Let’s be absolutely honest - there is no other part of the body we want to develop and show off more than the midsection. We all want to possess killer abs - male or female, young or old. But what do you really need to do in order to develop a lean, defined and sexy midsection? What’s an absolute must do in order to develop lean abs?
Below I have listed the four key ingredients you will need in order to develop a killer midsection and I have listed them in order of importance. You might be surprised to see that ab training is listed last. The four key areas that need to be addressed are:
- Resistance Training
- Metabolic Training
- Abdominal Training
They say that your abs are made in the kitchen. Well I like to think that the recipe for developing lean abs begins in the kitchen. However, there are other ingredients you will need in order to cook you up a set of lean abs, but let’s focus on the importance of nutrition here.
You cannot get your abdominals to stand out and trim your waistline, unless you address the area of nutrition. The only way to get your abs to stand out is to remove the layer of fat that’s keeping them from been exposed
You can do all the abdominal training in the world, but it will do absolutely nothing to remove the fat that’s covering your abs. You must look carefully at your nutrition, addressing your eating habits and meal planning. Even if you are performing the most perfect training program, it won’t matter if you are eating poorly. There is no training program I know of that is powerful enough to overcome a poor diet.
Resistance training is very important when wanting to develop a lean set of abs. Remember the primary objective is to get your bodyfat levels low enough to expose your abs. Resistance training will help you enormously in getting your bodyfat levels down to a point where your abs will be able to be seen.
The BIG Lifts! Focus on the BIG lifts and bodyweight exercises. The BIG lifts are exercises such as the barbell or dumbbell bench press, squats, lunges, dead lifts and Olympic lifts. These exercises will do more for your abs than any isolation abdominal exercise or abdominal gadget could ever do.
Unilateral Training! Unilateral training (single leg or single arm exercises) of ANY description requires the abdominals to perform anti rotation movement, which is one of the main functions of the abdominals. Now I love this method of abdominal training purely because it completely prevents lumbar (lower back) flexion especially if the weight is being held overhead. Holding a weight over head locks your lumbar spine in position and causes thoracic extension. A version I've seen recently at the NSCA Annual conference in Las Vegas by Gray Cooks I really like is the kneeling single hand shoulder press, whereby you actually kneel and press the weight overhead, because it removes the temptation to lean back if shoulder mobility is restricted. Go try it!
Bodyweight Training! People have developed the notion that bodyweight training is easy and they MUST do weights in order to tax themselves. I beg to differ. Just because you can do 10 half arsed push-ups does NOT mean you can master your Bodyweight!
Bodyweight exercises such as push ups, chin ups, parallel bar dips, inverted body rows, bodyweight squats, single leg squats, jumps, burpees and plank exercise variations all have progressions and they can all create a VERY effective workout that EVERYONE can benefit from. Supporting your body in all these positions not only taxes the abdominals, but it’s functional as well! You should always have the goal of been able to perform these exercises and it’s never too late to learn how to master your own bodyweight. Not only that but once you master these bodyweight exercises you can always start adding additional load in order to further challenge yourself and keep progressing.
We just told you that you have to remove the layer of excess fat from your midsection in order to get your abs to show. So how do you do that??? Well you primarily want to be using fat loss training principles and protocols. That’s where the problem for many people starts. They DON’T KNOW how to properly train for fat loss.
The way many people train is like an endurance athlete when it comes to fat loss. I’m sorry, but when did endurance training become the way to train for fat loss??? Just because endurance athletes are skinny or slightly built does not mean that it is the way to train to get lean and burn bodyfat. Sprinters are much better built and leaner than endurance athletes, and sprinters DO NOT perform endurance training. They train metabolically and to increase work capacity, not endurance. Remember you are training for fat loss, not to increase your endurance or become an endurance athlete.
You need to HIT the fat loss accelerator and you do that by performing HIT (High Intensity Training). This means you should be doing full body resistance training routines, various bodyweight or weight training based circuit training protocols, and interval training protocols.
