Start now to have your best ever abs this summer. Hannah Bryant shows us how.
Having great abdominals always feels like the final piece of the puzzle. The process of attaining them is no mystery; but it does require discipline, consistency, and for you to adhere to some simple scientific-based principles and not bro-science. And abs do not come overnight, so if you have them, you earned them.
CORE ANATOMY AND FUNCTION
Most people consider “abs training” to be primarily about some form of crunch or hip flexion-type movement. The rectus abdominis is indeed the muscle that will have perhaps the most significant effect on the visual impact of your abs, providing of course you have the necessary body-fat levels. However, the rectus abdominis actually contributes very little by way of function, or strength transfer, into the main lifts like the deadlift, squat, etc. It is a far more “show” muscle than “go.”
Crunches and hip flexion-style movements also do not work the abs/core across the spectrum of its functions. The core needs to do many things, not just flexion, such as rotation, anti-rotation, bracing, lateral flexion, etc.
The key to abdominal training is to ensure that you cover all functions regularly. If your goals are more about performance, then you should prioritize the more functional core movements over the more aesthetic-based choices. Most sports will involve some form of rotation and anti-rotation requirement and hence these should be included in your training program.
WATCH THOSE HIP FLEXORS
In modern society, the hip-flexor group is under shortening stress, from sitting and driving, to name just two. Once the hip flexors get short, they start to affect posture and you can become prone to something known as anterior pelvic tilt. This can cause pain and injury and also affect your ability to produce strength and power.
So when training your abs, be careful you are not simply training the hip flexors by overdoing movements that have a swing or some type of hip flexor activation to initiate the movement. If you try a reverse crunch on a low incline, with zero swings from the hips, you will notice how hard it is to get your lower back off the bench and control it. That shows you how much you have been using the hip flexors on that exercise rather than the target muscle group, the lower abs.
HOW TO FUEL TO GET THOSE ABS
The reality is that the best abs training program in the world will produce zero results unless you have both your diet plan and training program in tune. A common practice when people think about “getting their abs out” is to starve themselves, do lots of cardio, and perform longer rep sets. This is rubbish, as science has proven. The main goal of your training is fat loss so you should focus on intense strength training, combined with excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), boosting strength circuits, and lactic-acid stimulating interval/ Tabata-based programs. And don’t overly restrict calories as this will simply tell your body to slow your metabolism.
These are some basic choices you can use to start to improve both the function and the look of your abdominals. Combined with a sensible training program that elicits the necessary stimulus for muscle growth and fat burning (EPOC, lactic acid production, etc.) and with the proper calorie-controlled nutrition plan, you can expect real gains in how your abs look this summer.
WEIGHTED BARBELL DECLINE SIT-UP
(3 SETS OF 12)
Lie down and hold a barbell above your face, then as you sit up, push it overhead and slowly return to the bottom position. You must be sure to lower yourself very slowly, and aim to imprint one vertebra at a time into the bench.
Remember that eccentric training is proven to be a strong stimulus for muscle hypertrophy, so adding movements to your abs routines, performed with an eccentric focus, is a very smart way to get maximum results. Long sets of 25 to 50 reps on your abs, done without load or tension, almost a pulse-type movement, are not as effective as using load and controlled tempos.
(3 SETS OF 12)
Set a bench to a low incline, grip hard behind your head, then crunch your knees into your face. Let your legs back out to 90 degrees, then repeat the movement. To make it harder, set the incline steeper. Lower under control, very slowly, using the eccentric component to really tax your abs.
HANGING KNEE RAISE WITH A TWIST
(3 SETS OF 15 ON EACH SIDE)
Twist your lower body, then raise your knees up to the side and feel your obliques and lower abs crunch. The real trick is to not lower your legs past parallel, meaning you negate the impact of your hip flexors and maximize the effort needed from your lower abs. Lower under control on each rep, then aim to knee yourself in the face and crunch hard.
WEIGHTED PLANK WITH FORWARDING REACH
(3 SETS OF 20)
Load up some weight on your back, then perform 20 reaches, 10 for each arm, without letting your core drop. These are superb for keeping your waist small and tight. Focus on a slight posterior tilt with your pelvis, known as an RKC plank, so that you are maximizing the abs recruitment and not dropping into an anterior tilt position
Photos by Chris V. Linton Follow (@chrisvlinton)