Great abdominal development is important for several reasons. First, a good set of abs provides support for the lower back and will improve overall posture and stability.
Second, a tight midsection keeps us in good health generally, as excess abdominal fat may lead to heart disease and diabetes (particularly in males).
But what do many feel is the most important reason for developing a great waistline, the number one motivator for those who slave away, doing endless crunches day after day? Would you believe pure vanity?
Well, it does make some sense in today's competitive social climate where survival of the fittest is likely to ensure greater success in most spheres, and where a healthier look might signify to a potential employer a more reliable employee.
Rightly or wrongly, this is how society tends to operate. However, most gym-goers don't see it that way, and just want great abs to impress the opposite sex and look their best. And a six-pack chiselled to perfection does look great on the beach or in clothing (a small waistline accentuates the broadness of a man's shoulders and is a sign of beauty for women).
A fully-developed rectus abdominis (the frontal part of the abs, commonly known as the six-pack), transverse abdominis (the section underneath the rectus abdominis), external and internal obliques (the side of the waist), and serratus anterior (the circular shaped muscles that originate on the surface of the eight upper ribs) are a most impressive sight.
In fact, many bodybuilders who would usually lack notoriety for anything, but who have great abs, really stand out. And this is an important point: anyone, regardless of whether they have the potential to be Mr. Olympia or not, can develop a great midsection.
Unlike the arms, legs or back, the abs will look impressive, even if they are not developed to significant proportions. But they are often covered with body fat, and this is one reason many feel they can never develop this area. The abdominal muscles, though, are always there, just waiting to be uncovered. Revealing them requires a diligent approach to a successful strategy. If you would like perfect abs this summer, read on.
A Total Approach
Many feel that training abs requires a few crunches here and there, for three sets of 20-15 reps. Sorry, but this won't work.
The abdominal region is one of those areas that need a fair amount of volume, and a variety of movements to achieve the best, most complete outcome. Given the midsection is comprised of many individual muscle groups, total development requires a complete approach.
For perfect abs from top to bottom, inside and out, I would recommend doing four different exercises per session (these four combined must target all the muscles of the midsection), for 4 sets of 10 to 30 reps. The exercises I recommend (and an accompanying description of each) are as follows:
1. Swiss Ball Crunches (Rectus Abdominis)
This exercise is an excellent way to target all of the muscle of, and surrounding, the rectus abdominis. It also works, to some degree, the obliques.
The great thing about Swiss Ball Crunches is they allow a full extension of the entire abdominal wall while supporting the natural contour of the spine. An intense contraction is maintained with this movement, and full development is the result.
- Sit on a Swiss ball and walk forward until middle of lower back rests on the middle of the ball.
- Place hand across chest or to the sides of head and lower back until back is arched.
- Without resting, use the abdominal muscles to bring upper body to a full contraction.
- Contract abs for one second before repeating movement.
2. Bicycle Manoeuvre (Rectus Abdominis & Obliques)
A great way to place continuous tension on the abs (with an emphasis on the lower midsection), the bicycle manoeuvre can be initially quite difficult to perform but is well worth the payoff in terms of even development across the abdominal wall.
- Lie flat on the floor with lower back pressed to the ground and hands placed beside head.
- Bring knees up to about a 45-degree angle.
- Perform a bicycle peddling motion while touching left elbow to right knee and right elbow to left knee.
- Begin at 30 second of continuous cycling and work up to around two minutes.
3. Hanging Leg Raises (Lower Abs & Transverse Abdominis)
This movement really stretches the abs while focusing much of the stress on the lower midsection. Such is the burning sensation (a good sign that something is working) that many choose to use special hanging ab straps.
- Grasp a chinning bar with legs hanging down.
- Bring knees close together.
- Use abdominal strength to lift knees toward chest.
- Keep tension on abs as knees are lowered to starting position.
4. Oblique Sit-Up (Obliques)
This is an exercise I have personally found to be very effective in working the side of the waist to really tighten up the midsection. It provides just the right amount of pressure to tighten and define, but not the excessive stimulation that may result in a thick waist.
- Lie on a flat surface.
- Bend knees and lower legs to one side (one knee on top of the other).
- Place hands behind head.
- Use abdominal strength to bring upper body toward outside knee (in doing this you will perform a twisting motion).
- Keep tension on abs as you return.
If you want abs of steel, train them twice a week separately.
