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What Is The Most Complete Ab Workout?

What is the most complete ab workout? Our forum members share with us what they believe to be the best workouts and exercises to build great abs. Read on as they list routines that are sure to develop a rock hard six-pack!

By: Workout Of The Week


TOPIC: What Is The Most Complete Ab Workout?

The Question:

Everyone dreams of having that much sought after six-pack, while some would just be happy to get a flatter stomach with more strength. Now we know that diet plays a bigger role here than most areas but today we want to focus on what workout program would give you the most bang for your buck.

What is the most complete ab workout? Be specific. List Exercises, reps, sets, frequency, etc.

What exercises are the most effective in building great abs? Be specific and describe what & why you chose them.

What ab exercises would you consider ineffective? Be specific and describe what & why you chose them.

How successful have you been in getting your abs stronger and flatter? Can training alone get you better abs?

Bonus Question: Who has the most complete abdominal development in the IFBB today?

Show off your knowledge to the world!

The Winners:

    New Prizes:
      1st place - $75 in store credit.
      2nd place - $50 in store credit.

To use your credit, e-mail Will @ will@bodybuilding.com for more info.


1st Place - Xtrainer
View This Author's BodySpace Here.


The Most Complete Ab Workout

Day 1*

Girard Girard
Overhead Squat.
Video: WMV - MPEG - iPod Video

Day 2*

Day 3*

    *Add (or do not add) cardiovascular/ "fat burning" exercise as necessitated by your training phase (bulking, cutting, etc.) This routine is only an example. If it does not suit you, follow the principles below to create your own. Consult your doctor before attempting this routine or utilizing any of the following principles and/or nutrition suggestions.

    **Start with twenty repetitions for each exercise. DO NOT let your feet touch the ground at any point during the circuit. Even at relatively low reps, this is a challenge.


The Method To The Madness

Welcome to the world of serious core training. It is not easy. It is not for everybody. However, if you are sick of repping out endless sit-ups and crunches and not getting anywhere, the answers are here. The complete ab workout is about more than sit-ups.

1. Types Of Core Movements:

    An important criterion for the selection of core exercises is ensuring that they "cover all bases." There are several different types of core movements. The most well-known are sit-up-type exercises. This is called flexion (Hildenbrand, Nobel).

    This type of movement targets the rectus abdominis (us) or "six pack" muscles. Flexion movements like sit-ups target the upper abdominals while other flexion movements like leg raises target the lower regions. DON'T STOP READING NOW!

    Good core training is about more than merely isolating the "six pack" muscles. In order to develop the core thoroughly, other types of movement must be incorporated. The next type of movement is called extension (Casselman). The good morning is an extension exercise.

    With extension exercise, the posterior core muscles play the large role while the abdominals work to stabilize the body (and the weight it is bearing). I bet some of you are thinking: "I want a six pack! Why do I need to worry about my back?" Well, how about safety?

Abs (Self-Portrait)
Abs (Self-Portrait)
How Sweet Is A Six-Pack?!

Week #14 - 6/13/2006
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    You need strong back muscles to help stabilize your body for all the abdominal work you are doing, as well as in daily life ("Today, Treatment for..."). Having underdeveloped back muscles means the abdominals must work harder all the time (to keep you upright) and that can lead to a whole slew of problems.

    Rotational exercises such as Russian twists target the obliques. There are also lateral exercises, such as suitcase deadlifts, which concentrate side-to-side motion. Finally, big compound lifts like squats and overhead presses challenge the core statically, or without direct movement. You will notice that all of these different movements are combined in the above program.

2. The Inclusion Of "Big Lifts":

    When I use the term "Big Lifts," I refer to squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and various Olympic-style movements. You should be performing these as the focus of your strength training program.

    I do not consider them part of the core training program per se (you do not perform them in sequence with the other exercises). However, it is important to consider their effect on core training. Because of the immense amount of resistance involved, they challenge your core in ways isolation exercises cannot.

