Nothing looks more impressive on a physique than a set of ripped abdominals. Whether you are a bodybuilder, Fitness competitor, or model, your stomach is always the focal point of your physique. For most athletes your abdominals will be the barometer of just how in shape you are in.
There are many theories on how often to train your mid-section. Many say you can train them everyday since they are quick recovery muscles – just as long as they are not extremely sore at the time. Others say that you should train them like any other muscle to give them time to grow and recover. There have been disputes on whether to use high repetitions with no weight versus weighted exercises for abdominal development. Finally, some athletes may choose to train there stomachs only during their pre-contest phase rather than their off-season while others train their abs year round.
With the vast assortment of training advice available, which one do you choose? Which routine fits your body type or your goals? I will attempt to answer these questions by illustrating my own trial and error experiences throughout my 16 years of training and competing.
As an athlete that has always had trouble developing mass, maintaining a trim waistline with decent abdominal development wasn’t a major concern for me until I started to move up in the competitive bodybuilding ranks. Before that I would rely on my genetics and diet combined with the occasional crunches that I would have to do during my Marine Corps training to develop a “Six-Pack”. However, it was apparent that some of my competitors seemed to have much more ab development and definition than I did, yet they were not necessarily leaner throughout the rest of their physique. Even some of the bodybuilders with thicker waistlines seemed to display hard six-packs with well developed intercostals (the area on the outside of the abdominals that lead up to the lattisimus dorsi down to the hip bone) which were non-existent on my physique. What could I do to achieve the top athletes level of development in their stomachs? This is how my quest for fabulous abs began!
I started to research documented facts on abdominal training before I applied it to my own training.
The shape of your abdominals is due to the tendons that stretch across the muscle. You cannot change a tendon’s shape, size, or location through training, so if you expect to mirror the same abdominals as another athlete with perfect abs don’t count on it. However, you can develop and display exceptional abdominals of your own that may be even better than those that you admire…its all dependent on your personal genetics.
Studies show that your body continuously learns to adapt and respond to stimuli. If you do the same program for your abdominals , for example the same abdominal exercises and sets and repetitions, you would quickly adapt to this routine so that it would eventually become ineffective in terms of shaping your midsection. Variety is the key. Revamp your abdominal training program by varying the types of exercises, number of sets and repetitions, amount of resistance, and the speed of your contractions and you will keep your midsection in a state of confusion and reap more benefits.
Your low-back pain health and abdominal training are related in some manner. The internal obliques may be the key abdominal muscles for low-back health. The abdominal oblique muscles attach to the connective tissue of the erector spinae muscles of the lower back. Strong internal oblique muscles reinforce the erector spinae fascia and pull it laterally. This reinforced fascia is therefore more efficient in supporting the spine. Working the oblique muscles along with the rectus abdominus for improved low-back health can be very important preventative medicine for lower back pain.
These facts combined with years of inquiry of various athletes and trainers have led to the application of an efficient training regiment which allowed for great changes to my midsection. My routine is as follows:
EXERCISE AND PERFORMANCE TRAINING TIPS
In designing an abdominal workout, choose between 5 to 10 exercises, combining spinal flexion, rotation, and lateral flexion exercises. Perform 8 repetitions of each exercise before going on to the next exercise. Every 2-3 weeks, you are advised to vary your workout (refer above for ways in which to vary your program). Strive for quality of movement with each contraction. Also, visualize your abdominal muscles contracting tighter with each exercise, stressing the importance of the contraction. Although it’s great to do these exercises with accompanying music, try not to let the music dictate the tempo of the exercise. Slow and controlled movement is always best. During all exercises for which you need to support your head, do so in a comfortable manner that does not allow you to force your chin towards your chest.
Although the abdominals are a troublesome spot for many people, the knowledge and tools you now have, will, with hope, highlight your abdominal exercise workout, while helping you achieve your health and fitness goals.
Which type of contraction is best for abdominal training?
One way to add variety to your ab workout is to vary the type of muscle contraction used (shortening, lengthening, and static). Doing a crunch, when you lift the torso off the floor, the abs are shortening; whereas, in the trunk-lowering phase the abs are lengthening. During hanging leg lifts, the abs are contracting statically and there is no visible trunk movement.
Is there an ideal sequence for working the abdominal muscles?
Some persons would like to convince you that there is an ideal sequence for working the abdominals, i.e., theirs, if you just buy their product.
Do you work the abdominals when performing those hanging leg lifts from a chin-up bar?
