Whether you’re straight, gay, black, white, puny or super-sized, just about everyone wants to have a great set of abs. In fact, we’d venture a guess that an ab-lined trunk is the number one choice for most people if they could be endowed with just one stellar body part.
Sure, a lot of meatheads would still choose big biceps… but that’s only because they have bloated midsections and no chance at chiseled abs. And let’s face it, the desire for a well-defined abdomen unites the sexes in ways that relationships, group sex and naked Twister just never could. Why do you think God invented the belly shirt for women and Calvin Klein underwear for men, for Christ’s sake? Duh! The Lord knew what he was doing, that’s why.
But if matters of divine intervention just aren’t your cup of tea and you need more logical proof, consider this; Any physical attribute that says ‘I’m young, sexy and ready for any action you wanna bring my way’ packs a wallop in the scheme of success with all matters of sexual prowess. Can you think of another visible male body part that can say that much with a mere peek? Good abs scream, “I’m a SEX GOD and can go ALL NIGHT!” Doesn’t that mean anything to you flabby-gut couch jockeys out there??
If it does, we’re sure you’ll be reading on.
If not… go in peace, portly son, and eat a bag of Cheetos for us while you’re at it!
It’s all a matter of priorities. You either want the physical edge with the ladies and the stud status that can bring, or you’re content with the same boring TV dinner that is your wife or current girlfriend because you’re too lazy to better yourself and she doesn’t deserve it. That is, of course, unless the lady in your life is in better shape than you. If that’s the case, you’re just biding your time until Julio the pool boy swoops down with his net and skims the suit top right off your woman.
There’s really no good reason to wait around to build your abs, let’s not disagree on that much. But since nobody goes to the gym strictly so he can build his midsection, it needs to become a priority and part of something bigger. That balancing act between what is most important at the time and what is ultimately important in the big picture is what you need to rectify before you receive the bounty of goods, shaped like the underside of a tortoise shell, that will replace the flab you now have.
Good abs are obviously best appreciated in the spring and summer months of the year. Since that’s the case, you’ll need to focus on them all year long, but with special emphasis on a seasonal basis. We say, “good legs in the winter and good abs in the summer” as a general rule of thumb. However, if you live in either Florida or southern California, you’ll want to scratch that thinking because if your front porch is shaded by palm trees of any variety, you’ll need to prioritize your abs all year long.
Something You Never Knew About Abs
Abs aren’t like any other muscle in the body. If they are like any muscle group, they are closest to calves in the way that they respond, but truly, they aren’t even like calves. The abs are a muscle group that have a high threshold for stress and strain. They can take a beating and recover rapidly. And unlike smaller body parts, such as biceps or triceps, the abs can take a tremendous amount of stress and actually benefit from it. Whereas,
you might take your arms to failure once or twice a month to get them to respond to a different sort of stimulus, it’s going to take you a lot of imagination to come up with ways to actually beat your abs at the endurance game. You know the saying “more is better”? Well, in this case, it’s true.
Endurance isn’t something most people equate with building good muscle mass. In fact, it’s usually just the opposite. But the truth is, it is through endurance that you will build your best abs. Endurance, however, by its very name and definition, takes time to cultivate and accumulate. It’s not like you can expect to be able to do a thousand crunches tomorrow night right off the bat, even using poor form. You have to work up to it.
But here’s the Catch-22 that makes ab training so frustrating:
As you work up the steam and endurance through practice, your abs will become stronger and stronger and require more and more resistance and endurance in order to benefit and continue showing results. So essentially, the harder you work, the harder you’ll have to work to see the same progress!
Now when we talk about resistance, it isn’t so much in terms of adding more weight to your ab workouts, it just means that the abs are a demanding and often times a harsh mistress who never seems satisfied with your less-than-paltry efforts. Get used to the fact that your abs will continually demand more and more of you (read: drain you dry) the more you go after good midsection conditioning.
Sound familiar? Get over it! No one wants to hear your social sob stories!
So why does this happen? The abdominals are a muscle group that quickly re-oxygenate themselves following periods of intense stress having been placed on them. That is to say they recuperate extremely fast from the stress placed on them, and are ready to go again in a matter of a minute or less. Try that with your quads and you’ll end up amputating your legs from the knees down. Don’t do it with your abs and you’re destined for a mediocre midsection.
