A Smarter Way to Train Your Abs
I'll be honest, I don't like training abs. It's boring and I find no pleasure in directly targeting them. However, direct ab training is a necessity if you want to look better with your shirt off and perform better in the gym.
A lot of people overdo it and execute it poorly.
If you're a beginner in the gym you shouldn't waste a lot of time training your abs. Your time in the gym needs to be focused on being efficient and effective. You need to focus on exercises and movements that will produce the biggest strength gains in order to reach your goal quicker.
Spending 30 minutes deadlifting is unbearably more effective than spending 30 minutes wiggling around doing poorly executed crunch variations. Bigger movements will burn more calories and make you stronger. Focusing on doing stupid ab exercises will make your stomach sore, and that's pretty much it.
All that being said, you can target your abs directly in a quick and effective manner. You just need to be smart about their inclusion and add the right kind of resistance.
Core vs. Abs
When I talk about direct ab training I am not referring to "core training". There is a difference between the two that often gets confused.
Your core is essentially your entire body minus the limbs. It includes the muscle along your spine, your glutes and all the supporting musculature of your upper back and small attachment to your ribs.
Core training can be done in a variety of effective ways, and oftentimes your core is targeted anytime you are performing a lift that requires you to be on your feet.
Direct ab training is targeting your six pack muscles. They are called the rectus abdominis and run on the anterior part of your core. You know the exact muscles I'm talking about, the Brad Pitt Fight Club muscles.
Stronger abs will allow you to exert more control over the movement of your spine and rib cage. Targeting your abs has many benefits, but it's kind of like the icing on top of the cake. You need to get everything else stronger and fitter in order to reap the benefits of direct ab training.
Favor Stability over Flexion
Flexion is the act of bringing two limbs together. Whenever you're flexing you're bringing a body part (or two) into flexion.
Crunches are an act of flexion on your abs. They can make your abs "feel the burn" but a more effective way to train your abs is to try and stabilize them. Stabilizing exercises work the abs and include the more important musculature surrounding the spine and rib cage. These muscles are important for posture, athleticism and leading a pain free life.
The most popular stability exercise is the plank. It's a great exercise that is relatively easy to master, but once it's mastered you need to progress the exercise. You can do that by planking for longer, but at a certain point the results stop. Planking for more than a minute produces no extra benefits.
The smarter way to make the plank more difficult is to add variables and resistance. Stability can only be achieved, tested and progressed by forcing your core and abs to react to new stimulus.
One of my favorite, and quickest ways to train ab stability is to use a swiss ball or floor sliders and perform a body saw plank.
Set up in position for a perfect plank. Tighten your abs and glutes. Slowly move your elbows back and forth. While this is a stability drill your abs will be on fire after about 20 seconds. It's the best of both worlds.
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Use Smart Flexion
The goal with flexion exercises should be correct anatomical alignment. All the variations I'll show you allow the body to stay in line, which will correct any movement dysfunctions you may have in your core.
Abs need resistance just like every other muscle group. If you want to get a stronger chest you need to progressively lift heavier weights. The same principle applies to your abs. If you want them to get stronger and more visible you need to progressively increase the difficulty.
You can do this two ways. You can perform more reps, which is boring as hell and takes forever. I hate this way, but if that's your thing go for it. Just don't text me.
The better way is to add resistance to your ab exercises. If you are already performing smart ab training variations this can seem difficult but not impossible.
Take the band resisted Ab Rollout. You attach a band to your ab wheel and to something that won't move. This will increase the difficulty of the movement substantially, while assisting the alignment of the exercise.
Make sure you keep your ribs down, don't end up in the arched Kardashian pose. Keep your hips and shoulders aligned, engage your glutes, keep your chin "packed" and exhale at the end of the repetition as this keeps your rib cage down and abs engaged more. Only go as low as you can while maintaining good posture and positions. One the way up pull the wheel towards you with straight arms. Keep a smooth and controlled tempo.
Another smart movement is the dead bug.
A properly executed dead bug will enhance your ability to use the core to control your spine and rib cage. Many of you are walking around with a degree of Anterior Pelvic Tilt, which does not allow the glutes to engage properly and places a lot of unnecessary force on your lower back. It looks like the circled picture below.
The deadbug works the muscles needed to correct this posture, and with added resistance can be a hell of an ab exercise. Deadbugs teach the body to “encourage” more posterior pelvic tilt while simultaneously enhancing motor control so the lumbo-pelvic-hip stabilizers can do their job.
To do a normal deadbug you set up on the floor, making sure that your lower back is flush against the ground. Slightly lift your shoulder blades off the ground, bend your knees and keep them directly above your knees. Then you lower contralateral (opposite) limbs slowly and in control.
Exhale as you are lowering the limbs, and inhale as you are raising them. This will encourage more abdominal engagement.
To add resistance you can hold a weight directly above your head, or you can add a band to engage your lats like in the video above. Attach a looped band to a stable surface, and bring your arms directly above your shoulders. The resistance should be strong enough that you have to actively squeeze your lats throughout the whole movement. Engaging the lats will encourage more abdominal work.
This is another exercise that will work the necessary postural and respiratory muscles while lighting your abs up.
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