Although the hip flexors are the prime movers in bringing the legs up toward the chest in this movement, the abdominals are statically (no movement) contracting in this exercise. Several studies demonstrate conclusively the involvement of the abdominal muscles in this skill (Flint & Gudgell, 1965; Guimaraes, Auerlio, Campos, & Marantes, 1991; Gutin & Lipetz, 1971). In the hanging leg lift, the rectus abdominis must rotate the pelvis posteriorly and stabilize the pelvis to allow the legs to move freely toward the chest. Since the legs are relatively heavy, the strain on the rectus abdominis is due largely to its role in stabilizing the pelvis. This exercise is quite strenuous for many individuals. Doing this exercise with straight legs places a heavy load on the lumbar spine, making this a “high risk” exercise for some individuals. Performing the hanging leg lifts with bent knees reduces this risk.
TRAINING FOR RESULTS
Now that we’ve dispelled several popular myths and clarified some important issues about abdominal exercises, let’s verify some of the most effective means of training these muscles. Perhaps one of the most common and important questions asked about abdominal training is “How high up should you go in a crunch (or curl-up)?” Research suggests that the abdominals flex the spinal column for about the first 30 to 45 degrees of movement which is approximately equivalent to lifting your shoulder blades off the ground (Laban, Raptou, & Johnson, 1965; Plowman, 1992; Rasch & Burke, 1978; Ricci, Marchetti, & Figura, 1981). Beyond 30 degrees, the powerful hip flexors begin to take charge of the movement. Due to the potential pressure placed on the lower spine by the hip flexors, full sit-ups cannot be recommended. Plowman #(1992)# adds that bent knee, feet supported sit-ups may cause lumbar stress which could lead to harmful effects on the lumbar discs. Several studies indicate that supine crunches, with bent knees and unsupported legs, maximize abdominal activity and minimize hip flexor (specifically the rectus femoris) activity (Godgrey, Kindig, & Windell, 1977; Guimaraes et al., 1991; Libetz & Gutin, 1970; Walters & Partridge, 1957). Since the effectiveness of the abdominal exercises is within this small range of motion (30 - 45 degrees), more repetitions and exercises may have to be performed to appropriately challenge these muscles.
In the following sections, we will look at specific questions about training variables that can enhance the effectiveness of your abdominal workout.
Can I work the abdominal muscles daily?
Make sure you train them at least 3 - 5 days per week, with a daily workout being permissible. Unlike other muscles, you rarely fatigue the abdominal muscles enough so that they need an additional day to recover. This is because you are always working with the weight of your torso, in a limited range of motion, as compared to other exercises which may challenge the muscles with progressively heavier resistance. In practice, it actually makes sense to do some type of abdominal strengthening exercise on a daily basis to try and counteract the excessive tightening of your lower back muscles and hip flexors. Just because you may work the abdominals regularly, there should be no fear that these muscles will get too big. In fact, the abdominals are very thin muscles compared to other muscles, such as the deltoids, gluteals, hamstrings, biceps, and quadriceps. So, unless you are progressively overloading these muscles with additional external resistance, such as ab machines, it is unlikely that the abs will become “too thick.”
Then is it O.K. to use some resistance in working the abdominals?
Yes, but first make sure you are doing your abdominal exercises with correct technique. For effective abdominal training, emphasize body position and movement proficiency. Greater results will be attained with a focus on technique. Furthermore, do the exercises slowly, with control. How many times have you taught, gone to a class, or worked out at home using some high energy music, and then tried to adapt the abdominal workout tempo to the beat of the music? Focus more on the abdominal movement, trying to accentuate each contraction. In other words, “make every repetition count.” Try adding light handheld weights (2 to 4 lb) to several of the exercises only when you feel you really need that additional challenge.
I noticed that all of the top competitors were so lean and shredded that you could see every muscle fiber and striated tissue in every body part. Even the fitness and bodybI noticed that all of the top competitors were so lean and shredded that you could see every muscle fiber and striated tissue in every body part. Even the fitness and bodybuilding models had to have that dry, onion tight skin condition in order to display an anatomy chart looking physique in the magazines or videos. This became my new goal…to achieve the ultimate condition that my body could achieve without losing too much muscle mass.
I changed my preparation from a mere 4-6 weeks of dieting and cardio to 8-12 weeks and that made a major difference in my physique. The extra prep time allowed me to slowly get used to dieting (no longer eating cheeseburgers and pizza is very tough for me), and to hold on to as much muscle as possible, optimally losing no more than a pound or two a week. Any more weight loss per week will risk you stepping onstage or for a photo shoot looking smaller and flat from excessive muscle wasting. If you give your body the right amount of nutrients and calories to lose that one to two pounds per week, you will find yourself looking bigger and better naked (which is what counts our line of business) than you normally look in the off-season, even though your clothes will be a bit baggy on you by the end of your diet.
Building models had to have that dry, onion tight skin condition in order to display an anatomy chart looking physique in the magazines or videos. This became my new goal…to achieve the ultimate condition that my body could achieve without losing too much muscle mass.