Ask The Ripped Dude: How Can I Improve My Abs Without Hundreds Of Crunches?
I'm tired of constantly working my abs on the floor: crunches, sit-ups, and planks. Do I need to do isolation movements or is my regular workout enough to build a strong core?
Strength and muscle development is important, but nothing says, "Yeah, I'm fit" quite like a six-pack. Ripped abs come from a perfect diet and tough training. Contrary to popular belief, though, you don't need to a million crunches to coax them from hiding.
If you lift several days each week, use free weights, cables, and get on machines, you are building your core. You may not be doing direct ab work, but many exercises found in even the most basic training regimen stimulate your abdominal muscles. Here are some examples:
EXERCISE 1 Front Squats
Your core is engaged no matter which version of squats you do, but holding the weight at the front of your body challenges the anterior core more than a back squat does. In order to do the movement safely and successfully, you have to engage your core.
Without strong abs, the weight will bend you right over and win. Moreover, most of us are better at front squats anyway, because we train and use our anterior core much more than our posterior core. If you do add front squats to your regimen, you'll probably find it an easier movement than the back squat.
EXERCISE 2 Triceps Push-downs
If you don't feel your abs tighten when you do these, you're probably doing them incorrectly. If you didn't engage your core, you would just push the bar or pull the rope down by bending at the waist rather than using your triceps.
Using your core to keep an upright position is called anti-flexion—your body uses it much more than you'd think. The isolation and activation of your triceps during this movement is directly related to your core's ability to keep you from bending forward.
EXERCISE 3 Mountain Climbers
Most of us use mountain climbers as a cardio movement. Although it's great for getting your heart rate up, it's also a good core exercise. Because it starts in a plank position, your core is automatically engaged in anti-extension, which means it keeps your back from hyperextending. It's doubly difficult because you also have to flex your abs to bring your knee toward your chest.
EXERCISE 4 Dumbbell Row
These lifts are probably a staple on your back day. But, even if you don't realize it, they also work your core. To keep your body stable and upright, your abs work their anti-flexion skills. And, because you're loaded on one side, your core also tries to keep you from falling that way. This is called anti-rotation. To hit your lats correctly, your abs have to also do a lot of work.
EXERCISE 5 Sprints
Not only are sprints great for fat-burn, they're an abdominal killer. Most isolation movements focus on just the six-pack muscles, but sprints hit the whole core. While you're sprinting, your abs have to constantly produce force to keep your body upright and your trunk stabilized.
If you do multiple sets of sprints, your abs will spend a lot of time under tension working as hard as they can.
A Time to Isolate
Abs seekers usually try to spot treat their spare tire by working their abs several times per week doing crunches, sit-ups, abs machines—you name it. If you're already hitting your abs during your routine, is it really necessary to spend an extra 20 minutes fluttering your feet or repping out 100 crunches? Not really.
There's no way to actually spot-treat, and the core strength and stability required to complete moves like a squat will tax the abs and help develop the washboard look you are after. If you'd take the time you'd normally spend doing ab isolation exercises on meal preparation, you'd be better off. After all, no matter how much you work your core, you'll never see a six-pack unless your body fat is relatively low.
If you really don't want to give up your ab routine, you don't have to. But you don't need to spend all day on it. Choose a few effective movements and focus on quality over quantity.
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Jump rope, hula hoop, rack pulls, and the list goes on and on. I make my clients do all of those and more instead of just back-breaking isolation exercises on the floor. Another good article Obi... keep spreading important information.
Tell me about it, i just added them to my leg day, they are killers.
The triceps pushdown description doesn't make any sense. How is this movement an anti-flexion movement for the trunk? The role of the trunk would be anti-extension as the force vector is pulling up vertically in the pulley system whereas in a deadlift the force vector pulls down vertically requiring anti-flexion to maintain a rigid torso. I think this may need some revision.
Muscles can't extend. They can only flex/pull. The wording is fine. I think the author is mainly saying that the abdominals are stabilizing the torso throughout the movement.
I agree with you that the core as a whole is stabilizing the torso throughout the movement, but the article wording is still incorrect. If my trunk is flexed, my trunk extensors can contract, thereby extending my trunk. So although my glutes, hamstrings, adductors etc. flexed/pulled, my trunk extended. The muscles of my trunk that were flexed are now extended relative to their original position. So muscle extension according to a positional analysis is relative. The role of the trunk in a triceps pushdown pictured above, if it is to remain stabilized, is to resist extension that is being caused by the force pulling vertically upwards. Therefore, the muscles of the core would be providing an anti-extension stimulus to the trunk, not anti-flexion which was stated by the author. If this was a semantics issue I wouldn't have posted, but I feel this portion should be addressed and revised appropriately. However, thanks for taking the time to respond and providing your input!
There was a part of the article that I added in here that was unfortunately left out and what it was is that your body-fat levels have to be low enough to see your abs. For a guy your bf% has to be 12 percent and under and for a female your bf% has to be 14 percent and under. 80 percent of being lean enough to see your abs is your diet and these exercises mean nothing if your diet isn't right. When doing triceps exercises you can easily feel your abs engaging when going through the motion of that exercise so indirectly it does work your abs. Also Lat Pull downs works your abs indirectly too which is another exercise that was edited out of this article that I wrote. I truly apologize that the diet portion info and bf% levels was edited out as it was was written in the original article. I hope this extra information make sense to all of you. I am glad everybody enjoyed the article!
it seem the more I work my core I still don't see the improvements in my abs. you see I'm a big guy that power lifted in my younger years, and eat so that I can move a lot of weight. Now after suffering a back injury I got serious about bodybuilding and transforming my body to release the strain and pain in my back. So I got away from a lot of compound movements. So I don't do front squats and haven't done any sprits yet!!!
I understand that abs are utilized by the human body to support us standing on 2 feet...let me find a article that shows ab specific exercises. Not doing squats the day after legs...