Virtually everyone revels over the six-pack abs that some "lucky" individuals have. The truth is that many of these "lucky" folks actually work very hard to attain and maintain their abs. While it may seem like an impossible goal, with a little hard work and dedication, you too can have that washboard look.
First of all, always remember that maintaining a healthy, lean physique is not going to come from any pill, potion or infomercial ad. It's also not going to come from regularly indulging in high fat, calorically dense foods or only hittin' the weights like a "weekend warrior." Instead, six-pack abs will come from eating a well-balanced diet, rarely indulging in "cheat" foods, and hard work.
I wish it were easier, but it's not. And for those who are naturally pretty lean individuals, it is still important to eat well and train hard, otherwise there will come a point where you're poor habits will catch up with you.
We've talked endlessly about eating the right types of foods for health and staying lean; what hasn't been discussed much is specific training regimens. Since we're talking about that coveted six-pack, this month I'm going to discuss a periodization program for training the abs.
Determining the most effective and efficient method of strength development is a primary focus of athletes and researchers alike. The truth is there is not one best program. Sure, there are ways to train more intelligently, but a variety of lifting methods and routines is ideal. Periodization is one type of lifting regimen that provides flexibility and variety into your workouts.
What Is Periodization?
When the neuromuscular system is faced with increased demands (e.g. weight training), the neuromuscular system adapts with increases in muscular strength. Periodization may be beneficial by adding variation to workouts, thus avoiding staleness and plateaus in strength gains.
Periodization can be accomplished by manipulating the number of sets, repetitions, or exercises performed, the amount or type of resistance used, the amount of rest between sets or exercises, the type of contractions performed, or the frequency of training.
Periodization divides typical strength-training programs into different periods or cycles: macrocycles (9-12 months), mesocycles (3-4 months), and microcycles (1-4 weeks), gradually increasing the training intensity while decreasing the volume within and between sets.
Anatomy Of The "Abs"
Stick with me for a minute for a quick anatomy lesson. The abs are essentially made up of several groups of muscles; here are the names and subsequent functions of the major groups.
- Rectus abdominis: lumbar flexion (think doing a crunch) and lateral flexion (think "side bends").
- External and Internal Obliques: lumbar flexion and left and right rotation.
- Transversus abdominis: pulling the abdominal wall inward by tilting the pelvis forward (think reverse crunch).
When you hear the term "abs", folks are really referring to this collective group of muscles (probably without knowing it). Subsequently, to effectively work the "abs" you must stress the body by working that specific function of the muscle.
A few other things to keep in mind: there are two types of muscle fibers; type I, or "slow-twitch," and type II, or "fast-twitch" fibers. In general, most folks have close to a 50/50 split between the two.
- Type I fibers have a large capacity for aerobic metabolism and therefore a high resistance to fatigue. Abs are primarily made up of these types of muscle fibers, which explains why it is more difficult to fatigue your abs than your chest, for example.
Wipe the drool from all your face and pick your head up from the desk; if I haven't lost you yet, the original purpose was to suggest a new program for your abs. Basically, with the aforementioned definition of periodization, you need to vary your ab workouts just like you would any other muscle group.
Here we go: mix up days of "heavier" ab work with interspaced lighter, higher repetition, lower volume days. By the way, your abs won't "grow" like a bicep or tricep, so training this muscle with some weight once in a while is good. Do the series of exercises below twice per week (Monday and Thursday, for example).
Training Day 1
Hanging Knee Raises (notice I say knee, not leg): 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions
Grab an overhead bar with a shoulder width grip. Start the exercise with the thighs parallel to the floor. To perform this exercise correctly, bring the knees up to the chest by rolling the pelvis forward under control; keep the back still. Return to starting position (which is with the legs parallel to the floor).
Note: most folks start this exercise with their legs hanging straight down and use momentum to roll their knees up to their chest. Always remember the function of the muscle being worked; there's no need to move the legs through that entire range of motion since that's not the function of the abs.
Lying leg raise: 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions
Lie flat on a weight bench. Raise your legs so they are perpendicular with the floor. Maintain your balance by holding the bench on the side of your body or behind your head. Raise the hips off of the bench and maintain the perpendicular position of your legs.
I like to find a fixed point on the ceiling and keep my toes in line with that focal point at all times.
Lie flat on your back with your thighs perpendicular and shins parallel to the floor. Place your hands behind your head. Crunch up and twist your body so you are leading with your elbow. Subsequently bring the opposite knee towards your chest.
For example, start by bringing your left elbow to your right knee and vice versa. Do 2 sets of 15-20 repetitions on either side.
Training Day 2
Hold either a weight or medicine ball against your chest (think bottom position of the bench press) and lie on your back on a Swiss ball. Your knees should be bent and feet flat on the floor. Raise your head and shoulders (in one line) and think of crunching your rib cage into your pelvis.
Lower and repeat. Do 4 sets of 8- 10 repetitions.
Load a barbell with 25-pound plates on either end and affix collars. Kneel on the floor and grab the bar with an overhand, should-width grip. Start with your shoulders over the bar and hips over your knees. Slowly roll the bar forward extending your body as far as you can.
Keep your abs pulled in tight and your back flat. Note: if your hips sag, you've gone too far. Pull yourself back up to starting position. Do 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions
Facing the cable machine, grab a rope overhead while kneeling on the ground. With your hands next to your ears, begin by essentially doing a "reverse crunch." Start with your back parallel to the floor.
Shorten the length between your rib cage and pelvis by crunching down and keep your hips stable; do not roll them backwards as many do. This is a very small movement, so don't cheat and use momentum. Perform 4 sets to 8-10 repetitions.
Having strong abs not only looks great, but is also very functional as your abs are the center of your core strength.
Also keep in mind there's no way to spot reduce, so you can do ab exercises 'till you're blue in the head; without the proper diet and overall exercise routine, these 'rock hard' abs will be shadowed by layers of fat.