Easy wins you can use to improve the appearance of your mid-section when you pop your shirt off this summer.
When the weather is nice, you want to have the confidence to reveal your abs, knowing they’re ripped. For most people, the closest they get to a six-pack is staring at the front of a fitness magazine, but it can be your reality if you’re willing to work. The biggest misconception around getting a six-pack is that doing thousands of crunches will yield that washboard stomach. However, what you must understand is that to have a six-pack you need to lose subcutaneous fat to a point where your muscle definition becomes visible. This is done by controlling your caloric balance and maximizing your training. Once you’ve done that, these are the seven key things you can do to enhance your six-pack.
The timing of your breathing is essential for all training, but when working the abdominal muscles, it’s vitally important. As you “crunch” the abs, you must breathe out, exhaling to the point that you’re able to fully contract the abdominals. If you don’t time this correctly, the stimulation achieved will be limited.
Train All Four Core
There are four core muscles, which make up the anterior abdominal wall, including the transverse abdominus, internal obliques, external obliques, and rectus abdominus. Any good program, which focuses on enhancing the shape of your abdominals, must include exercises targeting all four muscles. To optimize your abdominal training, you need to think beyond crunches and sit-ups. By comprehensively training the abs, you’ll also improve your overall strength on your compound lifts, as your ability to stabilize the trunk is enhanced.
Use High-Frequency Training
Some muscle groups are more resistant to stress than others as they’re better suited to high-frequency training. The abdominal muscles are very resilient due to their role in day-to-day life, therefore it’s advisable to train them up to three times per week. This helps to improve muscle protein synthesis stimulation, which can forge deeper cuts in the abdominals, and allows you to learn how to recruit these muscles more efficiently.
It’s never advisable to use very fast repetition tempos when creating muscle tension during training. When training the abdominals, staying in control is even more important. Have you ever watched somebody train abs by throwing their torso up and down when doing sit-ups? Many gyms are full of people using far too much momentum when working their abs, which must be avoided.
To train effectively, the abdominals need to do the work, which starts by staying in control at all times. Use two to three second eccentrics (negatives) so there is no opportunity to use momentum. As you go into the eccentric phase (this is where you breathe in preparation for the next concentric), control your movement and timing to maximize the contraction.
I recommend you train your abs at the end of your workout, when the stomach has had a chance to digest and utilize any food you had consumed prior to training. This will enable you to experience a fuller contraction without suffering indigestion. Due to the positioning of the abdominal muscles, this can make a difference to the quality of your training. It also serves as great additional calorie burning to etch out those deeper cuts.
The abdominal muscles are fundamentally the same as other groups, whereby to progress their shape and size (which makes them more defined) you need to apply some periodization. We don’t ever want to aim for ultra-low rep sets when training the abs. I tend to stay around 8-12 reps, and often aim higher. However, timing your sets and ensuring there is a gradual increase in stress is an essential part of progression.
If you start by performing three exercises back-to-back, take a 60 second rest between each circuit, and complete three circuits, there are many variables to change for periodization. You could increase the length of each set, shorten the rest periods, or increase the number of circuits. Fundamentally, you need to gradually increase your training load for each abdominal workout, just as you would with any other muscle group.
Don’t Forget Conditioning
In the introduction, I explicitly stated that if you want a visible six-pack, you must get to a lower body fat percentage – regardless of how much abdominal training you do. The first thing to consider is your net calorie intake; you have to be in an energy deficit to reduce your body fat, no matter how “clean” you eat. Secondly, your macros content matters. It will influence metabolic processes, muscle retention, and performance. Cardio is a big part of reducing body fat because it helps create an energy deficit and encourages fat burning, as will the correct supplement protocols.
To accelerate fat loss, you can fine tune elements of your weight training. For example, become more stringent with tracking your rest time between sets, slow down the eccentrics, and use methods such as drop sets to increase the intensity of your workouts. Sustaining performance is essential because it helps maintain muscle mass that supports metabolic activity (muscle tissue is metabolically active) and this also burns energy and improves glucose disposal. So, keep training heavy and hard.
Getting a perfectly defined six-pack is highly regarded by many people, as it separates the great from the good. There are many misconceptions around how to enhance your abs, and hopefully these fail-safe tactics have enlightened you. Conditioning comes first through fat loss, but after that, there are many things you can do to improve the appearance of your abs, just like any other muscle. Don’t fall into the trap of believing your abs can’t look better because of genetics; you wouldn’t adopt that mindset with arms or legs – with enough work, many improvements can be made.
EXPERT: Kris Gethin is a nutrition consultant, trainer and author of the book Man of Iron