I’ve heard so many training theories on abdominals from about every person that has ever touched a weight. In fact, if I gained an once of muscle for every time someone talked about a crackpot method to train abs, I would be accepting the Sandow instead of Ronnie Coleman. Let’s clear a few popular myths up about abs first of all.
Photo: Max O’Connor USN Athlete
“You can work abs everyday because they recover faster than other muscles!”
Haha, I’m getting a great ab workout from how much I’m laughing at this one. Muscle tissue is muscle tissue. Muscle tissue responds to stimulus (weight training) to grow larger and stronger.
“You need to use super high reps to increase definition in your midsection!”
Yea right. You can do a thousand crunches per night but If your diet isn’t correct you’ll never see those abs.
“You don’t need to train abs because they get enough work by being supporting muscles during squats, presses, and deadlifts!”
I’m sure the same people that believe also don’t train biceps or triceps since they are supporting muscles to the back, chest, and shoulders.. I think not.
“You shouldn’t train abs with weight because it will make your abs big, which will make you look fat!”
Oh my goodness, the biggest misconception of all time. I will explain why later in this article.
Abs Made Simple
The rest of this article will be dedicated to showing you that abs aren’t as complicated as everyone thinks. Let’s begin with how muscles grow. Muscles are overloaded and stimulated to grow when they are trained with weights that are heavier than the body is used to handling. The muscles need nutrients (protein, carbs, fats and vitamins to name a few) and recuperation time to grow bigger and stronger.
Would you train your chest everyday?
Of course not, you would never make any progress. So why would you train abs everyday? There is absolutely no reason to. The abdominals can become overtrained just like any other muscle that is worked too often. One intense day of work per week is enough for your abs.
So how should you train your abs during your workouts?
Heavy. That’s right, you heard me. Heavy. “But if my abs get big they will make me look fat.” Not in the least, first of all the abs are a very thin sheet of muscle and thus very hard to enlarge. But if you could make them grow, what would be wrong with that? Let me use analogy with a different muscle group since no one understands abs.
Here is the question/analogy …
There are two people, person A and person B. Person A has 12″ arms with 7% body fat. Person B has 17″ arms with 11% body fat. Whose arms are going to look more defined? It will be person B’s arms because the muscle sticks out farther away from the body. The same thing applies to abs. If they were bigger they would stick farther out away from the body; thus it would appear that one would carry less fat around the mid-section since there is more muscle there. This would allow one to achieve what everyone wants. Visible abs even when you are bulking!
Now I know what some of you are thinking out there, “If my abs are bigger it will make my waist look bigger.”
Not in the least. If your abs stick farther out away from the body it will appear that there is less fat in between the abdominals, as it appears that there is less fat around your arms if they are bigger. Now the converse is true for the obliques. You DO NOT want to build your obliques up. Large lower obliques will make you appear wider. They still needed to be trained but only with a couple of light sets per week.
The abs are split into upper and lower abs and the upper and lower obliques. You’re workout should include exercises to hit each of these areas. The following is a list of exercises and what part of the abdominals they hit.
- Crunches – The bench press of the abdominals. Crunches hit all of the abdominals with special emphasis on the upper abs.
- Decline Crunches – Emphasizes upper abs.
- Cable Crunches (with a rope) – Hits both parts of the abdominals with emphasis on the upper abs.
- Reverse Crunches – Hits the entire abdominal complex with special emphasis on the lower abs.
- Hanging Leg Raises – Hits mostly lower abdominals.
- Hanging Knee Raises – Hits mostly lower abdominals.
- Sit ups – Hits the entire abdominal complex.
- Decline Crunch – Emphasizes upper abs.
- Oblique Crunches – Hit upper and lower obliques, with a bit more emphasis on the upper obliques.
- Hanging Side Knee Raises – Emphasizes lower obliques.
- Trunk Twists (with broom handle across shoulders) – Emphasizes obliques.
- Abdominal Machines – Hit the entire abdominal complex.
When training the abdominals, the repetitions should be kept within the 8-15 rep range. When training the upper obliques keep the repetitions in the 12-20 rep range and when training lower obliques keep the repetitions over 30. Here are a few sample workouts.
Sample Workout #1
- 2 warm-up sets of 12 reps of Hanging Leg Raises
- 2 failure sets of 8-12 reps of Hanging Leg Raises
- 1 warm-up set of 12 reps of Cable Crunches
- 2 failure sets of 8-12 reps of Cable Crunches
- 1 failure set of Side Crunches 12-20 reps (to both sides)
- 2 sets of 30+ reps on Trunk Twists
Sample Workout #2
- 2 warm-up sets of 12 Hanging Knee Raises
- 2 failure sets of 8-12 reps Hanging Knee Raises (hold dumbbell between feet if extra resistance is needed)
- 1 warm-up set of 12 reps of Crunches
- 2 failure sets of 8-12 reps of Crunches (do on decline bench or with weight on chest is extra resistance is needed)
- 1 failure set of Side Crunches 12-20 reps (to both sides)
- 2 sets of 30+ reps of Trunk Twists
It should also be noted that serious bodybuilders who are training with a focus towards competing should practice vacuums. These are very impressive when done onstage and help one achieve great abdominal control. They can also help tighten the waist a bit.
I hope I have helped clear up some long-standing abdominal myths and pointed you in the right direction for achieving your summer abs! Lift hard, diet harder!