To start you off with what the abs are, there are two basic muscle groups involved. The Rectus Abdominus, which starts near your Pubis, all the way through the 5th through 7th ribs. That is the six-pack muscle. You have External Obliques also. They are the muscles on each side of your torso, right next to the Rectus Abdominus. The Intercoastals are also involved, the two muscle and tendon fiber planes between the ribs.
How can you get the abs you want?
The abs are the central, most visible part of your body. Everyone loves a six-pack (I hope!). A six-pack is harder to get for men, because of a disproportionate number of fat cells they carry. It has been said that you have to be at 13% body fat to have a six pack, but the way I see it, why would you try to just get by at 13% when you could just diet right and look even better (and make getting the six pack easier) if you brought yourself down to, say, 9% body fat. Like I said, everyone wants it, but not all of them are willing to pay the price. Although, not everyone has to pay the price. I was always jealous of the people who were born skinny and didn't really have to work for their six-packs. Some people are like that, but some are born overweight, and have a body type which makes it hard for them to lose weight. Don't worry, because anyone can do it if they want to.
Chances are, if you are that skinny person, you probably have a hard time gaining muscle. Most really skinny, or really small people have trouble gaining the muscle, because they don't have the muscle mass to show right off the bat. If you are overweight, chances are, you are pretty strong, because you have that much extra weight to carry around, but you have fat covering those muscles with no definition. So I will try to explain how to exercise for both groups of people. Skinny, hard gainers, and heavy, hard definers.
For skinny Guys:
It isn't much different than most heavy gainers. You should really exercise your abs whenever you work out, but you should pack the weight gainers. If you have real trouble gaining mass, you need to gain weight. Consume a lot more food (In slow steps, don't just eat 10 eggs one morning and get sick, but gradually start eating more), and do a lot less reps than those with more mass. Less reps means you are doing more weight for less reps, really lifting for power, which builds up mass, and that is what you need. You should really work your abs when you have the weight on, building them up with more weight than you had. For skinny kids, the hard thing is gaining weight. When you have a really hard stomach, and you want to start letting it show, then you should start to try and lose some of the weight you put on (Only fat, not muscle). You should lose, according to Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding", only about 2 to 2.5 pounds of fat per week. I would suggest taking Glutamine (If you already don't) because it is said to keep muscle in your body. But the worst thing to do when trying to lose weight is to stop exercising. Never stop, or you lose a ton of muscle. Try doing a lot of cardio or aerobic exercises to burn off excess fat calories.
For Heavy Guys:
For heavy guys it is pretty much the opposite. Heavy guys don't need weight gainers, and the real massive bodybuilders really shouldn't use weight when exercising their abs, because that adds mass, and if you are bigger, or more massive, you really don't need that much more. A perfect example is Nasser El Sonbaty. He is a huge person, very big built, short arms, barrel chest, and massive muscles. Heavy guys should focus on Toning their muscles. Toning meaning more reps, less weight. I hate to say it guys, but you have to stay off the junk food. A lot of heavy people, its seems, just think about food and get bigger. Heavier guys should really work on increasing their metabolism a LOT! Squats are probably one of the best, if not THE best exercise to boost your metabolism. The same goes with big guys. Don't lose too much weight in one week. You should take Glutamine, and, if you really have a weight problem, you should take metabolic enhancers, like Ripped Fuel (Only if you are 18), Metabolic Tyrolean, etc. And again, you should do a lot of cardio, aerobics, and stretching. Stretching is great for big guys, keeping them flexible and agile.
Eating for the six-pack:
In order to get a six-pack, you don't have to starve yourself, or go on some marathon, just to lose weight. You really don't even have to cut out all the fats you ate before, as long as you were maintaining your body weight. If you ate 90 grams of fat a day, and stayed at 175 pounds, you wouldn't need to cut back on all the fat. A lot of bodybuilders think they have to eat no body fat. The thing is, you just need to cut back on the amount. If you ate 4,000 calories a day, and maintained your weight, just cut back a little bit on every meal, and you will only be eating about 3,000 calories. Get my drift? You lower your caloric intake by decreasing the amount you eat. The only way to lose weight is to lower your caloric intake. If you eat 10 pounds of vegetables, you are still putting on 10 pounds. If you eat smaller, that is best way to lose the weight. But don't think you can pig out on all fat if you just cut back. You have to eat as little fat as possible. Try to stay away from saturated fat, because that is the hardest for your body to burn off. Also, be sure to try and keep the same amount of protein in your body as you were before, as it is very important in your muscles.
