Possessing a set of well defined, fat-free abdominals is the true mark of a powerful, athletic manly physique. For many, though, actually achieving a six pack seems as elusive as winning the lottery. But it doesn’t have to be. The key to an effective ab training program is to understand the different functions of the abs and then to incorporate exercises that meet those functions. In this article, we’ll identify the ideal ab training workout to meet all its functions, in the process sculpting that sculpted mid-section that you’ve been striving for.
Key Functions of the Abdominals
The abs are just one part your body’s core. The muscles of your core can be likened to a central link in a metal chain that connects your upper and lower body. The stronger that central link the more effectively the rest of the body will function. That’s because everything you do, from hitting a baseball to reaching into the pantry, originates with the core.
The most prominent core muscle group is the rectus abdominis – those sought after six pack muscles. Developing the abs will do more than give you that sought-after athletic look; it will stabilize the torso, providing a strong central base that will give power to every movement of your body.
The obliques are the diagonal muscle group that run around your waist. They allow you to twist and rotate your upper body.
The Transverse abdominis muscles act like a corset to wrap around the waist. They pull the abs up and towards the spine. Keeping them tight will improve posture and relief strain on the lower spine.
The erector spinae muscles run parallel to the spine. Strengthening this muscle group will do wonders in relieving low back pain in the same way that sturdy support pillars relief the load on a suspension bridge.
The Ab-Core-Lower Back Connection
“Oh, my aching, back!” is one of the most commonly uttered physical complaints known to man. In fact, 80% of the population in developed countries have back problems at some time in their life. Often low back pain comes as a seemingly inevitable consequence of a working environment that sees many of us sitting at a desk for 8 – 9 hours each day staring into a computer screen.
But it needn’t be that way.
The muscles of your core – abdominals, erector spinae and obliques – have the potential to act as a protective girdle to safeguard and enhance your entire body. Strengthening these muscles will enable you not to only perform your daily activities without pain, but to dramatically improve your posture, boost your overall power and make you feel fantastic.
Training All Ab Functions
The abdominals themselves provide you with:
- Ability to accelerate
- Reactive strength
Most workouts out there will cover one or, at most, two of these functions. A complete program, however, needs to include all of them. Let’s take them one at a time.
To train your abs for strength you need to be doing weighted ab exercises. Don’t worry about weighted exercises bulking up your abs – it won’t happen because the abs don’t have the hypertrophy capacity of other body-parts. A great exercise t bu8ld ab strength is the Otis Up .
Lie on the floor with a medium weighted dumbbell in one hand (about the weight of what you’d use for 10 reps of dumbbell curls). Hold the weight at arms length above your chest. Now, without using any momentum, bring your torso off the floor to an upright seated position. Keep the arm straight so that it stays in line to be above your head in the top position. Slowly lower and repeat.
Training the abs for resilience will translate to everything else you do in the gym. It will prevent ‘energy leaks’ through your core when you are doing big compound lifts like deadlifts, squats or bench presses. A great way to build ab resilience is with bar walks.
Grab an unloaded Olympic bar and hold it in front of you as if you were about to curl it. Your arms should be slightly bent. Allow the bar to rest against your pelvis. Now take a step forward. The bar will naturally follow the movement of your pelvis. However, your job is to minimize the movement of the bar by oiling against it and forcefully contracting your abs.
Take 10 steps forward and then turn around and come back, resisting the bar movement the whole time. To make this exercise even harder, hold the bar above your head, again attempting to minimize its movement as you proceed forward.
Ability to Accelerate
The ability to generate a great deal of force from a stationary base is the key to success in a whole lot of sports. It is what allows you to whack a baseball out of the park or to drop a guy to the canvas in a boxing ring. The Medicine Ball throw is a great exercise to develop accelerative ability as it forces you to do exactly that from a stationary base.
Medicine Ball Throws
Stand a couple of feet away from a wall with a heavy medicine ball in your hands, loaded at your side. Throw the ball against the wall as hard as you can. When it comes back to you, catch it without any recoil and then immediately launch into your next throw.
Your abdominals are ‘on call’ all day and are being utilized in almost everything that you do, even when you’re just standing around. Here are two challenging, but extremely effective moves, that will build up abdominal endurance.
Eccentric Leg Raise
Hang from a pull-up bar with your palms forward and hands shoulder-width apart and leg straight with feet together. Without using any momentum, bring your legs up as high as possible and then lower as slowly as you can. Rather than just lifting from the legs, make sure that you are rotating from the pelvis and using the core to bring the legs up.
