As the editor in chief of IRONMAN magazine and a dedicated weight trainer for more than 20 years, I’ve seen and tried all kinds of abdominal-training routines-from high-rep blitz-’em-and-burn-’em schedules to giant sets of four or five exercises done in rapid succession without rest. I never got the results I deserved for my effort until I learned exactly how the abdominals function. This information came from a number of sources, including books, research abstracts and conversations with many experts in the field, such as Jerry Robinson, president of Health For Life; Fred Koch, periodization specialist; and Robert K. Blom, registered physical therapist. Here are the three key ab-training points I synthesized from those experts and my own experimentation and research:
1) Work your abs through a full range of motion; don’t neglect the back-arched position-30 degrees to the rear of center-that prestretches the rectus abdominis and also activates other midsection muscles, such as the external obliques.
2) Train both of the rectus abdominis’ functions, including a movement that curls your rib cage toward your pelvis, known as upper-ab work, as well as one that curls your hips toward your torso, the so-called lower-ab work.
3) Exercises that isolate the abs are important, but don’t forget to include compound movements that hit the abs with the help of other muscle groups, such as the hip flexors. Synergy speeds development because muscles are designed to work best in tandem, not in isolation. Note that most full-range hip-curl-function exercises include synergy.
From these key points I created a routine that I used to train my midsection with a few ab-specific high-intensity sets twice a week, and my midsection took on a new ruggedness in six weeks-with minimal time in the gym. The routine consisted of two exercise, one for the hip-roll funcion of the rectus abdominis, the long muscle that runs from the bottom of your rib cage to your pelvis, and one for the torso-curl function. Here’s the routine:
Incline kneeups or hanging kneeups 2 x max Ab Bench crunch pulls or full-range cable crunches 2 x 8-12 This routine is explained in my book 10 Minutes to Granite Abs, along with four other routines, including one program that requires no equipment. Note that once I could do 12 perfect, zero-momentum incline kneeups, I switched to the more difficult hanging kneeups.
As you can see, it’s relatively simple to train your abs correctly. Once you start doing things right, you’ll achieve an etched midsection fast, one that will grab people’s attention. Of course, you’ll also have to strip away some bodyfat so that you can see the abdominals you’re building, but that’s a relatively easy proposition once you understand some fat-to-muscle eating basics. Take your current diet and gradually reduce your portions at specific meals so that you decrease your calories by 100 to 200 per week. Once you’re down to the 2,000-calorie range, you may want to increase your aerobic activity to continue the fat-burning process. Don’t cut your calories to below 2,000, however, or you won’t be getting enough of the nutrients your body needs to function effectively.
Start hitting your midsection with precise, chiseling effort at every workout and get started on a sound diet, and your abs will come into focus in no time. IM