Vary your degree of difficulty and rep counts to build three-dimensional six-pack abs that are strong and chiseled. Here’s our three-step blueprint.
“Look at those abs on you!” Even the most modest among us would like to hear these words directed at us. We all want great-looking abs, but there’s no one-size-fits-all program to get them. In the highly complex world of physique building, you’ll find elements of plans that’ll work well for your body, and even some entire programs that deliver the results exactly as promised. But the inherent rigidity of sticking unfailingly to one plan — or as I like to call it, program monogamy — all but ensures setbacks and plateaus. This abs program empowers you with the benefit of choice. Just follow a few general guidelines, and you become the architect of your own abdominal destiny.
Reach Your Abdominal Potential
Believe it or not, the degree of awesomeness your abs can achieve is largely a function of genetics. Next on the list is nutrition and many guys could definitely afford a healthy-eating makeover to help get rid of the layer of flab that’s obscuring their abdominal muscles. One thing you have complete control over is the training stimulus you create in the gym — the work required to exact dramatic fat reductions and aesthetic upgrades to your midsection. Unfortunately, some guys tend to be shortsighted in this area. By choosing the same tired exercises and rep ranges each week, by failing to take advantage of proven muscle-building principles, and by fearing the pain threshold where results are gained, you’ll squander your abdominal potential.
The program laid out here puts you in charge of exercise selection and capitalizes on several abs-training strategies that can help you build a midsection that’s at once muscular, streamlined and defined.
In sum, because of the nature of the muscle-fiber makeup of your midsection, an overall approach that best strengthens, builds up and defines your abs is one that:
- Trains your abs for strength to boost total-body strength and stability.
- Trains them for shape, building up the ridges of your six-pack.
- Trains them for endurance, boosting the number of calories you burn and helps keep your midsection defined.
When you combine all three approaches in the same workout, in this order, you’re left with a set of abs that’s both strong and sharp, one that screams aesthetics as well as athletics.
Choose Your Own Ab-venture
The mechanics of this program are simple. You’ll choose one exercise from each group.
Group A consists of exercises that are at the top of the difficulty spectrum — moves that will likely induce failure at 10 reps or just short of it. If you find that you can do more, add resistance (when possible) or slow down the movement to increase the difficulty. Just make sure you’re failing at that rep range.
In Group B you’ll find the moves that really begin to etch detail in your abs. They’re more middle-of-the-road in terms of difficulty and induce failure around 10–15 reps.
The Group C exercises are the easiest of the bunch and allow you to complete more reps for the final coup de grâce on your abs each time you train them. These moves are designed to take you to failure well above the 15-rep range but no more than 30.
Three Ways to a Six-Pack
On any given day, you really need only three exercises to set off the abdominal fire that is the hallmark of a great workout. But you should be as judicious in your programming as you are for any other bodypart, taking into account your various training goals. Many physique-minded athletes train their bodies three ways — for strength, shape and endurance — which ensures they’re hitting various muscle-fiber types while also leaving comfort zones in their rearviews. And that’s how you should be training your abs.
Everyone wants stronger arms, a stronger chest or stronger legs. Why isn’t anyone ardent about
abdominal strength? A strong set of abs — not just the superficial rectus abdominis, but also the obliques and deep transverse abdominis — is an essential component of performance for pretty much
everything. In fact, powerlifters — who specialize in the bench press and deadlift — are known for having the strongest cores in the fitness world because of the abdominal strength required to stabilize the torso in these foundational lifts. Many lifters who perform major vertically loaded lifts such as the deadlift and front squat feel a deep soreness in their core — a clear indicator of the demand placed on these muscles. So it makes sense that strength training for your abs — keeping the reps in the 8–10 range — should also be one of your primary goals in the gym. Choose the toughest exercises — moves that have you begging for mercy and unable to complete more than 10 reps — early in the workout when you’re strongest. Training against heavier resistance has another benefit: It fires up your abs in a way they’re likely unaccustomed to, which is always a good thing for altering body composition.
No one wants a “flat tummy.” If that’s your thing, then you should be watching a Jane Fonda DVD.
No, we’re about deeply channeled abs with that signature, eye-catching pop. Marathon sets of crunches, while not wholly ineffective, do very little to build this kind of muscular hypertrophy. Your abdominal wall is largely comprised of slow-twitch, endurance-based muscle fibers, which are hard at work throughout the day maintaining your posture for normal activities. To get them to stand out, you’re going to have to choose moderately difficult exercises that trigger muscular failure at around 10–15 reps. This creates the stimulus needed to add some density to your abs, enhancing the definition of the channels, or tendinous inscriptions, that frame your sixer. And don’t worry — contrary to what many will tell you, training this way will not make you blocky or bulky through the middle.
Your abs are built for endurance. If they only had, say, an hour’s worth of trunk stability stored up, people everywhere would collapse into their oatmeal over breakfast. So knowing these muscles can go and go with Energizer Bunny-like gusto, what’s the best training method? Well, a nation of never-changing abs tells us that going high reps most of the time is simply not getting the job done. If you dive into epic sets of crunches as soon as you lie back on the mat, your abs are not likely to get much of a test. But if you relegate the volume work — think higher, not just “high” reps — to the end of your workout, after you’ve done several sets of heavier moves, you’re more likely to get results. With your fast-twitch fibers fully exhausted from prior work and unable to truly aid in the execution of the exercise, your slow-twitch muscle fibers really get put to the test. As a bonus, the higher tally of reps means more calories burned during the workout.