How do I get great abs? What is the secret to a six pack? How do you get a toned and flat stomach? These questions are perennially asked by everyone with a body conscious bone in their body. ‘How to get great abs: Part 1’ focussed on a rhetorical question I posed to those who strive for abdominal definition: “Do you ever see a fat person with abs?”
However, this article focusses on the question I addressed at the end of Part 1 – what exercises are best to do when you’re ‘in range’ to increase abdominal definition?
It is necessary to dispel a myth at this point. Abdominal muscles should be treated like every other muscle in your body. On the chest press, would you do 100 repetitions without stopping? If you answered no, then there is no reason to do this with your abdominals. People everywhere are seen ‘cracking out’ 100 sit ups non-stop, but this isn’t necessary and is inefficient if your goal is for defined abs and a six pack. Yes, 100 sit ups can be a good challenge and a change-up exercise to shock your body every now and again for it to adapt further, but the bulk of your ab workout should be completed as you would your other body parts. Maybe three sets of 12 reps; or 4 sets of 8 reps. Performing your exercises in this range will make the ripples in your stomach bigger and thus more defined and tighter against the skin.
Without additional weight added, you may be able to do 12 reps of an ab exercise quite easily. Thus, performing ab exercises with weights that make you struggle to perform any more than 12 reps is a very efficient way to workout your stomach muscles.
My favourite ab exercise. This works the main ‘six pack’ area of the abdominals in a similar motion to the classic ‘crunch’ when lying on your back; but instead, you kneel in front of a cable machine with the cable set at its highest setting and contract your abs hard so your head is brought down to the floor with the rope attachment held with your hands behind your neck. If you keep your abs under constant tension whilst trying to contract downwards with the additional weight added, your abs will be worked hard like any other isolation body part exercise.
Another ‘six pack’ exercise. Kneeling on the floor with your hands holding a barbell in front of you shoulder width apart; you are looking to push the barbell away from you with straight arms until (if you can) your torso is parallel to the floor. When you are in this position, tense the abs hard and force them to draw you back to your starting position. Try not to use your shoulders too much and focus the contraction on your abs. This is a full body exercise and can be very hard work if done with heavy weights added to the barbell and repeated for 12 reps.
HANGING LEG RAISES
This hits the lower, notoriously difficult area to define, area of the abdominals. Increasing the muscle size of this area can help bring out the pelvic ‘V’ definition that men and women so often crave. Hang from a pull up bar and, with straight legs, raise your legs up in front of you so they form a 90 degree angle with your torso. Put weights on the ankles to increase the resistance. If this is too hard to perform for 12-15 reps to start with, just raise your knees up to your stomach.
‘V’ SIT UPS
Lie with your back flat on the ground with your arms extended straight out on the floor over your head and hold a medicine ball or weight plate. With your legs straight too, tense your abs and bring your legs up to vertical and bring the medicine ball to meet your feet above your hips. Hold for a split second and then return the legs and arms back to the start. This works upper and lower abs together and can really create a total ‘burning’ sensation in the muscles. However, be sure to concentrate the contraction on the relevant muscles and don’t rely on momentum just to get them to the final positions. It is the use and contraction of the muscles, not just getting from A to B, that creates good abs.
OBLIQUE ‘WOOD CHOPPERS’
A fantastic exercise for the obliques and the pelvic ‘V’ forming the side portion of the abdominals. Again, make sure you focus on the contraction of the muscles that are intended to be used. Stand side on to a cable machine. Take hold of the single handle attachment, set at the highest notch, with both hands. You are then looking to bring both hands down to the opposite hip by contracting the obliques. This action can be done with just the arms but this is not the intention. If you let the abs do all the work, you will have one of the best exercises for bringing out the abs and creating a strong and toned ‘love handle’ area. This action is similar to the first half of a golf shot and is very good for those who play a racquet or club sport.
OVERHEAD PLATE LEANS
This works the obliques but also the the muscles to the side of the lower back which helps in creating definition and a tighter hip and waist area. Stand with your legs shoulder width apart with your arms straight above your head holding a 5 or 10 kg plate. Rotate your torso to face the side and then bend over, still with straight arms, until the plate touches the side of your knee. Then still with straight arms, bring the plate back up to the top above your head, turn to the front, and then turn to the other side and perform the same action. Repeat 8-12 times for each side.
Part three will look at which full body exercises are great to strengthen your abs whilst not being the sole reason to perform them.
Chris James MA O.A. Dip