    I recommend performing your "Big Lifts" early in your routine and more isolated core training toward the end. If you do them on separate days, your isolation exercise may fatigue you for your "Big Lifts" and "Big Lifts" must be the core of your overall strength training program.

    The particular lifts I list are just ideas. You may perform any "Big Lift" on any of the core/abdominal workout days. For more about compound lifts, see this link.

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3. Frequency:

4. Repetition Scheme:

    Unless training specifically for endurance, you should train your abdominals in a similar repetition range as the rest of your major muscle groups (Roughly 8-15). This range offers for excellent strength and mass development. If you want your "six pack" to show, you need to develop abdominal mass.

    Extremely high repetition sets of abdominal work will not develop mass very well, just as you would not do thousands of bodyweight squats to develop leg strength or mass. High repetitions are great for endurance and variety, however, which is why I do recommend doing them once a week, especially for athletes involved in sports in which such endurance is necessary.

    In summary, train your core more or less like any other part of your body. This is a certain departure from the endless sets of crunches and sit-ups that many are used to.

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5. Bulking & Cutting:

    Bulking and cutting are sciences unto themselves. In the most basic terms, "bulking" is a phase in which you consume more calories than you expend in order to gain mass (preferably muscle). "Cutting" is a phase in which you consume fewer calories than you expend in order to lose mass (preferably fat).

    There are dozens of schools of thought on bulking and cutting. In brief, "Bulking" allows one to develop large and powerful abdominals, while "cutting" allows one to shed the fat covering those abdominals.

Shredded Abs
Shredded Abs
Danish Teen, Klaus Myren Riis.
Photo By Per Bach.
Week #26 - 9/05/2006
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    Bodybuilders combine both of these strategies to "get the best of both worlds." I suggest you do some research before creating a tailor-made plan that fits you and your needs/goals. Bodybuilding.com contains articles about a plethora of bulking and cutting options.

6. Nutrition:

    A common saying amongst those in the fitness community is "Great abs are made in the kitchen and the gym." There is a lot of truth to this.

    There are basically four kinds of people. The first has abdominal musculature that is not strong or well developed and is covered by fat. The second has visible abdominal musculature, but only because he is extremely skinny. He has very low body fat but his core is not very strong or massive.

    The third type of person has strong abdominals, but they are not visible or well-defined because of some body fat covering them. Many professional athletes fit into this category, and there is absolutely nothing wrong about it.

    Simply put, it is not always necessary or desirable for athletes to have single-digit body fat, especially at the expense of more substantial training goals. The final category is what bodybuilders strive for: Low body fat and large abdominal mass for maximum abdominal visibility.

    Now you probably understand that body composition plays a major role in abdominal visibility. Well, nutrition plays a major role in body composition. Nutritional advice is at least as varied as workout advice, but John Berardi's Seven Habits is a great place to start. They are summarized here:

    1. Eat every 2-3 hours, totaling 5-8 meals per day.
    2. Each meal should include complete protein.
    3. Eat fruits or vegetables with every meal.
    4. The bulk of your carbohydrate intake should come from fruits and vegetables, except for pre/post workout.
    5. 25-35% of your caloric intake should come from fats (a mixture of saturates, polyunsaturates, and monounsaturates).
    6. Don't drink your calories.
    7. Eat mostly whole foods.

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    Once you feel you have a good grasp of the Seven Habits, you can move on to a more specialized diet. Again, do your research and compare the multitude of options sites like Bodybuilding.com have to offer.

    One thing to watch out for: DO NOT follow a specific meal plan that you see in a magazine or online article. These articles do not consider your caloric needs or other important factors. Are all people identical? No! Then why would one meal plan lead to the same success for all people? You need to make your own meal plans, based on a solid set of principles such as the Seven Habits.

7. Supplementation:

    Supplementation should take a back seat to proper diet and training. However, once you have the first two covered, supplements can help.

    First and foremost, I believe all athletes should take a quality multivitamin/mineral for two reasons. First, a multivitamin helps to fill in the gaps in our diets. Nobody can eat perfectly all of the time. Additionally, some research suggests athletes need more vitamins and minerals than sedentary people ("Do Endurance Athletes... ").