All these training methods have a metabolic component to them. They not only attack the muscle, which is metabolically active, but these training methods also create EPOC. EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption is your friend. I like to refer to this as ABE (After Burn Effect). ABE is your fat loss friend. Performing metabolic type work will not only allow you to burn a load of calories whilst you train, but assist the elevation in your metabolism post exercise and you will continue to burn more calories post exercise. This is why we say you need to think outside the workout. You must not only be concerned with what impact the training you do has on your body and metabolism during training, but also what impact your training has on your body and metabolism after you complete your session (POST EXERCISE).
Sprint Training! Sprinting has shown exciting results for both abdominal development AND spot reduction. This is simply an observation that I have made, but I DON’T think it’s in any way a coincidence that sprinters have highly developed and lean abs. I very much doubt it’s from the crunches they do before they go to bed every night. . Correct me if I’m wrong but I think it just might be the sprinting!
So remember to train METABOLICALLY for fat loss, not aerobically. Train like the sprinter, not the endurance athlete.
How important do you think ab work actually is in developing a lean set of abs??? Most people tend to give the right answer, but the amount of ab work they tend to do doesn’t line up with what they say. The fact is that you don’t need to do endless amounts of ab work. The priority is getting your bodyfat levels down.
However, everyone seems to love doing ab work. Problem is that most people perform the most ineffective ab exercises possible. Dozens of crunches, oblique crunches and leg lifts. You may need to adjust the way you think about training your abs. Don’t forget that the big lifts and the big movements, such as sprinting, will do more for your abs than any isolated or direct ab exercise.
Here are the main problems I see with people and their abdominal training routines:
- Too much direct or isolated ab work
- Too much ab work, performed too often
- Too much emphasis placed on trunk flexion (crunches)
- Too many exercises performed in a lying supine position (crunches, oblique crunches, etc)
- Too many total repetitions and not enough load-stress placed on the abs
Instead you should focus on performing the following
- Perform ‘ab work’ no more than 2 times per week.
- Perform stability based, anti-rotational and anti hyperextension exercises
- Perform exercises that require transfer of energy through the midsection; back muscles and the abs through full body movments.
- Perform exercises in various positions. Supine, prone, side positions and grounded.
Abdominal Training Tools and Gadgets! On the market today are numerous abdominal training tools and gadgets. Tools are useful. Gadgets are just that, they are gadgets or gimmicks. These gadgets do sell but they do not work and they are most certainly not needed. Here’s a look at some useful tools and other pieces of equipment you can use when training your abs.
The AB Wheel: The ab wheel is a great tool for performing forward and diagonal roll outs, and is also very cheap to purchase. However, you can also use dumbbells or an olympic bar to perform roll outs, thus there is no need to buy an ab wheel if you have access to these items.
Medicine Balls: Medicine balls are great tools to use for rotational exercises and power based ab exercises. They are also perfect for adding load to a ‘Serratus Crunch.’
Resistance Bands: The large resistance bands (non dyna bands or thera bands) are the perfect tool for anti-rotational exercises. However, you can also perform the same anti rotational exercises using an adjustable cable pulley system.
Stability Balls: Stability balls are ok for a very small number of exercises, but personally I feel they are way over used. It amazes me how every gym, health club and personal trainer uses these more than medicine balls. Medicine balls over stability balls I say. Medicine balls are much more versatile and effective.
Sample Athletic Abdominal Circuit
Perform 3 Circuits
Quick transition between exercises >10 seconds
Resting 60 Seconds Between Each Circuit
AB Exercise # 1: Prone Position Plank + Alternating Leg Lift x 30 Seconds
AB Exercise # 1: Reverse Position Plank + Alternating Leg Lift x 30 Seconds
AB Exercise # 2: Side Position Plank x 30 Seconds Each Side
AB Exercise # 3: Spiderman Plank x 30 Seconds
AB Exercise # 4: The ‘Real’ Row Plank x 30 Seconds
Prone Position Plank
Side plank progression
Reverse Plank With Leg Lift-Hip Flexion
The ‘Real’ Row Plank Start Position
Bryan Kavanagh (read Bryan's blog here)