a low percentage of body fat so ensure that your energy in is not considerably more than energy out.
Abs & Stripping Fat
As previously mentioned, in order to see your abs, that layer of body fat on top of it must be stripped. For many of us anything under 10% of body fat is enough for abs to start to show. This is of course dependent on genetics and sex. To get your body fat down, the next most important modifiable factor is daily activity and exercise.
Cardio for Abs
Doing cardio is 1/3rd of achieving abs.* For those of you who’ve read that in order to get body fat down, you only need to do more cardio, I want you to take that idea and throw it away. Cardio is important and a great tool to help you burn energy. But it should not come at the expense of resistance training. Resistance training is just as important because it helps to build muscle which is more metabolically active than fat. So while cardio can raise your metabolic rate over a short period of time, building muscle will raise your metabolic rate permanently, helping you to burn more energy at rest throughout the entire day.
Activities for Abs
The other 1/3 of the equation are ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) and IAs (Incidental Activities). The majority of our time is not spent in the gym. So why is it that we are focusing most of our attention to that 1-2 hr period of time? Many of us sit in an office with little activity and while building muscle raises our resting metabolic rate, it is often not enough to burn sufficient energy. Time then to focus on the other aspects of our day where we can incorporate extra movement. So take the stairs, walk to the shops, park your car further away. You’ll be surprised at how much faster you’ll be able to get those abs.
Effective Ab Exercises
The abs are like any other muscle group. Depending on what you want, whether it be strength or endurance, you need to tailor your workouts in order to get those gains. Doing 100 or even 1000 sit-ups or crunches is not going to build mass or strength in your abs, the only thing it will do is increase the endurance capacity of your abs. If you want to build up your abs and make them pop, start increasing the intensity of the workout by using weights or increasing leverage. Leverage involves manipulation of your body in a way which will make an exercise harder or easier due to either gravity or the distance that you have to travel. For example, sit-ups become harder with increasing decline. Another example is when doing lying leg raises on a bench, the more your body is not in contact with the bench the harder the exercise is.
Focus for Ab Development
It is important to focus during all resistance exercises as a way to avoid injury. However, increased focus will also help to ensure that the right muscles are being activated without excessive work being performed by accessory muscles. The tough part about working abs is that often, the hip flexors also come into play. It is important then to always initiate all of your ab exercises through your abs by focusing and flexing those muscles first. So for example, with hanging leg raises, ensure that you flex your abs and then rotate and curl your lower half towards you rather than simply moving your legs. Alternatively, another good tip is to tire out the hip flexors before doing abs. So consider doing ab exercises after working your legs.
Work Your Core for Abs
Visible abs are often the pinnacle of what you want to achieve. While they might look good, if your core is not strong, you risk the chance of injuries, especially that of the lower back which can put you out of training – resulting in lost gains. So avoid this and train your core. Ab training is not necessarily core training as it doesn’t train the deeper muscles of the core. Training your core often means using unstable surfaces and bridges/planks to help activate it.
Your Lower Back & Ab Training
Having an awesome set of abs won’t take someone’s attention away from your slouch. Strengthening your lower back will not only prevent pain and injury of the lower back, it will also help you perform your exercises with better form and improve posture. Training your lower back will also prevent uneven muscle development. You wouldn’t train your chest alone without training your back, so why treat your abs and lower back any differently?
Ab Training Mistakes
Here are some common errors you want to avoid to ensure your hard work is not wasted:
- Rest – Overworking your muscles is not the key to growth and adaptation. Just as you wouldn’t train your chest everyday, don’t train your abs everyday. Rest and recovery will prevent excessive muscle damage.
- Same Exercises – Doing the same old exercises will not stimulate your muscles enough for further change. Just as you find lifting the same weight time and time again gets easier, so too does the same exercise for your abs. Well rounded abs include working your rectus abdominus, obliques and internal core muscles. Use a variety of exercises to ensure each of these muscle are utilised.
- Lower Abs – Your ab muscles (rectus abdominus) is one muscle. Training your abs will mean activation of the entire rectus abdominus. However depending on your movement, a different level of activation will occur. No matter what abdominal exercises however, you cannot isolate training to the ‘lower’ abs. To see your lower abs, you will have to reduce your body fat percentage even further.
- Poor Form – Avoid poor form with jerky movements or putting your hands behind your head and straining your neck. This will just make ab exercises more painful than what it should be and put you at risk of injuring yourself.
Achieving Abs is Possible
Getting a flatter stomach or a rock hard, visible set of abs is often seen as one of the hardest but most desired result to achieve in the gym. But it is possible. Simply follow the above 10 steps and I have no doubt that in no time, you’ll be eager to be heading to the beach.
*Equation refers to activity and exercise only.