There are plenty of good, low-fat protein foods out there. If you are a big egg eater, or a big meat eater, and are trying to stay away form all that fat, you can. Foods such as Tuna fish (Try to get all-white, because it has a little bit more protein, with only about a gram of fat per serving), Yogurt (Low-Fat), and skim milk are good sources of protein. The best way to keep the amount of protein you have is to use 100% whey protein, or protein drinks, such as Myoplex that give you good nutrients, too. Whey protein is excellent because it is easily used by your muscles. Only a certain percent of protein inside food is usable by your body (Also mentioned in Arnold's Book), and whey has an excellent percentage. Egg Protein is also very useful. If you already use Whey protein in your daily food intake, increase the amount, unless you are taking the maximum listed on the label. Some say take 1-4 times daily. If you only take 2 servings normally, try taking 3 or four, to get more protein, while you stay away from saturated fats in meats. Even though it is relatively high in fat, cottage cheese is a great source of protein. With just one ore two servings a day, you should be ok.
I don't know why, but I don't really consider Celery a vegetable. I guess it's because celery is basically just water. That's right, celery is almost all water. In recent studies, it has actually been said that celery is 98-99% water, and you actually lose weight just by eating it! You lose the weight because you work the muscles in your mouth, eating basically nothing, as water has nutrition facts of 0% all the way down. That is why, when you really want to start dieting, to really eat a lot of celery, because it is very healthy for you.
Like I said earlier, water is basically just nothing. Your muscles need hydration to help them grow. Try to stay away from purified water, or any of those natural spring waters, because they lack the minerals of basic Earth water from a faucet.
By protein shakes, I mean the kind you make with the protein powder you have. To be honest, it's by far the nastiest stuff I ever tasted (At least chocolate is). It gets very lumpy, and can only taste a little decent if it is in milk (I tried it with water, and I thought I would throw up). Of course, I am way too cheap to buy a powder mixer, so I just bear with what I have. The normal EAS whey protein has about 20 grams of protein per serving, and only a few grams of fat. There are also protein bars and meal replacements, but most of those can get pretty high in fat (At least for what I eat), but if you find a low fat bar, or you are content with the amount of fat in one of them, then by all means, try them.
You can pretty much keep your own diet at a low-fat, lower-intake level by yourself. All you have to do is look at the nutrition facts on the side of the container. Also, you should keep a track of what you eat, and how many calories, including protein, carbs, and fat.
Exercising the Abs:
First off, there are some basic exercises that you should know on training the abdominal muscles. They are your bread and butter exercises to start off with.
Crunch- The crunch emphasizes the upper-abs area. A crunch is done laying on the floor with your legs up at a 90 degree angle, calves parallel to the floor. You can put your hands behind your head, arms straight out, or you can have them folded over your chest. I like to fold them over my chest so I don't try to cheat bringing my arms down, and thus bending my neck, but you can do this however you like. After you are all set, just slowly crunch your body forward, bringing your chin as far forward as possible to feel the maximum burn.
Sit-Up- These are basically the only exercise that primarily emphasize the overall abdominal wall. Sure you have weighted sit-ups, etc., but you should really start out with just a normal sit-up. Lay on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. I like to lock my feet under a chair when I do these. Again, you can either fold your arms over your chest, or have them behind your head. This time bring your whole body up, bringing your chest to your knees. Try to do these slowly, and hold your body up at the point where your muscles tense (Right above the floor), and never lay back down after one rep. Don't just go up, rest, go up, rest. Do as many as you can. I still do sit-ups, even though, in the New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, it says (Well, Arnold says) that sit-ups really only work your hip flexors. He says the same about leg raises, but I still feel a burn in my abs doing both.