Wall Plant Plank
This is a variation of the traditional plank exercise where, rather than having your feet on the ground, you plant them against a wall in line with your torso. This makes the move far more challenging on the abs. Use your abs to push your feet back into the wall as you hold for the required length of time.
In order to be effective in any athletic endeavor, you need to be able to absorb force through the abs and recovery quickly. Reactive core strength will make you faster and more stable. Here are a couple of great moves that will allow you to develop your reactive ab strength.
Get down in traditional plank position with your elbows on the floor and your torso in a straight line with feet together. Place a medicine ball in front of and alternatively pound down on it with one fist after the other. Every time you strike the ball you will be absorbing the force into your abs.
Swiss Ball Alphabet
Lean on a Swiss Ball so that your elbows and forearms are resting on top of it with your body angled toward the floor. Now, clasp your hands together and use your arms to begin spelling put the alphabet on the Swiss Ball. The unstable nature of the ball will force your abs to work overtime as you go through the intricate movements required to spell the letters out. It will also have to very quickly regain control as you move on to the next letter. If you make it through to ‘Z’ your core will be on fire!
Combine these moves into a killer total ab workout as follows . . .
Otis Up – 12 reps
Bar Walk – 10 paces back and forth
Medicine Ball Throws – 12 reps each side
Eccentric Leg Raise – 12 reps
Wall Plant Plank – 60 seconds
Pounding Planks – 12 each arm
Swiss Ball Alphabet – ‘A’ through ‘Z’
Do this workout as a circuit, attempting to go from one move to the next with no rest between. Wok up to doing 3 circuits, with a 60 second rest between circuits.
4 Great Ab Revealing Habits
While there are no secrets to obtaining a washboard mid-section, there are some habits that you need to take on board and consistently follow.
Here are 4 super effective ways to reveal your abs in record time.
Ab Revealing Hack No. 1: Up / Down Sequencing
Getting shredded abs requires maximizing your workout time while also focusing on those big, compound moves that burn the most calories. A super effective technique that combines both of these aspects is what we call Up / Down sequencing. It sampling improves super setting a compound exercise for the upper body with one for the lower body.
Up / Down sequencing puts a lot of stress on your body as it shunts the blood around your body, gets you puffing like a steam engine and burning calories like crazy. An example would be moving directly from squats to bent over rows.
Ab revealing Hack No. 2: Mixing Dynamic and Stabilization Ab Exercises
The two key functions of the abs are spinal stabilization and spinal flexion which brings the abs and hips together. Complete development requires doing moves that target both purposes. The key stabilization move is the plank. This is a move that you can do at home any time. We’ve given you some variations on the plank above. Get into the habit of jumping off the couch and planking during the ads while you’re watching TV!
To draw the hips and abs together, follow up your planks in the next set of ads by pumping out some crunches.
Tip No.3: Supplement
Let’s face it – fat is stubborn. In men, especially, it likes to hang on around the mid-section. You need every advantage in combatting that fat, especially when you’re trying to reveal your abs. By focusing on non-stimulant fat burning products, you’ll be able to supply your body with natural herbs and micronutrients that it needs to ramp up the fat loss.
Tip No. 4: Carb Cycling
Carb cycling actually originated with bodybuilders, but people the world over have been using it to strip off body fat for some time. When you reduce carbs from your diet, you lose body fat and water. But as the time of carb depletion continues, the metabolism actually slows down, which is not really what you need for maximum fat loss. Reintroducing carbs into the diet allows for fat loss without the metabolism slow down. On low carb days, you enter into a catabolic fat burning state, while the high carb days act as a boost to the metabolism.
To get started on carb cycling, alternate between low carb and high carb days. You should consume about 500 more total calories per day on your high carb days. Continue on this program for 12 weeks to strip those last vestiges of body fat from your physique
To supplement your ab and core work-out, here are some simple things that can be done to improve your posture:
(1) Sleep on your side with your spine straight.
(2) When sitting, use the back of the chair to support your back.
(3) When in front of a computer maintain a natural shoulder position – don’t round the shoulders.
(4) When bending down, bend with your knees and keep your spine arched
(5) If standing for a prolonged period, put your weight on one foot, while resting the other on a footstool.
You now have at your disposal an awesome full ab workout that will allow you to work every function of that muscle group. This will make you a stronger, more power and agile athlete while also dialing in the abdominal definition that you’ve been striving for.