The Brutal Truth about Abs
Why do so few people have visible abs, much less a six pack?
Isn’t that one of the most coveted things for anyone trying to get “beach body ready” Aren’t we working hard enough for them?
Have you ever seen the cast of survivor after just a few weeks into the show? Everyone is beginning to have visible abs. With low enough body fat even average abs look great. After the show is over, within 3 weeks, everyone is close to the way they used to look again.
Visible abs are about your body fat percentage. When you see great looking abs on a guy, he’s about at 6% body fat; the women are about at 12%.
But don’t distress too much. You can have great looking abs at almost twice that body fat% – if you know how to train them.
But remember, abs are about training and nutrition…not supplementation.
Look at the Facebook advertisement above. I looked into it. Great bit of marketing for sure. The supplement advertised will literally GIVE you 6 pack abs. You just need to spend money, not effort. Discover how all the Hollywood celebrities get “movie ready”. Uh huh. At the end they referenced a study done on their product. There were no differences between those that used their product versus another similar product. These companies don’t expect you to read their references though do they?
No supplement “flushes” out body toxins (that job belongs to your kidneys and liver and good hydration – remember there is water in beer 😉 )
No supplement melts away fat – you must create a calorie deficit for that (hard to do with beer)
No supplement packs on tons of muscle, or even a pound of muscle. If it did I would weigh 300 pounds with 6% body fat – I’ve been in the gym for nearly 30 years.
I know you want abs like yesterday, but I promise you can reach over half of your genetic potential safely in 6 months if you are patient and take a planned approach using the fundamentals.
Without low body fat your abs will never be visible. So you have to get your nutrition right. I won’t cover that here as this is a training article.
If you develop your abs properly though, you won’t have to keep this low level of body fat. It takes tons of discipline to stay in the single digits on body fat. I like to have a beer with friends, to enjoy whatever food I feel like eating when I go out, to live a “normal” life in terms of activities and social events.
I did have venison steak, elk sausage, and two glasses of wine last night for dinner. This morning, only a 4 pack…sigh. But totally worth it.
The rectus abdominus is your primary abdominal muscle for visible abs and it has two main functions
- to stabilize during rotation of the upper and lower trunk
- to flex the spine
Flexing of the spine can occur by a focus on flexing the upper torso (crunch) or lower torso (knee raise). Most people only focus on the upper torso with crunches.
So crunches, even with resistance, will only develop the abs partially. Besides, you’ve been doing these for years. You’re probably pretty good at them. But if you need example of the four basics I recommend, see the hyperlinks included. Yeah, they’re pretty boring initially but check out the very last one in this article if you want something special.
By the way, sit-ups – not bad with an ab mat. GHD situps – money. Side bends with weights – great if you want to be more chunky. Resistance exercise leads to hypertrophy. You don’t want to hypertrophy in the wrong areas. And you can’t spot reduce either. When you burn fat you burn it from your entire body, not from the area you are exercising.
Leg raises (either floor or hanging) are much tougher than crunches and they function to flex the spine from the hips rather than the upper torso. For Floor leg raises (FLRs), the most resistance is at the beginning of the movement – from heels off the deck to about 45 degrees.
For hanging leg raises (HLR), most of the resistance is closer to the top of the movement, from 45 degrees up.
FLRs are great at developing the muscles that separate the legs from the abdominal muscles, the so called V taper
HLRs are probably the best move you could do for your abs but are much tougher. With these you may need to progress from “knee ups” with the knees bent, to bent leg HLRs, all the way to straight let HLRs. If you can take your feet to the bar you’re hanging from, you are good to go. Sometimes keeping a slight bend in the knees will keep from aggravating your back and allow for a full ROM if your hamstrings are tight.
Planks (best option for those with pre-existing back injuries) help ensure even ab development at utilize the core the way it was meant to be utilized. They are isometric/isokinetic and work the abs in a contracted and stable state. This is the best exercise for those exercising around a low back injury.
Side planks tighten the obliques without adding too much size so if you feel you just HAVE to work those sides…do the side plank.
Hint: you get enough oblique work already lifting free weights. And you can’t spot reduce. Are you getting this yet?
To add resistance put a 5, 10, or 25 pound plate on your back
To make it even more challenging, do a plank with your feet on a medium to large sized Swiss ball. This will really bring the obliques and serratus into play.
Finally, realize that your abdominal muscles are fast twitch fibers and respond really well to resistance training. You should also hit the abs with strength training (high resistance, lower reps). Take a look at the infamous Elliot Hulse’s exercise recommendation and a video from the Poliquin Group.
Remember that any training from a bar (chin ups, dips, etc.) works the abs and core well. Any Olympic type movements and most free weight exercises, for that matter, work the core to a fair extent as well, so chances are your abs are pretty good if you do these types of movement. Because I use only body weight and free weights (barbells and dumbells) I get a bit of ab work every day. Thus, the only direct ab work I do is one day a week. Usually only 3-5 sets. Beats 30 minutes of abs three times a week doesn’t it?
My typical ab day is always at the end of the main workout and it’s usually on a back day. If you work your core and fatigue prior to a heavy lifting session you can leave yourself open for injury due to fatigued core stabilizers. 60-90 second rest between sets). Remember your goal for time under tension is 20-70 seconds so this routine adequately addresses muscle size and strength.
Vups (many as I can do in one minute)
HLR’s – or Toes to Bar (many as I can do consecutively)
Weighted Planks (10 pound plate on back for 60-90 seconds)
Crunch (many as I can do in one minute)
That’s it, a 7 minute routine once a week. Hit me up if you have any questions, comments, concerns.