      View Multivitamin Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.

    Some supplements, like whey protein or Accelerade are basically food with a more specific purpose. These supplements are very safe, effective and convenient. Whey protein is an essential component of post-workout nutrition while Accelerade can help you get through and recover from a long workout.

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    Following effective post-workout nutrition is essential if you want to see results from your training. This article can help you with post-workout nutrition.

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    It is also necessary for most people to supplement with fish oil. People simply do not get enough Omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. There are a plethora of benefits to taking fish oil. For example, it will help you ward off joint pain from all of the core training you are going to be doing. And, it is inexpensive.

    Unless your diet includes a lot of wild (not farm raised) salmon, you should probably be taking fish oil. For comprehensive information about fish oil, visit the Fish Oil Blog (www.fishoilblog.com).

      View Fish Oil Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.

    I would also recommend green tea extract. The EGCG found in green tea provides a mild energy boost.

      View Green Tea Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.

    Many athletes would also recommend creatine, branched chain amino acids, and glutamine. When used properly, all of these supplements are potentially helpful in your quest for abdominal perfection. These supplements may be fully researched at Bodybuilding.com.

    Some might also suggest the use of thermogenic supplements. Thermogenics may have their value, but I must add a word of caution because they can have side effects that may conflict with your physiological condition. You should talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, but this is especially true for thermogenics and other supplements that are less "food like" than supplements like protein and amino acids.

      View Fat Burners Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.

8. Variety:

    Your body adapts to routine quickly. In order to keep improving, you will need to "shake up" your program every so often. Even within a particular training cycle, it is important to have variety. Notice that the above routine contains more than sit-ups and crunches.

    It contains several different exercises and several different types of movements. In abdominal training, as in all facets strength training, variety is essential for progress. This article by Christopher Mohr is particularly relevant to this subject:

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The Best Abdominal Exercises

First, movements like heavy squats and deadlifts are the kings of abdominal exercise. No amount of isolation exercise replicates their effects on overall strength and size development. If you are not using big compound lifts in your strength training program, you probably need to go back to square one and redesign the whole thing.

As far as isolation movements, decline crunches are great. The combination of a heavy plate and a bench raised as high as it goes allows for great resistance, which is a crucial factor in strength and mass development.

Furthermore, according to an integrated electromyographical activity (IEMG) study, weighted incline crunches (which we can only assume is a semantic difference because an incline crunch {falling forward} would take no effort) resulted in 81% Max Motor Unit Activation (Bompa, Pasquale, Cornacchia 110).

This was the greatest result for all of the abdominal exercises tested (Bompa, Pasquale, Cornacchia 110). Some of the other exercises were "ab rocker crunches" and "pulley crunches" (Bompa, Pasquale, Cornacchia 110).


The Worst Abdominal Exercises

There are only two types of bad abdominal exercises. The first is any exercise performed with poor technique. For example, the typical sit-up, while it does not provide much resistance, is not an inherently "bad" abdominal exercise. However, it is common for trainees to lace their hands behind their heads and pull themselves by their necks. This not only takes emphasis off the abdominals but puts unnecessary strain on the neck ("Abdominals-Sit-ups... ").

The second type of "bad" abdominal exercise is one that is inherently unsafe. That does not necessarily mean that it is an exercise that is unsafe for everybody. It may be simply that the trainee is attempting to follow a routine that clashes with an old football injury.

It could be an exercise that forces the trainee into a position that he does not yet have the flexibility to attain safely. Some exercises do not fit some people well. This is why it is a good idea to learn solid principles which you can apply to the creation of your own program.

Beyond that, it is unfair and unrealistic to categorically define any abdominal exercise as "bad" because every body is different and everyone experiences different results with different movements. It is best to experiment and find what works best for YOU.


How Successful Have I Been?

I am very satisfied with the success I have had. My abdominals are certainly visible, but I will note right away that I do not have 5% body fat and, as such, my abdominal muscles are not as "ripped" as an IFBB pro. That's fine with me because as an athlete, I cannot spare the dedication and effort to reduce my body fat that much and it would probably not be desirable if I were to do so.

