ab training tips

Many times our Ab's are 'The Center of Attention'. There is something special about a firm and flat midsection. Your abdominal's attract attention like nothing else. Sexy abs are a sign of good health, power and yes, even sexual proficiency! A little tip, guys: puff up your chest all you like; no other muscle group gets a girl's attention like a defined set of abs!

And don't think for a minute that things are different for women. We see more and more athletic female bodies being heralded as the "new sex symbols." And what exactly are the areas of focus on these new athletic models? Abs, thighs and buttocks. These are the three "hot zones" that a woman can modify with proper diet and training.

In men, well-defined abs increase the quality of their physique by a notch, making them look more powerful and aesthetic. In women, a tight midsection brings up their femininity by accentuating a smaller waist-to-hips ratio: a definite plus when it comes to being perceived as sleek and sexy.

Why Train Abs?

Well, if becoming a sex symbol isn't enough for you, well-developed abs also have other significant benefits. They can help with proper breathing as the diaphragm is attached to the abdominal wall. The transverse abdomens and obliques also act as a "belt" that helps stabilize the trunk and reduces the risk of lower back pain or injury. Furthermore, having a firm midsection can be a strong self-esteem booster! You'll become more confident and as a result, you'll carry yourself with ease.

On the opposite end, a flabby belly that hangs and a loose abdominal wall is functionally not very effective, making you work harder for everything you do during the day. As a result, you get more fatigued just doing everyday tasks and at greatly risk to a multiple of injuries.


Words of Caution

Let's get this out of the way right now: train abs all you want, but if you have a layer of fat covering them, they won't have a visual impact. You can't significantly increase localized fat loss by doing thousands of crunches: you lose fat by following a proper diet and a proper general training program.

On the other hand, there are some people who don't train abs at all because they have excess body fat around their waists. They argue that working their abs hard isn't worth the effort because they won't be able to see them anyway. This is dumb. We already know that the abdomen's provide a myriad of health benefits that aren't limited to looking good. Having some fat around your tummy isn't an excuse to shy away from hard ab work! If anything, it'll motivate you to stick to your diet so you can finally see the results of your hard work. The ultimate ripped-abs formula will always be:

Hypertrophying the ab muscles + lowering body fat = Turtle shell abs

Another quick note: While the obliques are very important in reducing the risk of lower back injuries, you shouldn't overdo direct oblique work. The obliques are involved in trunk rotation and lateral flexing, but also assist the rectus abdomens (six pack) during flexing of the trunk. As a result, they receive plenty of stimulus from basic, heavy ab work.

Obliques are also heavily involved during movements such as squats and dead lifts to stabilize the trunk.


Training Abs for Best Results

There's a lot of controversy in the strength training world regarding the proper way to train abs. Weighted or unweighted? Low reps, moderate reps or high reps? Once a week or everyday?

I have found that for the  fastest results, for abs, you should use both lower reps and moderate reps. Going above 40-60 seconds of time under tension isn't going to do much for abdominal development, so you should stick with reps in the 6 to 12 and 12 to 15 ranges for weighted exercises 25 - 40 for body weight exercises. If performing more than 15 reps on an exercise seems too easy, that means you should add weight. If it's impossible to add weight on that exercise for practical purposes, drop it from your program. The same holds true for body weight exercises, if you find you can do 50 flutter kicks, do not keep going change exercise to isolate the muscle group more and all another set to your program.

For weighted ab training, I recommend training abs frequently with a lower volume at each session. I prefer to perform 2-3 exercises 2-3 times per week rather than 4-6 exercises once a week. The abdominal muscles recover quickly and can be trained often. Plus, by training them more often you improve your capacity to recruit your abs muscle (your nervous system becomes more efficient at it).

No need for a very long range of motion. What you need to do is focus on your abs: you must feel them working during the whole set. Just going through the motion isn't enough.

Top Ab Exercises

Here are nine of my favorite ab exercises. I like to rotate them throughout the week, performing two or three different exercises three times per week, normally Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

One method I like to use for a quick workout is to super set two exercises: one weighted with lower reps and an unweighted one performed as a post-fatigue exercise for a higher number of reps. This is the strategy I use, but beginners don't need to step up to super sets right away. At the end of this article I'll provide three sample programs designed for your level of development. Here are the exercises:

Exercise #1: The Serratus Crunch

It's a great way to build the rectus abdominis and even the obliques. And as a side benefit you get to develop the hard-to-train serratus muscles. Strengthening these muscle will help reduce the risk of shoulder injury and will actually increase your bench pressing strength by stabilizing the shoulder blades.

