The abs are much more than a symbol for how lean and muscular you are, they are essential for performance and stability. Abs may be made in the kitchen—nutrition is important if you want to see that six-pack—but you still need to train those muscles hard like you would any other group.
Abs are a tough muscle group to build because they are already used to doing so much work every day that it takes a lot to overload them. Here are some of the best-kept secrets from old-school bodybuilding legends to build those bricks up to their full potential.
Perform this workout with any other muscle group in your split or do your own "abs day." As long as you focus and follow this program at least once every week, your efforts will be rewarded when you roll up that T-shirt.
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This exercise was popular among the legendary bodybuilders of the sport's so-called "golden era" to help keep their waistlines trim. But the stomach vacuum is making a comeback among up-and-coming bodybuilders.
To perform the stomach vacuum, exhale as much air as possible while drawing in your stomach. Hold this position. Visualize pulling your bellybutton back toward your backbone. If a 20-second hold is too easy, aim for 40-60 seconds.
You'll perform a vacuum after every single set of this workout, trying to hold each one for at least 20 seconds. This exercise will get tougher as the workout progresses, but that's the point of an all-out abs workout, so suck it up—pun intended!
Flat bench lying leg raise
The key to great abs is to work absolutely every angle of your six-pack, and leg raises are a great way to work the often-neglected lower abdominals.
Lie with your back flat on a bench and your legs extended in front of you off the end. Place your hands either under your glutes with your palms down or by your sides holding onto the bench. This will be your starting position.
Keeping your legs extended, as straight as possible with your knees slightly bent but locked, raise your legs until they make a 90-degree angle with the floor. Exhale as you perform this portion of the movement and hold the contraction at the top for a second.
Now, as you inhale, slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.
This is a really fun exercise to do, but one that you need a bit of open space for so you don't accidentally hit someone. This isn't an isolation exercise for any specific area of your core; you'll feel it everywhere!
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Pull both of the dumbbells to one side next to your hip, rotating your torso as you do so. Keeping your arms straight and the dumbbells parallel to the ground, rotate your torso to swing the weights up and over to the opposite side. Pause, then swing the weights up and back to the original side. Continue alternating, rotating from one side to the other until the set is complete.
Don't try to impress anyone by using heavy dumbbells on this exercise. The goal here is not to lift as much weight as you can, it's to control the movement using your abdominals while working your midsection in a unique and challenging way. Feel free to use whatever equipment you have on hand—from a triceps bar to kettlebells—and rest one minute between sets.
For this exercise, go a little heavier if you like, although you must be able to control the weight. If you've never done a press sit-up, try it with no resistance first and practice the movement with your arms up until you feel comfortable.
Begin with the barbell resting on your chest on the decline abdominal bench. Tighten your abs as you simultaneously curl up your torso and press the barbell to an overhead position, exhaling through the entire motion.
Take your time lowering yourself back to the bench. Each time you press up, do so explosively but under control. If you don't feel comfortable doing this with a barbell, or if you don't have someone to hand you the weight, use a heavy medicine ball or dumbbells instead. Rest one minute between sets.
Oblique cable crunch
Many people avoid direct oblique work because they think it will expand their waist. But, your obliques should pop as much as your six-pack, and when done correctly, oblique exercises should not widen your waist. You don't have to use a lot of resistance on this exercise to feel your obliques burn—an added perk if you're worried about your taper.
Use the high pulley and position the mat on the floor in front of you. Take the rope with both hands and kneel approximately 1-2 feet from the column. Position the rope behind your head with your hands next to your ears. Crunch downward, pulling the weight. As you flex your spine, twist to bring your elbow to the opposite knee.
You can either alternate sides or perform all of the reps for one side before switching to the other. Do whichever you find helps you feel it the most. Rest 45 seconds between sets before getting back to work.