Of the many physique goals in the wide world of fitness, getting a set of shredded abs is definitely one of the most difficult. After all, a defined, chiseled midsection doesn't just pop up out of nowhere. To achieve it, you need a rock-solid game plan.
Neon athlete Ashley Hoffmann can help you create that game plan. She's a hardcore athlete and WBFF Fitness Diva pro, so she knows exactly what it takes to carve a sexy, stage-worthy stomach.
By following her training and nutrition tips, and implementing her abdominal workout into your usual routine, you'll be well on your way toward your goal of rocking a crop top or training in just a sports bra.
Of course, guys can still follow this excellent advice, but they may have other goals. If not, I'm not judging!
1. Eat Smart
Nutrition is the most important piece of the abs-gettin' puzzle. Although you can train your abdominal muscles so they're thicker and stronger, they won't be visible unless your body fat is low enough. If you want a tighter tummy, you need to pay extra-special attention to the food you put into your body.
"When I'm trying to lean out and see more defined abs, I make sure I hit my daily caloric intake and [don't] overshoot it," says Ashley. "My body needs a certain amount of protein, fats, and carbs, so I monitor these very closely."
A photo posted by @missashleysarina on May 14, 2014 at 12:22pm PST
Ashley says she tends to favor carb-cycling when she's trying to shed any excess fat. "I don't believe in cutting carbs entirely out of my diet," she says. "My body reacts better when I carb-cycle. I feel like I can cut fat more easily."
Although carb-cycling may work for Ashley, it's important that you play around with your own nutritional approach to see what works best for you. Remember that everyone will respond differently to any given diet protocol, so learning what helps you lean down is essential.
Ashley also suggests cutting any processed, packaged food from your diet. "I find eating natural, whole foods helps fuel my workouts better and keeps me satisfied longer. I don't struggle to maintain the reduced calorie intake," she says.
Other than your post-workout protein powder, ditch anything that comes in a box or bag. Only eat food that grew in the sun, was raised on a farm, or was hunted in the wild.
2. Do Compound Movements
Ashley says she doesn't actually train her abdominals much. She doesn't have to because she engages her abdominals during compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and rows.
A compound lift like a heavy squat puts a lot of stress on your abs. Think about it: If your abs weren't engaged to the max during a lift, you'd just crumple over under the weight. Compound exercises demand a lot of core stability from your body, so your abdominal muscles will get a killer workout and you won't even have to think about them.
This doesn't mean Ashley doesn't train abs at all, but it's important to note that if you train the rest of your body correctly, you don't need to kill yourself with endless ab workouts to get a fully defined six-pack like Ashley has.
Because these big moves rev Ashley's metabolism and burn so many calories after she leaves the gym, they also help her stay pretty lean.
Many people make the mistake of holding their breath as they're doing ab exercises. The lack of circulating oxygen just leads to a build-up of pressure, causing you to feel lightheaded or dizzy.
Moreover, if you don't breathe regularly, you won't be able to generate much strength. Your muscles need oxygenated blood to work properly. If you choke them, they won't perform as well as you need them to.
Practice breathing properly as you do your ab work. "Inhale deeply before performing the movement," says Ashley. "As you lift or crunch, make sure to exhale. Exhaling will force your abs to contract."
Exhaling will also better engage your inner oblique muscles, which help with stability.
4. Get A Stretch
While concentric, positive movement is an important segment of any abdominal exercise, make sure you don't forget to think about the eccentric (lowering) portion as well. Stretch the abs through an entire range of motion before you contract them to engage more muscle fibers. "Find equipment that allows you to fully stretch the abdominal wall," recommends Ashley.
If you only contract and go through a small range of motion, you'll only get mediocre results. By extending that contraction over a much larger range of motion, you put more blood into the area and see better results.
5. Maintain Mind-Muscle Focus
As you perform each ab movement, be very conscious about making those target muscle groups perform the work. "It's about quality versus quantity," says Ashley. "Really focus on squeezing your abs in every rep you do."
If you just go through the motions, it's far too easy to let your hip flexors or upper abdominals take over every movement. Think about making the right muscles contract.
This extra mental effort might seem silly at first, but when you grow accustomed to connecting your mind to your contracting muscles, you'll notice a huge difference in your workouts.
6. Vary Your Exercises
If you've been doing a billion crunches at the end of every workout with nothing to show for it, you need to revamp your exercise selection. Choose exercises that challenge you in new ways, and use equipment to boost the intensity of your training.
Take a page out of Ashley's book and use Swiss balls, medicine balls, and the cable machine to make your ab training more difficult. Extra weight will help keep constant tension on the ab muscles, increasing the efficacy of your workout.
Now put Ashley's workout to the test!