The key point is to keep the arms perpendicular to the floor at all times. As you reach the "crunched" position you should reach for the ceiling, trying to bring the hands as high as possible. Hold that position for 2-3 seconds.

There are two more advanced variations to try: the serratus crunch with elevated legs (feet off the floor during the movement) and the serratus crunch/reverse crunch combo in which you perform the regular serratus crunch motion but bring your knees up toward your chest at the same time.

Exercise #2: Kneeling Cable Crunch

When performed properly this is arguably one of the best ways to build a thick, separated six pack. The first key is to focus on curling your body by using only your abs. Think of your arms as inert ropes—they don't get to help. The second key is to execute a trunk "curling" motion and not a simple trunk flexing.

Exercise #3: Pullover Crunch

This is yet another very complete abdominal builder. It's actually executed in two distinct phases:

It's better to go lighter at first to get the proper feel of the movement. Gradually add weight as long as you can continue to feel a concentrated effort from your abs.

Exercise #4: Dumbbell Weighted Crunch

This is a pretty straightforward exercise: just a regular crunch, holding a dumbbell in each hand. You can vary the difficulty of the exercise by changing the hand position: the closer to the hips you hold the bells the easier the exercise is. To increase the difficulty, hold the weight closer to your head or simply add more weight.

Exercise #5: Swiss Ball Crunch

This is another basic, yet effective exercise. Really focus on keeping your hips up during the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement. I like to use this exercise as a post-fatigue drill right after one of the preceding four exercises.

Exercise #6: Ball Exchange Double Crunch

This is a seemingly simple exercise, but it can be very challenging and will really work all your ab muscles. You can increase the difficulty of the exercise by using a medicine ball instead of a Swiss ball, but be careful not to drop it on your face!

Exercise #7: Side Bend

This is a good exercise to build the obliques. A key point to remember is to perform the exercise one side at a time. If you hold a dumbbell in each hand you're actually taking the muscles out of it since they won't need to work as hard (the two dumbbells will cancel each other out!).

Use with moderation if all you want is a firm and sexy waistline, but for those of you who are more performance-oriented, this exercise is a sure way to improve your squat and deadlift.

Exercise #8: Modified Russian Twist

This is a decent exercise to use as a post-fatigue drill for the obliques; it also works the rectus abdominis isometrically. This will improve trunk stability and give you more muscle control. Rotate very slowly. In time you can even add some resistance by holding a dumbbell in your hands above your chest.

Exercise #9: Seated Knee-ups

I only use this exercise as a post-fatigue drill and it's the only one in which I'll go above 15 repetitions. It can either be very effective if you do it right or a complete waste of time if not! The key is to focus on performing a peak abdominal contraction, keeping that waist tight during the whole range of motion. In fact, contract your abs harder than you actually need to perform the movement.

Sample Weighted Training Programs

Choose your level and get in the gym!

Beginner Level

Day 1

A. Dumbbell weighted crunches
3 x 10-12
30-60 seconds of rest

B. Swiss ball crunch
3 x 10-12 (hold a dumbbell on your chest if it's too easy)
30-60 seconds of rest

Day 2

A. Kneeling cable crunch
3 x 10-12
30-60 seconds of rest

B. Seated knee-ups
3 x max reps
30-60 seconds of rest

Day 3

A. Serratus crunch
3 x 10-12
30-60 seconds of rest

B. Side bend
3 x 10-12 per side
30-60 seconds of rest

Intermediate Level

Day 1

A. Serratus crunch
4 x 8-10
30-60 seconds of rest

B. Swiss ball crunch
4 x 12-15 (hold a dumbbell on your chest if it's too easy)
30-60 seconds of rest

Day 2

A. Kneeling cable crunch
4 x 8-10
30-60 seconds of rest

B. Ball exchange double crunch
4 x max reps
30-60 seconds of rest

Day 3

A. Dumbbell weighted crunch
4 x 8-10
30-60 seconds of rest

B. Side bend
4 x 8-10 per side
30-60 seconds of rest

Advanced Level

Day 1

A1. Serratus crunch
4 x 6 to 8
No rest, move on to a set of A2.

A2. Swiss ball crunch
4 x max reps
30-60 seconds of rest

Day 2

A1. Kneeling cable crunch
4 x 6 to 8
No rest, move on to a set of A2.

A2. Ball exchange double crunch
4 x max reps
No rest, move on to a set of A3.

A3. Seated knee-ups
4 x max reps
30-60 seconds of rest

Day 3

A1. Pullover crunch
4 x 8-10
No rest, move on to a set of A2

A2. Side bend
4 x 8-10 per side
No rest, move on to a set of A3

A3. Modified Russian twist
4 x max reps
30-60 seconds of rest

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