In the “old days”, building up an incredible set of abs was an afterthought to your “main” training. You’d train your chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs… and if there was a little time and energy remaining, you’d hit the floor and knock out a few set of crunches. Look at the competitive bodybuilding photos of the champions from the 1970s and 1980s… From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Frank Zane to Lee Haney… They had impressive midsections. But would these “abs of steel” stand up to competitive measure in today’s bodybuilding world?
These days, everything has changed. One can attribute it to improved sports supplement technology, or a greater number of people competing in bodybuilding, or better nutrition, or just plain eventual evolution that happens in all sports. These days, a midsection worthy of top IFBB acclaim in the 1970s would be considered sub-par at a top NPC bodybuilding show. We see men’s physique winners with better abs today, than Arnold proudly wore in 1975. Evolution is an incredible yet inevitable thing. If you wish to become a successful bodybuilder in today’s iron era, then you are going to have to change and adapt to keep up with the times.
It’s time to re-think your abdominal training. No longer is your midsection day just a few sets of crunches as time allows. Your core/midsection attack needs to be as meticulously planned as you would engage in for your leg or chest training. Overall balanced training results in complete development. This limits injury from a functional standpoint, and keep the judges off your back in terms of complete development. Let’s check out some more tips you can employ for greater abdominal success!
Keep the back rounded
Often overlooked, keeping the back at a less-than-straight angle during abdominal training ensures that tension continually resides on the midsection, and not the back or hips. You’re either contracting the lower back, or the abdominals, but never both. Choose the muscle group (abs) that you’re actually training today!
Train for targeted areas
Target your upper abdominals with crunch-like movements. Hit your lower abdominals with exercises of the leg-raise variety. Use twisting movements (such as broomstick twists) to target your side abdominals, known as the obliques. Dedicate 1 to 3 exercises to each of these areas in order to ensure you’re training the full midsection. Look at the pictures of the 1970s bodybuilders – side and lower abdominal training was a mere afterthought, and their physiques reflect this!
Progressive overload works
When training every other muscle group, you gradually increase the workload while lowering your repetitions with each subsequent set. Then when you train abs, that practice always seems to go out the window! Don’t fall into this trap. Gradually bump up the weight used while training abs, as you lower your number of repetitions per set. This will allow you to rest assured, knowing you have covered all your bases in terms of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers. This isn’t to say you should go crazy with heavy resistance and try crunching with 200 pounds, but it does mean you should be using a greater and greater resistance when training the abs, as the sets pass.
Go heavy first
Begin your abdominal training day with a weighted movement. Sure, this may go against everything you’ve ever believed in terms of hitting the abs with lots of reps and minimal weight. However, doing so will trigger many fast-twitch muscle fibers that only grow when hit with heavier resistance for fewer repetitions. Once you’ve completed the first few sets with added resistance, you can aim for the slower-twitch muscle fibers using high-rep, low-weight movements once again.
Pause for peak
At the top of each movement, when the abdominals are flexed and doing the most work, you should try to pause the repetition for just a moment. This will bring up the quality of each repetition and make it more effective, albeit a bit more painful too! Squeeze the abs at the top of every repetition, whether you’re using crunches, roman chair sit-ups, hanging leg raises, or any other exercise. Sure, your repetition count may drop from 20 to 15 for that set, but the amount of muscle fiber recruitment and stimulation from that set will skyrocket as a result. And isn’t that the point of your trip to the gym?
No rest for the wicked!
When completing your repetitions, work hard to ensure you never have a moment of non-tensed “rest” during your sets. When you’re training legs with squats, you naturally pause for a moment at the top of the repetition to catch your breath and prepare for the next repetition. On the bench press, you always lock out after each repetition, to give your chest a moment without tension to ensure you’re strong enough for the next repetition. When it comes to training abdominals, you want the opposite to be true! You’re not going to be crushed beneath an insanely heavy bodyweight crunch, are you? It’s time to KEEP continual tension upon your abdominals for the duration of every set. This means you’ll never fully ‘lock out’ and get that sweet moment of rest during each set. Instead, you’ll pause at 95% on the positive movement, and 95% on the retreating negative portion of the exercise. As a result, you’ll enjoy 45 to 90 seconds of continual abdominal stimulation with every set, which will lead to faster gains from more effective and efficient workouts!
Building an amazing 6-pack goes way beyond your training. Yes, training matters a great deal, and we’ve just broken down some ways to make your training more efficient. But alone, it is not enough. You have to be lean if you want your abs to show. Take your fat-burning supplements, eat clean, drink lots of water, and get plenty of rest. Keep your immune system strong and make healthy choices in terms of everything you do. Let your abdominals evolve to reflect the healthy lifestyle in which you engage, and the results will speak for themselves. Good luck!