It's becoming more and more prevalent: To even place in bodybuilding contests today, you have to have tremendous abdominal development. I'm not just talking about having a sufficiently low bodyfat level for your abs to be visible. I'm talking about the actual development of the abdominal muscles. The abs are, after all, skeletal muscles and, consequently, respond to the same stimulus for development as all other skeletal muscles high-intensity training.
Traditionally, a bodybuilder could get by on mass alone. But these days, with definition levels reaching such extreme degrees, a competitor must not only be defined but also display development'which, of course, is the name of the game. That means every muscle group must be chiseled, distinctly separate from its neighbors. Plus, the body's fat stores must be reduced to where abdominal development'or lack thereof'is easily detectable at all times.
That's not meant to imply that unless your abs look as sharp as Chris Cormier's 365 days a year, you're fooling yourself if you consider yourself a bodybuilder. That's an unrealistic and, more important, unnatural level of conditioning that competitors cannot maintain for more than a couple of weeks per year.
Rather, you should always be able to see your abs' all three rows, like Steve Reeves' or Bruce Lee's. Then you can diet down even more to bring out the deeper cuts when zeroing in on a contest or photo shoot. It's never a good idea to let fat accumulate on your body. As Mr. Universe winner Mike Mentzer often pointed out, "Whenever fat is allowed to accumulate, it's going to have to be eliminated someday through undereating and overtraining'a fatal combination that leads to the loss of muscle as well as fat."
In order to maintain a visible abdominal musculature, it's important to eat a well-balanced diet that contains only enough calories to maintain your existing mass. You shouldn't be concerned with maintaining higher levels of bodyfat when you're building mass, as that's only excess baggage you'll have to get rid of one day.
Face it, most of us sport too much adipose tissue. Is there a way to actually increase muscle mass while simultaneously decreasing bodyfat stores? Fortunately, there is, owing to the fact that muscle cells and fat cells are two entirely different entities and respond to entirely different stimuli.
To increase your bodyfat, all you have to do is live a sedentary existence and eat at every opportunity. Increasing your muscle is nowhere near as simple. To stimulate your muscles to grow larger and stronger, you must expose them to brief, high-intensity-training sessions, then allow them adequate time to recover and grow'and, finally, provide adequate nutrition to feed the body's growth and repair process. It's nowhere near as simple as the process of gaining fat, but the rewards in health and appearance more than offset the expenditure of labor.
To gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, you use brief, infrequent, high-intensity exercise combined with a well-balanced, reduced-calorie diet.
The diet'on which you take in 500 to 1,000 calories less than your daily maintenance need'will bring you a gradual decrease in your bodyfat stores, while the high-intensity exercise will stimulate an increase in your muscle mass. The key to developing your abdominal muscles, then, is to perform low sets of high-intensity abdominal exercise and eat a low-calorie diet. I'll provide you with the ideal exercise program for developing your abdomen, but I'll leave it to you to choose a diet. [Editor's note: You'll find meal-by-meal diets and numerous fat-burning tips and tricks in Fat to Muscle 2, available from Home Gym Warehouse (800) 447-0008.]
Here's the abdominal routine: Incline kneeups 2 x ISR Crunches 2 x ISR Dumbbell side bends 2 x ISR
Note: The formula for determining your individual specific repetitions, or ISR, is explained on page 238.
The Routine Explained
Incline kneeups. If you're a beginner, you may have to do these while lying flat on the floor till you're strong enough to move to an inclined slant board, such as those used for situps. Lie on your back with your legs almost straight. Pull your legs into your abdomen, bending your knees, and roll your hips up off the floor or bench, and then return to the starting position. When you can get 10 to 15 reps on both sets, you can add weight by doing the movement on a leg curl machine. Lie on your back on a leg curl machine and hook your feet under the rollers, with your hands holding on to the sides of the bench for stability. Slowly draw your knees up into your chest area, trying to make them touch your chest. Once you reach the fully contracted position, hold for a count of two and then lower the resistance slowly back to the starting position. Repeat for your ISR. Rest briefly, and then perform a second set of your ISR. If the leg curl machine is uncomfortable, you can also do the movement on a slightly inclined bench with your feet attached to a low cable with ankle straps.
Crunches. Lie on the floor with your knees over the top of an exercise bench. With your hands clasped behind your neck, slowly draw yourself up until your shoulder blades are approximately two inches off the floor. Hold this contraction tightly for a pronounced squeeze, and then lower slowly back to the starting position. Repeat for your ISR. After a brief pause do a second set for your ISR. Once your abdominals get stronger, you'll have to add resistance. You can do that by holding a barbell plate on your chest. Eventually you'll want to go to cable crunches or Ab Bench crunches.
Dumbbell side bends. Hold a moderately weighted dumbbell in your right hand and stand erect. Slowly bend to your right side, lowering the dumbbell toward your right foot. Using a slow and controlled motion, return to the upright position and repeat for your ISR. Then transfer the dumbbell to the other hand and repeat the entire procedure for your left side. Upon completing that set, immediately switch the dumbbell back to your right hand and do another set for each side. [Editor's note: Some trainees may have a tendency to look thick-waisted when building the obliques with side bends. If you're one of them, you may want to eliminate this exercise or use very light weights and only moderate intensity so those side muscles don't hypertrophy.]
These exercises, performed exactly as listed, will build a midsection that sets off a well-developed physique. Remember to train your abs as you would any other bodypart'with high-intensity training. Go to failure, which should occur at your ISR'and they'll respond by strengthening your core, improving your posture and separating into three distinct sections that, when combined with a reduced-calorie diet, will create a look that will turn heads on a crowded beach and, if competition is your thing, get bodybuilding judges' attention.
Editor's note: John Little is a leading innovator of bodybuilding training. His latest book, Max Contraction Training, is now available. To order, call 1-800-447-0008, or visit www.home-gym.com. IM
How to Calculate Your Individual Specific Repetitions (ISR)
The following simple procedure can help you determine the ideal repetition range for each muscle group.
Step 1: Determine what your maximum poundage is for a single exercise in good form, and then, after a brief rest of perhaps five minutes, perform as many repetitions as possible in good form with 80 percent of that one-rep-max weight.
For example, if your one-rep max on the bench press is 200 pounds, 80 percent is 160.
Step 2: Multiply the number of repetitions you perform by .15, and round off the result to the nearest whole number. So, if you get six reps, it's 6 x .15 = 0.9, or 1.
Step 3: Add the number you have just calculated to the number of repetitions that you were able to perform. In this case 1 + 6 = 7 repetitions. That number becomes the high end of the rep range; that is, the number of reps you should shoot for before increasing your resistance by 5 percent.
Step 4: Subtract that same number, 1, from the number of repetitions you were able to perform; that is, 6 - 1 = 5. That's now the low end of your rep range for this particular muscle group; that is, the minimum, or starting, number of repetitions that you should shoot for in order to stimulate a 20 percent inroad into your muscular reserves.
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