There's a strange dissonance about abs. Schizophrenically, they're either over-emphasized or ignored, and sometimes both, intermittently, by the same bodybuilder. Ab definition is widely regarded as the best visual indicator of leanness. And yet, unless you're shirtless, abs can't convey anything to anyone; and, if you're not buff, they still remain unseen even when you're in the buff. For the latter reason, even many pro bodybuilders skip ab training until the final weeks before a contest.
Another key cause of ab workout avoidance is boredom. Trainees slog away at the same low-intensity one or two exercises, predictably never see much change and eventually decide it makes little difference whether they work abs or not. In their case, this is true, but it doesn't have to be.
This month, HUGE comes to the rescue, as we present five strategies for revitalizing your abdominal workouts. To make noticeable improvements, neither overtrain nor ignore abs, but instead give them the same variety, intensity and focus you apply to any other bodypart. Our five routines could be your ab-solution.
ALL-AROUND One reason so many people get burnt out on ab training is they tend to do only one type of movement targeting one area of their midsection. Just as you shouldn't do only leg curls for your thighs, don't get trapped focusing on a limited area and range of motion for your abs.
Our all-around midsection routine hits your lower abs with leg raises, upper abs with crunches, side abs (obliques) with side bends, inner abs (transverse abdominis) with vacuums and your lower back (spinal erectors) with back extensions. Most people train their lower back with their upper back, which is perfectly acceptable, but working your rear midsection with your front and side midsection hits all of your central trunk stabilizers in the same session.
The other thing that makes this routine unique is the inclusion of the vacuum. Your internal abs aid in your breathing and posture, and strengthening them can help prevent or relieve lower back pain, assist stabilization during lifts like squats and deadlifts and even slim your waistline.
You've probably noticed that even some ripped bodybuilders have trouble holding their bellies in. This is, in part, because of structural weakness in their transverse abs.
The best way to strengthen this area is the vacuum - an isometric exercise you can perform anywhere. Exhale and simultaneously suck your midsection in as far as possible, hold for as long as you can (up to one minute) while you continue breathing. If this starts to feel easy, pull your waist in harder. Each hold is one set.
To read the full story, pick up the August 2007 issue of FLEX, on newsstands July 9.