If you’re not ready to go when your abs are, it can actually hinder your progress because the abs require constant cumulative stress over a period of at least 20-30 minutes for any benefit to occur. Hence, the need for accumulated endurance. The only way to get endurance is to practice endurance. Long story short? Your first few weeks are going to seem like the longest, most excruciating kidney stone passing in the history of the modern world. Your only solace will be found in the fact that you’ll feel it in your belly and not your nether regions. Thank goodness for small miracles.
The Unadulterated Truth
When anyone looks at a good midsection, they think, ‘If I just do hundreds of sit ups, I’ll get there like that guy did’. Truth is, he’s only partly right. That’s because there are several truths to consider when putting together a routine that will actually work for you. Forget or deny these truths and you’ll surely fail.
Truth #1: There is no end to good ab training in the big picture, just as there is no room for backing off on intensity and stress in the smaller, single workout picture, there is no room for it in the big picture either. Endurance is the key in the short term and longevity is in the long term. If you do not remain consistent with your training, you’ll lose it as rapidly as you got it!
Truth #2: There is more to the midsection, and to making it look like a million bucks, than just the few vertical slabs that run East to West across your belly. Truly impressive abs require the inclusion of many exercises, other than crunches, that are designed to target other areas of the total midsection. There are three whole other parts to consider!
Truth #3: Diet is almost 80% of your success in the end. You can train your ass off from morning until night and have abs so strong you could crush a V-8 can in the up position, but if it’s shrouded beneath a layer of ugly flabby fat, all your hard work is basically invisible. And we all know, if it can’t be seen, it just doesn’t exist. Just ask anyone!
PIECES OF THE PUZZLE
The abs are comprised of 5 parts:
•Upper Rectus Abdominus
•Lower Rectus Abdominus
The rectus muscles are the parts of the midsection that most people equate with “having abs”. They are the vertical muscles that, depending upon your genetic make-up, comprise 4-5 different sections that run across the width of the abdominal cavity. They are typically broken up in the middle and either staggered like bricks or evenly dispersed straight across like tiles. Everyone is different in how they are configured genetically and it’s not something that is negotiable. Hey, you can do a lot with the human body, but choosing how your muscles are laid out is not an option.
The Obliques are the muscles that run from along the lower part of the ribcage and down to your hips. They comprise what most people call the ‘waist’. Insanely drugged out bodybuilders have hugely developed obliques, but typically not by choice. It just happens as a matter of not watching the waistline, straining and not taking care to keep these muscles stress free. However, they do need to be worked; just not too extreme. They need work only to tie in and make the rest of the abs flow together well. They are part of the sum total of a totally amazing abdominal picture.
The Serratus and Intercostal muscles are the finishing touches on the whole picture. They lace together like lattice over the top of the ribcage just below the pectoral muscles. They come in at a 45 degree angle toward the middle of the upper rectus abdominus like two sets of fingers diagonally interlaced.
All of these sub-groups of muscles within the muscle grouping itself must be trained in order to attain a great result. It’s also the way to keep your trunk strong in a complete sense for other athletic endeavors where trunk strength, balance and coordination are important. That goes for just about every sport, genius!
You must do at least 2 exercises per section of abdominal muscle sub-group in order to fully work the abs. We’ll give you a few per sub-group to get you started. Just know, there are tons more variations out there; the world is your oyster. And if you’re anything like us, (we puke when we eat oysters too fast) hopefully, you’ll puke after each ab workout!
We also recommend that you work the abs at least 4 times per week to keep the heat on and keep the abs from totally recovering. They are a highly adaptable muscle and require consistency. Working the abs 4+ times per week will also help you build the endurance you need to keep improving and actually go the distance in a tough workout. Take just 30 – 45 seconds between sets and try to superset your exercises in a way that keeps the overall focus and intensity on the abs, but gives a slight break to each sub-group.
For example: When you do a set of crunches, also do a set of hanging leg raises immediately following to give the upper rectus a rest and the lower rectus a run for its money!
Make sure to go at least 15 reps or to failure when you can. You won’t overtrain your abs like you would another body part doing this. You’ll just make them harder and better!
Crunches (with knees raised or on an ab slant board)
The point is to lift with your upper rectus only. That means finding a spot on the ceiling with your eyes and sticking to it! Keep your lower back anchored to the floor or ab board. Use knees raised initially, and move to ab slant for a tougher workout!