Leg-Raises- You can do these either on a bench, hanging in the air, or on the floor. Lay (Or hang) down with your legs straight out and off the floor about 45 degrees. Now, keeping them locked, bring them as high as you can up toward your head (you won't go that far, but that would be where they go if you could). It is important that if you are hanging, bring your legs higher than parallel, because you only work the hip flexors if you don't.
Reverse Crunches- These are done the exact opposite way of the crunch. Hence the name, reverse crunch. I like to lay on an incline bench, or just flat on the floor, though incline helps me get better tension. Have your legs bent at 90 degrees, calves parallel to what you are laying on. Bring your legs (Still bent) back, bringing your knees close to your face. Repeat that step until you can't do any more. You can also try doing the crunch and reverse crunch at the same time, crunching while you bring your legs back, but I don't particularly like that (Which is probably because it's hard for me to do for some reason).
Those exercises are the very basic for the abdominals. Once you have gotten those exercises down, all the rest are basically just variations of them, so they won't be very hard to get. It really helps learning those first, because you can build a lot to work with in your abdominals by learning those exercises first.
I'll start off with giving you different variations of the crunch. The crunches are basically the same movement, just with different equipment exceptions sometimes, such as:
- Rope Crunches
- Cable Crunches
- Incline/Decline Crunches
- And for the obliques, you can do twisting crunches.
Incline and decline crunches are basically self-explanatory. Do decline crunches on a decline bench, and incline crunches on an incline bench. You have probably never heard of the incline crunch, but they are one of the best exercises for the upper abs. I usually hold weights up near my head and crunch downward (One weight in each hand). It really burn the top of your abs.
Twisting crunches are an oblique targeted. In the same position of a regular crunch, just twist your body to one side, and repeat the same to the other side.
Roman Chairs: You need a Roman Chair to do these, obviously. Just go as far down as possible, and crunch your body up.
Seated Leg tucks: Sit on the edge of a bench, legs hanging over the side, your but barely holding you on the bench. Leave your top abs crunched down, like you were flexing them. Keep them like that while you bring your legs up to your chest, like a reverse crunch. This kills your whole abdominal wall. You can do these on Incline/Decline boards also.
Seated Twists: Take a barbell behind your neck, and rotate your hips from side to side. This gets very tiring and burns your obliques a lot.
Bent over Twists: The same as seated Twists, except you are bent over doing them. Arnold's Exercises:
These are a few of the exercises are mentioned in Arnold's Encyclopedia:
- Side Leg Raises: Lay on your side, and lift your leg as high as you can. This targets your obliques. Repeat doing the other leg.
- Bent-Knee side leg raises: The same as a side leg raise, except you bend your knee.
- Vacuums: These are very complicated. Breathe out until you can't blow out anymore. Hold your abs sucked in as long as you can. Try doing it from 30-60 seconds. Try these kneeling, seated, etc.
I have done all these exercises, but the best exercise of them all isn't listed above. If you are ever in the gym, ask your trainer or a worker there about a physio ball. A physio ball is a great piece of equipment to do many exercises on, but the one I am talking about is the crunch. You see, a physio ball forces all your muscles to stay tense while you work a certain muscle or muscle group. If you were doing a bench press, all you focus on is your chest, triceps, and deltoids. Your back is at rest, as well as the rest of your muscles. On the physio ball, all these muscles stay tense while you work your abs.
A lot of people think that if they go home and do a thousand crunches every night, that they will lose the fat on their stomach, or if they do a thousand curls, they lose fat in their arms. Spot reduction is when you lose fat from a certain part of your body. Unless you do liposuction at the doctor's office, this is impossible. I just wanted to clear that up.
Now, let's review all the exercises you can do to get those washboard abs you always dreamed of.
- Roman Chairs
- Twisting Crunches
- Reverse Crunches
- Hanging Reverse Crunches
- Vertical Bench Crunches
- Cable Crunches
- Rope Crunches
- Machine Crunches
- Seated Leg Tucks
- Leg Raises
- Flat Bench Leg Raises
- Bent Knee Flat bench leg raises
- Incline/Vertical Bench Bent-Knee leg raises
- Hanging leg raises
- Twisting hanging leg raises
- Seated Twists
- Bent over twists
- Side Leg raises
- Bent Knee side leg raises