What is important to me is that my abdominals are strong and enduring. For example, try to do the circuit I mentioned earlier using 50 reps for each exercise. Try to do the sets of decline sit-ups with at least a 45lb plate. That will give you an idea.

Can training alone get me better abs? Yes, to a point. But diet is also very important. See the above sections on "Nutrition," "Supplementation" and "Bulking and Cutting."


Bonus Question
The Best Abs In The IFFBB

Jay Cutler has extremely well-developed abdominal musculature. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for his 2006 Mr. Olympia title, as well as a slew of lesser titles. For more about Jay, visit www.jaycutler.com.


Click Image To Enlarge.
Jay Cutler.
View More Pics From The 2006 Olympia Finals Here.

References:

  1. "Abdominals - Sit-Ups - Incline." Personal Training Programs. 13 Jan 2007
  2. "Abdominals - Sit-Ups - Incline." Personal Training Programs. 13 Jan 2007
  3. Berardi, John. "The Importance of Post Workout Nutrition." Bodybuilding.com. 26 Nov 2006
  4. Berardi, John. "The Fiery Ab Workout." Bodybuilding.com 06 Dec 2002 13 Jan 2007
  5. Berardi, John. "The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs." Bodybuilding.com. 2002-2003. 26 Nov 2006
  6. "Biography." JayCutler.com. 13 Jan 2007
  7. Bompa, Tudor, Mauro di Pasquale, and Lorenzo Cornacchia. Serious Strength Training. 2nd. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2003.
  8. Casselman, Mark. "Fast lumbar workout: build a sturdier lower back in less than 10 minutes, at home or in the gym - Quick Fit - Brief Article." Men's Fitness May 2002 12 Jan 2007
  9. Hildenbrand, Kasee and Larry Noble. "Abdominal Muscle Activity While Performing Trunk-Flexion Exercises Using the Ab Roller, ABslide, FitBall, and Conventionally Performed Trunk Curls." Journal of Athletic Training 2004 12 Jan 2007
  10. Mahler, Mike. "The Compound Solution Program for Puny Arms." Bodybuilding.com Jan 13 2006
  11. Mohr, Christopher. "Ab Periodization Program." Bodybuilding.com 13 Jan 2007
  12. "Today, treatment for back pain is active rather than passive." BodyandFitness. 12 Jan 2007


2nd Place - Liquid_diet
View This Author's BodySpace Here.

There are many ways to train the abdominal muscles, maybe even more than other muscle groups. Abs can be one of the more difficult body parts for some individuals to develop. The reason for this is that the abdominal muscles are more of an endurance-type muscle group, and can respond to training differently than other body parts. The abdominals have a higher percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers.

This is where a big debate comes into play. Is it better to exhaust the many slow twitch fibers with high rep abdominal training, or is it better to recruit the larger fast twitch muscle fibers with weighted low rep training?

Some believe that it's better to work all of those slow twitch fibers by using high repetitions. If a muscle is genetically designed to work a certain way, why not train it that way?

Others believe the only way to pack on any substantial mass is to up the resistance and lower the reps. For maximal growth, it is important to stimulate all of the fibers within a muscle. If slow twitch fibers are recruited first, heavy weight must be used to ensure that those larger fast twitch fibers are being used as well.

I suggest combining these 2 strategies for a more complete assault on the abdominal muscles.


Workout
What Is The Most Complete Ab Workout? Be Specific. List Exercises, Reps, Sets, Frequency, Etc.

For this topic, I am going to focus only on exercises performed to develop the abs. However, it is very important to incorporate cardio into any exercise routine. Consistent cardio will help to ensure that there is no extra body fat covering the abdominal muscles.

For a complete abdominal workout, it is important to target the upper and lower rectus abdominis, which are those highly visible "six pack" muscles on the front of the abdomen, and the external obliques, which are located more on the sides of the abdomen.

