“Abs are made in kitchen”
We’ve all heard this phrase a million times, but is it true? To an extent, yes. If you have too much body fat your abs will not be visible. Having said that diet is not the only factor when it comes to building an incredible looking 6 pack as you will find out later on. I prefer to say “abs are made in the gym, shown in the kitchen.” In previous blogs I’ve spoken about how to lose body fat, (click here to read) this will play the biggest role in showing off your abdominal muscle. To summarize that post, you need to be in a caloric deficit, eat clean whole foods, and train appropriately. Drink LOTS of water. This is very important if you want those abs to pop. Drinking lots of water will help regulate sodium levels in the body. If sodium levels are too high, you will hold onto water, creating a soft, puffy look.
#2 Phased Training
While diet is important, if you can get your abdominals to grow they will be more visible even at higher body fat percentages. This makes it easier to have abs without having to live a crazy restricted lifestyle. This is something that I myself have failed on for a very long time. A study came out a long time ago that suggested the abdominals had more slow twitch muscle fibres than fast twitch. Logically this lead many people, including myself, to only train abs in the higher rep ranges. Often ab training is done in a circuit type format with reps going as high as 30 or even crazier. The fact is: your abs are a muscle just like your biceps or glutes. Phasing your training is just as important for abs. Try doing heavy ab training and watch your abs grow. You should phase your ab training along with the rest of your programming.
#3 Exercise Selection
This is where things get fun. The vast majority of us neglect to train our abs. Even those that do train them neglect to train ALL of the abdominal functions. We hit our biceps and glutes from as many angles as we possibly can. Why not our abs too?
In order to properly train our abs, we need to break down all the muscles that make up our midsection and determine each muscle's function to target them properly.
First up, we have our rectus abdominis. This muscle is the one we all refer to as the 6 pack. The money shot. Unfortunately, this is almost always trained incorrectly. I will touch on form later in the article, but the best exercise to help you figure out how to target this muscle correctly has to be the reverse crunch. Start with a flat back on the bench, bend your knees and slowly curl your body up, one vertebra at a time, to elevate your hips and low back off the bench. Once you’ve mastered this action, the form can be applied to any exercise that involves flexion at the trunk. One of my favourite ways to add load to a crunch is with a cable crunch. Pay attention to my form in the video below, as this one is also performed incorrectly 9 times out of 10.
Next, we have your internal and external obliques. These twist and rotate the body. These muscles work across the body. Side crunches or oblique crunches, (whatever the hell you want to call them) make me absolutely cringe. This does NOT target your obliques effectively because crunching your body to the side is not their function. All you are doing here is compressing your spine in a direction it does not want to move. Cue low back issues. Instead try cable chops. These will destroy those obliques effectively and in a safe manner. Keep your hips level and arms straight, using your core to rotate.
Underneath, you have your transverse abdominis (TVA). This works to shrink the waist. It doesn’t flex or rotate. Imagine you are trying to suck your belly button towards your spine. That's the function of the TVA. If you want a tight waist, training this properly is key. It’s extremely important for stability, and strength, but aesthetically plays a massive role in tightening up your midsection. One of the most effective ways to train this is vacuum poses. This is a common practice amongst bodybuilders and physique competitors but is applicable to everyone, particularly any of you ladies out there who have had a baby. When you are pregnant this muscle is forced to stretch to allow room for the baby. After birth, this muscle stays relaxed and stretched and can take time and practice to reactivate. Do this consistently though, and you can expect to reduce and tighten the size of your waist.
The next role of the core is stabilization. Hands down, the best exercise to train this is a classic front plank, done correctly. The common misconception with this is to keep a neutral spine. Try tucking your tailbone under and squeezing your abs. It brings an entirely new feeling to the plank and is the correct way to perform the exercise. Not only will this transfer into strengthening your other lifts, but it also help protect you from injury in day to day life.
The final function of the abdominals is anti-rotation. The Pallof Press is my go-to for this one. Done correctly, this exercise is excellent in helping to breed good posture and functional strength. Pick a weight that is heavy, but light enough that you are able to maintain good posture. Focus on keeping your shoulders set back, down, and level. You should be fighting the weight to maintain this position. If you are finding your form breaking, drop the weight down to a lighter load.
As you may have noticed in the last section on exercise selection, I gave you tips on how to perform each exercise correctly. Not using correct form will massively inhibit the effectiveness of your ab training. Many of us sit all day at desk. This results in tight hip flexors. The overactive hip flexors are often what takes over when people attempt to train their abs. Learning how to deactivate the hip flexors and actually use your abdominals is a game changer. Doing so may also resolve any underlying low back pain you’ve been harbouring. As a general rule, if you are able to perform more than 15 crunches, chances are you're doing them wrong. Slow the movement down and focus on form over intensity.
As we know, being consistent with training will ultimately yield the best results. It is no different when it comes to having a killer 6 pack. Consistency with your diet over time will result in low body fat percentages, and this will allow you to show off those abs better. Consistency also applies to your ab training. We are all guilty of getting to the end of our workout and skipping abs. Telling ourselves it’s the diet that really counts. Abs can be trained often and should be. You should aim to train your abs at least 3 times a week for best results.
Okay, I know this a bit of a cop out and not really a tip, seeing as there is absolutely nothing you can do about your genetics. Unfortunately, genetics do play a huge role in how your abs will look once trained and revealed. We all have different genetic makes-ups. Where the muscles insert and attach will differ person to person. I feel it's important to bring up however, as many of you on the quest for great abs may have some underlying insecurities about how you look. The only advice I can offer here is to just accept it. You can dramatically increase the aesthetics of your abs by dieting and training correctly. Beyond that, there is not much you can do. Accept your physique for how it is and be proud that you’ve put in the work to have abs in the first place.
If you are looking for help getting that 6 pack you've always wanted I offer 1 on 1 online coaching. Learn how to program your weight training and change your nutrition in order to see consistent results. Click here to sign up.