If there is one muscle group that any person would wish to develop, it must be the abdominals. Not only do abs look great on the beach, but they are essential in high levels of sporting performance. Even though there have been millions and millions of articles and videos done on abdominal training, very few give effective ways to build the torso. The "Mighty Abs!" series will devote time to dispelling the myths that keep so many from getting the abs they want and show new ways of developing abs that are rocks!
Truth: Not being able to see one's abs has everything to do with a person's body fat and nothing to do with their abdominal strength. Many of the top strength athletes in the world have amazing abdominal strength, but because of higher body fat levels they will not show any "six-pack" development. It is important to distinguish goals for cosmetic and performance reasons.
To actually see the abs one must lose body fat from a combination of a proper nutrition plan and exercise. One of the best ways of losing body fat is to utilize high-intensity training methods that I have outlined in my "Getting In Shape" series, and interval training. This is much more effective than the traditional low duration, low-intensity type of training most people will perform.
Once you have established the above you must finally understand that spending hours and hours on abdominal training is completely ineffective for losing body fat. Most exercises simply do not expend enough calories to burn enough body fat to assist in a leaner appearance.
Truth: Unfortunately, I hear the above statement from coaches, therapists, and athletes all the time. This simply reflects their poor understanding of strength and the fact they don't understand the various functions of the abdominals.
By doing extreme amounts of repetitions all a person builds is a form of endurance. This extreme level of endurance does very little to improve the overall strength of the abs and can potentially cause overuse injuries. The abdominals are just like any other muscle group. They should be trained with various rep and set schemes depending upon the goal of the individual. If you want to build strength, then perform more sets and lower reps with a greater load. If you want to produce greater power, use more sets, lower reps, but keep the speed high and the load low to moderate. It should become obvious that the typical 3 sets of 20 protocol is insufficient for all people and all stages of training.
An interesting note to the abdominals is there anatomy and kinesiology. Many muscles will be innervated (connect) by two nerves that allow them to perform primarily two functions (yes, this is a strong generalization). However, the abdominals are innervated by nine nerves! This means that they are capable of performing many different movements and should be trained as such. By only utilizing crunches and leg lifts one really does not properly train the abs. One of the most neglected movements is rotational training, something we will address in this series.
Well, not to be too great of a tease I will provide some of my favorite exercises. Don't worry though, in the next few weeks we will dispel even more fallacies and provide more exercises.
I was introduced to this exercise by my great friends at the University of Arizona Strength & Conditioning Center... incredible exercise! Always start light on these exercises to understand the movement and increase the weight accordingly.
Tips: Lie on either a flat or decline bench. For those that are stronger, use the decline. Start with the bar on the chest as though you were preparing to perform a bench press. Take a nice deep breathe, tighten the abdominals and glutes. Begin by simultaneously curling your torso and pressing the bar to an overhead position. Exhale only through pierced lips not to lose intra-abdominal pressure. Reverse the process by unrolling your body, but do not exhale all your air.
Note: Even though your feet are anchored try to minimize the pull of the hips.
Tips: Again, make sure you use a weight that will allow you to practice some technique tips. Stand to the side of the bar so that you may maintain a proper deadlift position. Grasp the bar at the midpoint and squeeze as powerfully as possible. Tighten the torso, and begin to push through the floor without deviating to either side. The key is to stand without any lean. Reverse the process maintaining tight abs. Note: If you need to use less than 45 pound plates then placing the bar in a power rack will allow you to elevate the bar without having to go too far to the ground.
The use of chains is not only simple, but extremely versatile. Simply hang some chains from a power rack so they are a few inches off of the ground. Attach some handles to the chains for a grip position (using gymnastics rings add a whole new level to this exercise).
Begin in a standard push-up position with a relatively neutral spine. Tighten the abs and the lats to help stabilize the shoulder. From here you can perform any of the following movements:
- Stabilizer 1 (Shown Above): Push one arm out in front without losing the neutral back posture.
- Stabilizer 2 (Shown Above): Push two arms out in front without losing the neutral back posture.
Any of the above two can also be performed on one leg or with feet on a Swiss Ball.
The best part about the above exercises is that they can be done at any gym. Chains are inexpensive and the rest do not require any unique equipment. The truth is that there is no one exercise that will give you that six-pack. You have to combine the exercises mentioned along with a well-balanced nutrition and exercise program. Don't give up on those great abs, but take time to reevaluate what you have been using. As Dr. Phil loves to say, "how's that working for you?" Most times it isn't working so don't be afraid to change.