Bodybuilding is a sport that requires maximal dedication and single-minded determination to achieve the ultimate goal: winning a contest. Many elements are included within this realm of sport including water removal, cardiovascular conditioning, muscle symmetry and proportion, posing technique, and stage presence. Each pose includes all of these elements. For the scope of this article we will just discuss the training and presentation of the abdominal muscles.
When we think of abs we mostly think of the washboard midsection of the lean and muscular bodybuilders on stage. However, the abdominals include the Rectus abdominis and the External abdominal oblique muscles. Also included in this list are the Internal abdominal oblique and the Serratus anterior.
The latter muscles are not visible and are not included in this article.
The function of the Rectus abdominis and the External abdominal oblique muscles is to flex the trunk or bend forward. The External abdominal oblique muscles also function in side-bending and rotation. These muscles also aid in trunk stability while performing upper and lower body activities and are vital in preventing lumbar spine injuries and maintaining posture.
Abdominal Region Factors
Since the collective "abs" function to flex the trunk, that is how you will train them in the gym. There is an endless list of activities that one can perform to get these muscles in tip-top condition.
Achieving massive abdominals is not typically a goal for most bodybuilders. It's best to have a slim waistline with minimal protuberance of the stomach. You might notice that most professional bodybuilders do not have the sleek/slim look. That have a bulging stomach that looks like they swallowed a watermelon.
This is caused from two things: 1.) Using weight/resistance for ab training and 2.) Overuse of Synthetic Growth Hormone. Ultimately, you want to stay away from building a blocky mid-section. You can do this by keeping the resistance low while training.
Abdominal definition is achieved through two means. The first means is by eliminating fat and water stores over the muscles. This comes through diet and cardiovascular exercise.
If you build up the muscle underneath the fat you will do nothing but make your stomach appear larger. Thus, I believe training abs in the off-season is not really necessary except with respect to trunk stabilization.
The second means of developing highly defined abs is by performing highly intense and repetitious exercises. The way I do this is by either contracting my abs at the top of the contraction or by performing sets of 40-50 reps. Contracting at the top and holding for 2-3 seconds will flood the muscles with blood and glycogen and help to get a good pump in them. The high repetitious approach will make the muscles stronger and help to recruit the smaller, Type I fibers.
Vascularity, or the presence of veins in the skin overlying your abs, is a real eye-catcher to most people. Not even the top level pro's all have this. It is something that is bodybulder-specific and only comes in towards the end of contest preparation. I am fortunate to have this and it really helps to add to the overall impression of my physique.
Listed below is a sample program that you can incorporate into your bodybuilding training to help achieve a well-balanced physique.
Leg Lifts (on lat bar): 3 sets of 20 repetitions
Crunches with Legs Elevated: 3 sets of 50 repetitions
Cable Crunches: 3 sets of 20 repetitions
· Using a rope attachment on a cable machine, get on your knees and bring the rope down and in towards your knees. Use a minimal weight just to counterbalance your bodyweight.
Leg Lifts (on bench): 3 sets of 20 repetitions
Crunches with knees bent: 3 sets of 20 repetitions with 2-3 second hold at top
Flutters on Bench: 3 sets of 60 seconds
· While sitting on the end of a bench extend your legs. Alternate bringing them up and down while keeping your knees fully extended. Progress by not using hands for support.
You will notice that I do not include working the External abdominal obliques in my training program. I do this simply because these are not muscles you want to come in big at a show. Lots of people will do side-bends with dumbbells, side crunches, or twists with a bar. These exercises will only make the obliques large and make you look like you have "side-handles" so I recommend staying away from them unless you want that look.
As I mentioned before, the abdominal region will only look larger unless you trim off the fat and excess water before a show or going to the beach. You do this through cardiovascular conditioning and dieting.
This is perhaps the single most important part of bodybuilding for many competitors. Cardio is a piece of the puzzle that is added at varying points of pre-contest preparation. For myself, I add cardio in about 10 weeks out from a show. This is ample time to eliminate body fat and subcutaneous water.
Personally, I prefer the treadmill because it is easy and I have one in my home. But you can use elliptical runners, stationary bicycles, or swimming. I will describe the progression I used this year in preparing for my contest.
- Week 10 (ten weeks out) Morning treadmill x 30 minutes.
- Week 9: Morning treadmill x 30 minutes
- Week 8: Morning treadmill x 45 minutes
- Week 7: Morning treadmill x 45 minutes
- Week 6: Morning and Evening treadmill x 30 minutes
- Week 5: Same
- Week 4: Morning and Evening treadmill x 45 minutes
- Week 3: Same
- Week 2: Morning and Evening treadmill x 1 hour
- Week 1: Same
As you can see, I progress both time doing cardio as well as times per day. It is important to perform your cardio in the morning before you eat to put your body into caloric debt and cause your body to lose all that pesky fat.
Also, I wore a sweatshirt while doing my cardio to help pull off the subcutaneous water. You should train intensely enough that you sweat heavily at least until the final week. At this point you shouldn't have excess water.
Diet Advice And Tips
I feel that diet, whether it be reduced calorie, reduced sodium, increased protein, or whatever makes up 90% of your physique. Diet is how you provide your body with the needed nutrients to make your body grow or shrink. This is also the most difficult part of bodybuilding for me. I like to eat what I want when I want.
However, your body needs to have a constant flow of calories to keep your metabolism elevated and prevent fat storage. As you will see, I recommend between 6-8 small, protein-rich meals spaced every two or two and a half hours. This is how I break it down.
Diet Weeks 12-9:
6 egg whites, 1 yolk
3 tbsp Malt O' Meal/Cream of Wheat w/ 1 tbsp honey
2 pieces whole wheat toast w/Jelly
1 serving CNP MBF
6 oz Eye Round or Flank Steak
¾ cup white rice
1 serving CNP MBF
8 oz Chicken Breast
Baked French Fries w/ Ketchup
1 serving CNP MBF
* Carb Xcellerator post-workout
Diet Weeks 7.5-5:
3 eggs whites w/ 1 yolk
4 oz steak
3 tbsp cream of wheat
CNP Pro-MR or Labrada Lean Body
8 oz Chicken
½ cup brown minute rice
CNP Pro-MR or Labrada Lean Body
2 rice cakes
8 oz chicken
2 servings peas/broccoli/asparagus/green beans
Using these training methods and diet tips it is my hope that you will be able to achieve the striking appearance of your mid-section that you desire. Of course there is not one single method to achieve this. It is the bodybuilder's responsibility to seek out objective information from numerous sources and compile them into a program that works for them.