Remember: the abs are also worked when you train legs, and are used as stabilizers when performing many other movements. Training them specifically any more than twice a week may result in overtraining, and an actual weakening of the core area).
To get the perfect combination of rest and stimulation, a good suggestion would be to have one session comprised of the exercises outlined here performed as straight sets, the other using supersets to increase the intensity.
| What Are Supersets?
A superset is the alternating back and forth between two (or more) exercises until the prescribed number of sets is complete, usually with no rest between exercises. There are various types of supersets, however.
Find more definitions in our glossary.
As always, you should aim to increase repetitions from week to week. Always focus on perfect form and aim for the burn. If you chose to train abs twice per week as recommended here, ensure three rest days between sessions.
- Swiss ball crunches: 4 sets x 15-30 reps
- Hanging legs raises: 4 sets x 10-20 reps
- Bicycle manoeuvre: 4 sets x 30 seconds continuous cycling
- Oblique sit up: 4 sets x 10-20 reps
Click Here For A Printable Log Of This Routine.
- Swiss ball crunches/bicycle manoeuvre superset (one set of each exercise being one total set). Rest for two minutes before performing second superset.
- Hanging leg raise/oblique sit up superset. Four sets, two minutes rest in between.
Click Here For A Printable Log Of This Routine.
Training Tips For Perfect Abs
Train Abs Separately
To give the abs proper stimulation, it is important to train them separately, as training other body parts (before or after) will dilute your abdominal training efforts. One form of exercise that can be done either side of (but preferably after) abs training is cardio, as, in doing so, you will not be taxing the major muscles.
Always Aim For The Burn
Abdominal training would not be abdominal training if there were not an accompanying degree of pain. The abdominal muscles typically respond best to higher reps and lower resistance (the name of the game is refinement and sufficient development, not massive size), and, as such, training them can be, by nature, quite painful. Not to worry: aim for the "burn" and a tight midsection will be yours.
Don't Rush The Process
The key to great midsection development is continuous tension. This will not happen if you tend to pump out the reps in record time. It is not a race. Slow down and feel the movement from beginning to end.
One of the suggested workouts in this article calls for supersets, and for good reason: they keep the burn going longer to achieve superior results in minimal time. However, given supersets are very taxing and will leave you feeling exhausted, one session per week using this technique should be enough.
Remember, all training, regardless of what body part is targeted, has a systemic effect on the whole body. This is why some bodybuilders choose to do train the same body part with one light and one heavy workout per week. The same applies to abs.
Increase Number Of Reps For Abs By 2 Each Week
"Always Aim for More" is a maxim that is perfectly suited to bodybuilding. Given abdominal training uses, for the most part, bodyweight, rep range is the variable that will need changing week to week. While keeping form perfect, aim for one to two reps more weekly on all abdominal exercises.
A Note Of Aerobics & Nutrition
Eating well and sufficient aerobic work go hand-in-hand with a good abdominal training program. Training the abs religiously will not make an ounce of difference to how they look if they are hidden under mounds of fat.
Depending on your individual metabolism, diet and body fat level, it is best to do between 30 and 60 minutes of aerobic work two to five times a week. Work with these figures to find what works best for you.
A better alternative I have found is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), three to four times a week. But again, whether this will work for you hinges on diet, existing body fat levels and metabolic rate. The important thing, though, is to find a suitable level of aerobic work and stick to it.
| What's The Difference Between Aerobic And Anaerobic?
Aerobic means "involving or improving oxygen consumption by the body". Aerobic exercise, therefore, enhances respiratory and circulatory efficiency by improving oxygen consumption. Aerobic movements require oxygen to generate force, and enlist slow-twitch muscles for activity over sustained periods of time (minutes to hours). Examples of aerobic exercise includes cardio, jogging, cycling, and running marathons.
Anaerobic, on the other hand, literally means "without oxygen". Anaerobic exercise, then, does not require oxygen to generate force. Anaerobic movements use fast-twitch muscles for short bursts of intense activity lasting only brief durations of time (ranging typically from a few seconds to up to a minute). Examples of anaerobic exercises includes isometric holds, sprinting, and high-intensity weightlifting.
Maintaining a low-fat, low simple sugar, high complex carbohydrate, high protein diet is essential for anyone wanting to reveal his or her six-pack.
All the information you will ever need to design the perfect diet can be found here on Bodybuilding.com. The important thing is how disciplined you are and your willingness to improve. With the plan this article has provided and the information available on diet, there is no excuse. If you want perfect abs, it is all up to you.