Whether you are after the elusive 6-pack, or just looking to lose a bit of extra luggage you're carrying around the mid-section,there are 3 "key" areas you need to focus on to achieve maximum abdominal development.
Areas Of Focus
Strong abs not only help strengthen your lower back, but also improve upon your posture. Most lower back injuries occur, believe it or not, due to weak abs. Focus on these three areas and over time, you will see improved results.
Proper Cardiovascular Work
You can have the greatest, most muscular set of abs in the world, but if they are blanketed by a layer of body fat, who cares. In order to rid yourself of the extra body fat around your midsection, you need to incorporate effective cardio sessions into your fitness plan. You cannot spot-reduce the midsection by doing extra ab exercises like crunches or sit-ups. You first must burn off the body fat through proper cardio to properly define the area.
Abdominal training by itself will not do much. Cardio needs to be intense enough to do the trick. Three to four sessions a week of intense jogging, running, the Stairmaster, the elliptical, jumping rope, or biking should be enough to get the process in gear. Swimming, hiking, and taking aerobics classes are beneficial as well. Nothing beats jogging or running. It is the most intense, efficient, and effective method of burning calories. If running outside hurts your joints, try running inside on a treadmill or outside on a dirt path. It definitely is easier on the body.
Again, you NEED three to four intense cardio sessions a week to help create a calorie deficit and help rid the body of the fat that covers your abs.
Do not sabotage your results in the gym by giving yourself a passport to pig out. Ridding the body of fat once and for all is accomplished by proper nutrition more so than incorporating cardio. At the end of the day, if you have consumed more calories than you have expended, you add body fat. So you need to burn more calories than you consume.
Nutrition is important because you can reduce the amount of calories you take in, therefore greatly having an effect on the amount which you have to expend through cardio. Eat five to six small, well-balanced meals spaced apart about every three to four hours. Try to keep something healthy on hand.
If not, when you become real hungry, you will opt for something that isn't as good for you. When you become overly hungry, all rational thinking goes out the window.
But it is important to get something in you. Not eating on time or at all is almost as bad as eating too much. Keep protein intake high (approximately 50% of daily calories), carbs moderate (40%), and fats minimal (10%).
Muscle fiber is made of tightly-wound protein molecules that is damaged during a workout, so you need more protein than the sedentary person to help that muscle tissue repair. Carbohydrates have an important role in the body, but do not base your meals on them. Try to avoid simple sugars like cane sugar, honey, fruit juices, syrups, and even a lot of fruit.
Drink at least a gallon of clean water each day as well. It will help in nutrient absorption and digestion and will help flush toxins from the body.
Bottom line, make sure you are supplying your body with well-balanced, healthy food every three to four hours.
Weight Training The Abdominals
Here is where most people go wrong in their attempt to develop their abs. I often ask those I train, "Would you train your biceps with sets of 50 reps with no weight?" Of course, they say "no." How about your chest, 50 reps with no weight? Another no. I then ask, "Then why would you do that with your abs?"
Here's an important key. If you want proper ab development, you need to add resistance (weight) to your ab exercises. Abs are muscles just like biceps, triceps, pecs, glutes, whatever. You need resistance to properly strengthen and build them. The same goes for abdominals.
Ab Exercises To Incorporate For Proper Ab Stimulation
Weighted Crunches: Grab a dumbbell, either hold it in front of your face, or let it lie on your upper chest, under your chin, and perform regular crunches. You are now using your abs more to work against the leverage the dumbbell has created. Stick with a heavy enough weight where you can handle 10-15 reps, but no more. Remember, you need to create enough resistance where your abs are forced to work.
Cable Rope Crunches: Grab the triceps rope, kneel on your knees, and bend downwards, forcefully contracting your abs on the way down. It's basically a crunch, only, you are on your knees. But the contraction is the same. Don't swing with the hips, you are not using the abs very much if you do. Just a slight, 30 degree contraction until you feel the abs contract, hold for a couple seconds, then back up.
Weighted Leg Raises: Lie flat on your back, with your hands tucked under your butt. Wrap your feet around a small dumbbell, and perform leg raises. Start with your feet about 6 inches from the ground, then raise them about 12-16 inches from the ground and then back down slowly. These can be done on the end of a bench as well.
Seated Ab Machine: Once again, do not swing all the way down, just far enough (30 degrees) to fully contract the abs, hold for a couple seconds, then back up. This is very similar to cable rope crunches.
Stability Ball Crunches: Working on the stability ball will incorporate balance into your abdominal work. They are effective at strengthening your core region, which is your abs and lower back.
You lie down on a stability ball like you are going to perform a crunch. Position yourself on the ball so your lower back is resting on it. Keep your feet close together on the floor making your body less stable (helps incorporate more balance on your part) and place your hands behind your head or folded on your chest. Crunch your upper body towards your knees, exhaling as you contract your abs. Under muscular control, lower yourself back to the original position keeping full tension on the abs.
Regardless of what exercise you do, the key is to add weight/resistance. If not, you will never increase the amount of lean muscle tissue in the area. You only need to train your abs twice a week for maximum results. Once again, treat them like any other muscle group (which means you wouldn't train them more often). Combine this weight training with proper diet and intense cardio and that elusive six-pack is yours to be had!