Building your abs requires more than just nailing the best exercises. Here’s how to build up your six-pack musculature while chiseling your midsection!
Sun’s out, shirt’s off. And with that, your abs are either making you the center of attention, or simply part of the group that’s envious of the guy—or gal—who’s soaking up more than just the rays. It may sound silly, but I’ve seen it happen at the beach countless times!
As someone who makes a living having camera-ready abs year-round, I can affirm that some approaches and tips are better than others when it comes to chiseling your six-pack. I’ve summarized the most important abs-sculpting tips here, starting with some common misconceptions about abdominal training.
MUST-KNOW TRUTHS ABOUT SIX-PACK ABS
YOU DON’T HAVE TO TRAIN ABS EVERY DAY TO STIMULATE THEM
When you train other muscle groups like legs and back, you indirectly involve you abs, so your core gets a great deal of secondary stimulation. Of course, you only get that ab activation if you’re doing exercises like squats, deadlifts, and standing military presses, so never rely
solely on machine work!
However, you don’t need to train your abs every day. Your abs are a muscle group just like any other, and they require post-workout recovery time. While your abs do have a higher degree of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which means they have a higher endurance threshold, you’ll still reap the best results by allowing them to fully recover between workouts.
TRAINING ABS DOESN’T DECREASE BODY FAT AROUND YOUR MIDSECTION
You can do crunches until you’re blue in the face, but they won’t significantly “spot reduce” the body fat around your midsection. There’s no way to selectively reduce your body fat; you need to bring your overall body-fat levels down, which means watching your total caloric intake and burning more cals through exercise.
YOUR ABS WON’T BE VISIBLE UNTIL YOU REDUCE YOUR BODY FAT
Unlike many other skeletal muscle groups, you need to carry low body fat to reveal your abs, independent of how many exercises you do for them. Reducing your body fat requires you to either burn more calories or consume fewer calories. Genetics also play a role in body-fat levels, making it easier for some people and more difficult for others.
A VISIBLE SIX-PACK DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN YOU’RE HEALTHY.
Six-pack abs can be one sign that a person is maintaining a healthy weight, especially given the incidence of obesity today, but it doesn’t automatically mean they’re healthy.
I know a number of individuals with six-packs who are unhealthy because they under-eat or consistently perform excessive cardio. Finding a balance is key to not just getting your six-pack but maintaining it.
ANYONE CAN HAVE A SIX-PACK—OR AT LEAST A FOUR-PACK
Metabolic abnormalities aside, I believe this to be true, but it requires immense dedication and consistency both inside and outside the gym. Keep in mind, though, that the overall shape of your six-pack is determined by genetics.
You may have an 8- or 10-pack—yes, I’ve seen them—or just a four-pack depending on the genetic cards you’ve been dealt.
EATING FOR A SIX-PACK
It’s difficult to follow a mass-gain eating plan and expect your abs to become more visible. Sure, you can make your abs stronger through training, but more than any other muscle group, six-pack abs are made in the kitchen.
In fact, most physique athletes generally follow a calorie-restricted diet or one in which they eat enough calories to maintain their current condition. It’s the exceedingly rare individual who can add lean body mass and chisel his or her six-pack at the same time.
If you want a summer six-pack, your best bet is to keep a close eye on your diet. Instead of decreasing everything you’re eating, it’s smart to actually increase protein intake when on a calorie-restricted nutrition plan. This will help you stay satiated and spare your hard-earned muscle mass.
Besides watching your carb intake—especially sugars—be mindful of hidden calories in beverages, and consume plenty of filling vegetables that aren’t calorically dense. The overall goal is to consume fewer calories each day than you burn.
By keeping your protein intake high, you’re less likely to lose lean tissue and burn more body fat. The basics of getting your abs to pop don’t get much simpler than that.
TRAINING FOR A SIX-PACK
Eating for your six-pack is an around-the-clock activity, but the training aspect only entails a 15-20-minute workout about every 2-3 days. Train your abs intensely and help them recover with proper rest and nutrition. The only other “secrets” to ab training are consistency and using good form.
You can choose any number of exercises to emphasize (not necessarily isolate) specific areas of your midsection, and most individuals will inevitably gravitate toward a few favorites. Here are a few of mine.
* Lower Abs: Target this region by raising your legs with a stable upper body, which shortens the rectus abdominis from the lower end.
Top exercises: Hanging leg raises or captain’s chair leg raises, decline-bench reverse crunches, mountain climbers.
* Upper Abs: This area is targeted when you stabilize your lower torso and draw your upper body toward it, shortening the distance between the ribcage and pelvis. Top exercises: Rope cable crunches, decline-bench crunches, machine crunches.
* Obliques: The obliques run along the sides of your six-pack. I like to train them with higher volume and lighter weights so that the muscles don’t build up considerably over time, which affects the thickness of the midsection. Top exercises: Captain’s chair oblique raises, cable wood choppers(light to moderate weight), decline-bench Russian twists.
SIX-PACK WORKOUT TIPS
* Choose three exercises—one from each category—and do 4 sets of each movement for your abdominal
* Keep rest periods fairly short between sets, about 30-60 seconds.
* For bodyweight exercises, use a controlled movement and go to muscle failure; don’t stop at a predetermined rep target.
* For weighted upper-ab movements like machine or cable crunches, choose a resistance that lets you reach muscle failure at 12-15 reps.
* For weighted oblique movements, keep it light.
* Do Russian twists for time—about 40 seconds.
By Alex Carneiro (NSL Pro, fitness cover model, celebrity coach, kinesiologist and optimum nutrition athlete)