The Abs

Major Muscles That Act On The Trunk:

Move your mouse over the following links for information on the specific muscles.
Rectus Abdominis
External Oblique
Internal Oblique
Transverse
Erector Spinae

Major Muscles:
MUSCLE
Move Your Mouse Over The Muscle Links (Above) To See Details.
ORIGIN
INSERTION
FUNCTIONS

Good exercises for the upper abs include cable crunches, and exercise ball crunches.

A couple of effective lower ab exercises are reverse crunches and hanging leg raises.

Some good oblique exercises include dumbbell side bends and standing oblique cable crunches.

Many believe that the abdominals recover quickly, and can be worked out on most days, if not every lifting day. However, there should be at least a day of rest after low rep abdominal training, as with any other muscle group. I am going to suggest 2-3 days of high rep ab training per week, and 1-2 days of low rep training.

The following routines can be performed at the end of any workout during the week. Choose one of the two high-rep days to perform twice if desired.

Ab Day#1 (high rep)

Ab Day#2 (high rep)

Ab Day#3 (heavy day)


Exercises
What Exercises Are The Most Effective In Building Great Abs? Be Specific & Describe What & Why You Chose Them.

While basic tried and true ab exercises like crunches and reverse crunches have proven their effectiveness over time, there are those few abdominal exercises that I believe stand out as great ab builders.

Hanging leg raises - These are not only challenging, but very effective for building the lower rectus abdominis. This exercise also requires stability and good grip strength. It is quite challenging to keep the legs straight and bring them high to really contract the abs. I can still only do about 15 with good form.


Click Image To Enlarge.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - Video iPod

Exercise ball crunch - Using the ball for stability allows for complete focus and isolation on the abs. Once again, stability comes into play and makes the exercise more challenging. Weight can be added by holding a dumbbell behind the head to make it a more effective exercise for recruiting more muscle fibers, making it very versatile.


Click Image To Enlarge.
Exercise Ball Crunch.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - Video iPod

Standing oblique cable crunch - I believe this is a superior exercise for really targeting the obliques. It is possible to really contract the obliques from a standing position while crunching the ribcage sideways. The ability to add resistance makes it even more effective.

Oblique Crunch Oblique Crunch
Click Image To Enlarge.
Standing Oblique Cable Crunches.
Video: WMV - MPEG - iPod Video


Ineffective Exercises
What Ab Exercises Would You Consider Ineffective? Be Specific & Describe What & Why You Chose Them.

I believe that exercises like the air bike and scissor kicks are not really that effective for building abs. These exercises focus on very high repetition, repetitive movement that get the heart rate going more than anything else.

While some may say they are good for toning, I believe there are many other more effective exercises available.

Another abdominal exercise that I've never liked is the standing or seated barbell twists. I've never really felt much from these without using ridiculously high reps. It is much easier to get a good contraction out of the external obliques with other movements.


My Ab Training
How Successful Have You Been In Getting Your Abs Stronger & Flatter? Can Training Alone Get You Better Abs?

My abs are probably my favorite body part, and the one that I have gotten the most compliments on.

I have been fortunate to always have strong abs. I began training them with bodyweight at a fairly young age, and the base that I developed has been a good one to build on. I train abs four to five times a week on average.

My ab muscles have been visible for most of my life due to a low body fat percentage from my body type (ecto-mesomorph), and the fact that I always played sports.

I also have taken care to never eat a ton of fast food or junk.

Training is very important for improving abs, but diet is very important as well. If someone has very strong and developed abs, but does not eat right, those wonderful abs may never become visible. Training, diet, and rest are all important in developing any body part.


Bonus Question
Who Has The Most Complete Abdominal Development In The IFBB Today?

While it is very difficult to pick out a pro with the best abs, I am going to say that Johnny Jackson's abs really impress me. He is considered one of the strongest bodybuilders in the world.


Click To Enlarge.
Johnny Jackson!

Not only does he have great size and symmetry, but the fact that he can deadlift and squat huge amounts of weight for a bodybuilder shows just how strong his muscles, including his abs, must be.


What Is The Most Complete Ab Workout?

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