Weighted crunches in kneeling position
Hold upper cable pulley with rope attachment and a slight amount of weight. Keep elbows alongside your ears and don’t move ‘em! Use your abs to crunch down over yourself in a kind of praying monk position.
Nautilus Crunch machine
Most gyms have these, where you sit in a chair and immobilize your lower body while crunching over your abs.
Hanging Leg Raises
You can use elbow cuffs or just your hands to hang from a high bar. Straighten your legs and become motionless, then, raise your knees by curling from the tailbone and tucking your butt. Bring your knees as high as possible or until your hang time ends.
V-Up/Knees into Chest
Using the end of a flat bench, balance on the long end of your butt right about at your tailbone. Lean back with your upper body, grab hold of the bench sides, and balance on your butt as if it is the bottom of a V. Tense your upper rectus, and pull your knees to your chest.
Unweighted Broom Twists
Use a broomstick, sans natty hair for this. Any common dowel will do, but do not use a barbell or even a naked straight bar since it will be too much weight! Stand with your feet 24 inches apart, bend your knees, tuck your butt underneath you, lace the dowel over your shoulders like a squat bar, keep the lower body still and twist at the waist. This is really one of the only “safe” exercises for your obliques. Some gyms have a seated apparatus that does the same thing, but requires that you use weight. Don’t do it!
Cross Knee Crunches
When you do a standard crunch this time, you’ll be leading with the right elbow, touching the left knee and the left elbow reaching out for the right knee. All crunch work is okay for obliques because it won’t tend to bulk them out into huge baboon-like formations.
Lying Side Crunches
Use the exact same position as a standard crunch, but drop your knees to the side. Keep your upper back flat against the floor and lift up over the top of your ribcage, keeping your legs and feet still and plastered down.
Weighted Kneeling Crunches
(to the side)
See Upper Rectus section and do some pulls to the side. You’ll have to kneel down a bit further from the pulley station, but you’ll get the hang of it. Do these separately from the other exercise intended for the upper rectus.
Using a decline bench, come up into the crunch position (keep lower back against pad) but swerve rapidly from side to side in a 180 degree motion. Come back to center and head back down to the start position.
If you do all of these exercises on a rotating basis, careful to do at least 2 exercises per area of the abs in each workout, and employ things like supersets, giant sets, and utilize an apparatus like the ab board, hanging leg raise elbow cuffs, pulleys, etc., you’ll develop pro quality abs in no time. But remember… that’s not the final piece to the ab puzzle….
We mentioned that diet is about 80% of the success of any living human being in being able to parade their chiseled abs unashamedly. Well, it’s true! And it didn’t stop being true just because we showed you some of the best exercises.
Here’s what you have to do:
Eat less sugar and starch – that’s all the candy you pile into your mouth at lunch or during “American Idol”, all the potatoes and pasta you inhale at dinner after 6pm, and anything else that isn’t nailed down that is empty food. Yeah, we know, pasta was all the rage a few years ago, but how many Italians do you see with great abs over in the old country, huh?
Eat more protein – protein is the ultimate precursor to boosting the metabolism. Boost the metabolism and you’ll drop ugly body fat that is shrouding your abs. Get at least 1-2 grams per pound of your current body weight, not what you hope to weigh.
Eat more veggies and less fruits – Fruits are great for you, if you’re a 10 year old and don’t put on weight. But once you stop growing in height, all fruit does for you is pack in sugar that you don’t need and probably won’t use much of. Juice is especially bad because at least whole fruit has fiber! Eat more leafy green vegetables and avoid the starchy ones like corn and peas. (That means tortillas too, pal!)
Quit drinking milk – Geez! You stopped being able to digest dairy when you were about 14! Give up the “builds strong bodies 200 ways” schtick and lay off the dairy. It leaves an unsightly film on your ab wall and is really… well… childish, we think!
Do Cardio – This, combined with diet, is the fastest way to get lean and see your hard earned muscle come to life! Do cardio at least 3-4 times per week, at a minimum time of about 30-40 minutes.
Do cardio, keep a good diet, do your ab exercises religiously and you won’t be disappointed. We promise! And if you aren’t snagging at least 20 more female prospects per year, as “Future ex-Mrs. So-and-so” candidates, then you’re probably reeeaaalllly ugly! Oh well, at least you can run your own fingers over your abs and be content.