Nothing ties a physique together like a good, developed set of abs. It doesn’t matter what the rest of your body looks like when you take off your shirt. If you’re sporting some serious ab game, heads can’t help but turn.
There are so many schools of thought when it comes to ab training, and more and more it seems like we just conclude that what works for one person may not work for the other. But the truth is, the abs are a muscle just like every other muscle in the body, and they need to be trained accordingly, plain and simple. The days of doing hundreds of crunches every night before bed are long gone. Heck, I remember when I used to sit in front of the television doing 8 Minute Abs, suffering an excruciating lactic acid burn and wondering why my abs weren’t looking like a package of Hawaiian dinner rolls yet!
I want to give you a couple of my favorite techniques to getting the most out of ab training, because quite honestly, with all the information out there on the Internet, it’s getting harder and harder to ascertain what the best plan of attack is. I’ll teach you a bit from my mistakes so that you can be on your way to your best abs ever.
Go Heavy (Relatively)
This is where I feel people get lost. There is a lot of evidence out there that says training the abs a bit heavier will stimulate some growth out of them, and that’s entirely true in my opinion. But the biggest factor that we have to consider is that the abdominals are not the quads or the lats. In other words, they don’t need crazy poundage. What I always say is, “Lift heavy relative to the muscle.”
What I mean by “heavy” is dynamic in the sense that it applies to the muscle at hand. What’s heavy for your legs is not heavy for your abs! More often than not, bodyweight is all you need for your abs, but just like any other bodypart, it’s more important that you focus on concentration and isolation of that muscle. If you’re doing heavy rope crunches and the like, you are probably engaging your lats and your arms more than your abs. Focus on the mind-muscle connection and get a full contraction out of the abs. Don’t be tempted to push any more weight that would compromise form.
Bust Out The Vacuum
Here’s my secret to abs. A smaller, more narrow waist will always create a more flattering illusion, and one of the only ways to draw in the abs successfully is by building up the transverse abdominals. This is the muscle that holds your belly tight when you’re upright. For instance, when you’re standing and you completely relax your stomach and let your belly naturally protrude out, you are relaxing the transverse abdominals. Quickly tighten the core back up and your stomach sucks right back in.
When you train your body to naturally hold that “sucked in” state for a longer period of time, you inherently become better at drawing in your waist and therefore letting your rectus abdominis (the actual six-pack muscles) pop out more.
So how do you build this muscle up? Simple, you do what are called draw-ins or “vacuums.” Remember the old-school pictures of the legendary Frank Zane sucking in his stomach while doing a front double bicep pose? That is a vacuum. (Possibly the best one ever.) If you practice those consistently, I promise you’ll see a difference in your abs.
Here’s how to do it:
• Suck in your stomach as hard as you can. Envision pulling your belly button back toward your spine.
• Hold that position for as long as you possibly can. (You will lose your breath quickly when first starting out.)
• Relax and let the stomach protrude to achieve a full relaxed state.
• Repeat this five times.
• Then, just as you would with any form of drop set, perform 15 reps of vacuums but with only a three-second hold when drawn in. This will act as a “pump” effect and train the transverse abdominals to be controlled on demand.
• Do this routine four times a week, but far from your regular workout. You want to do this when you’re completely rested.
This trick will teach you to flex your abs on command much better and develop the control that you need to really engage the six-pack abs when you’re performing traditional ab exercises.
Just this one technique can help you get the best abs on the block. And I can promise you one thing: If you’re walking around in wintertime with a good set of abs ready to rock and roll, you’re bound to get some attention. Seriously, if all else fails, you’ll at least gain some admirable core control.
Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget that the bulk of the ab work that we do is performed in the kitchen. I didn’t want to sound too cliché by starting this column out with that message, but there is definitely some serious truth to it.
Lastly, in a day in age where we are seeing more and more distended guts in the sport of bodybuilding (and even physique, sadly), you’re only going to stand out more by having a tiny, tight core with a defined set of abs. Remember, it’s not about the bulk, it’s about the illusion. IM