The best route to 6 pack abs (individual training advice)

With summer well and truly here, the enviable possession that is the coveted “6 pack” is all too envied and desired!

With the amazing weather we’ve been having so far, it seems only natural to reduce the layers of clothing and allow the Sun’s rays to untie with our skin. Is there anything more uplifting? 

Not to mention the benefits of the vitamin D, which your body produces in response to sunlight exposure. I know for a fact, I’m one of these unfortunate souls who suffers a drastic drop in mood once the days of limited daylight roll around. 

Full sun exposure is the easiest way to raise your vitamin D levels (without supplementation of course) 

Here’s how YOU can get your abs popping!

Obviously the biggest factor influencing the appearance of your abdominals is your bodyfat percentage. For more on that and how to alter your bodyfat percentage check out one of my posts from many weeks ago: https://straighttalkingfitness.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/how-many-carbs-should-we-eat-part-one/ (for a full explanation, reading the 3 part sequel would be recommended)

Single digit bodyfat is more than low enough to get your abs visible – Although do remember the exact appearance of your abs is dependant on genetics. Two people at the same bodyfat percentage can have very different looking abs! But as a general rule, your abs won’t look their very best until you’re sub 10 %.

So let’s say you’ve addressed the “diet” obstacle of the abs equation. Now you’re on your way to leaning down and you want to actually train your abs. 

Here are some neat guidelines to find the RIGHT “Ab” training for you

Direct ab training in the form of crunches, V-ups, reverse crunches, air bicycles, cross crunches, hanging knee or leg raises are DEFINITELY NOT for everyone.

Why?

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Have you “mastered” the “big” lifts? By that I mean, can you squat 1.5 – 2 times your bodyweight? Are you deadlifting vastly more than your bodyweight too? Can you execute strict form pull ups with bodyweight for numerous reps? If not, you’ll gain much more from building up your performance in these major lifts. Most people don’t realise how much abdominal activation occurs during these lifts (when performed with correct technique) Get mighty strong in the compound movements before you consider “isolation” abdominal exercises.
  • How flexible are your hip flexors? The very act of ‘crunching’ is part of a movement pattern of which greatly involves flexion of the hip. This is unavoidable. To contract your abdominals maximally, you need flexion of the hip and flexion of the spine. However, if you happen to have tight hip flexors (try googling the “Thomas hip flexor test) to see if you qualify for the “tight hip camp”, then flexing the hips is only going to further facilitate the tightness within your hips. As your hips are tonic (hyperactive and over-developed) when you engage in crunching exercises, your CNS (Central nervous system) will automatically recruit the over dominant hip flexors to take the bulk of the work and as a result; your abs will be left grossly under-worked. Crunching and isolation ab exercises aren’t for people with hip flexors that are too tight. If this is you, spend some weeks dedicating portions of time to stretching your hips religiously before performing classic ab moves. As they get looser, and you feel direct ab training is now a realistic option, try static stretching your hips prior to your ab work. This will “deaden” their response to your CNS output and therefore reduce the likelihood of the hips overpowering the movement.
  • You are strong and efficient in compound lifts, lean and don’t have overly tight hip flexors? If this is you, then I would say direct abdominal training could be applicable to you. If you truly fit in this category, then I know for a fact – you’ll be able to recruit your abs whenever required and during all or most exercise movements. So how should/could you structure an ab workout? Well, the abdominals are slow twitch muscles (predominantly) which means they best respond to high volume, fairly low intensity (resistance) protocols. Sets of 20-30 reps would suffice nicely. Even circuit style training would work very well, as this will accumulate a high level of fatigue within the targeted muscles (this is what they best respond to) try to keep rest periods at a maximum of 30 seconds between sets, 15 seconds would be more ideal (from experience) One more point to note: abs also tend to be able to withstand higher training frequencies too. So you’ll be able to schedule abdominal work multiple times per week, should direct ab training be applicable to your current physical state.

  Final thoughts

If you’re unfortunate enough to be in  scenario where you have tight hip flexors and you don’t have access to train and improve the large, multi-joint lifts, but you would still like to “feel” your abs. Then, I would invite you to start incorporating static planks. The Plank is sometimes mocked and sneered at by some fitness professionals, I however, believe the plank can add value to many people.

Believe me, most untrained individuals cannot hold the plank for barely 30 seconds! When I say “hold” – I mean hold with correct form. Correct form being a neutral spine! You will also want to ensure your bodyweight is distributed evenly so the bulk of your weight is pressuring your “centre”. A bonus tip for planks and ALL ab training; is to exhale as much as possible during the each contraction. This enhances the shortening of the abdominal wall, thus creating more tension, and leading to greater training effect. 

So if you want to get accustomed to feeling your core and abdominals work with no or minimal equipment, try static planks for as long as possible. Once 2 minutes can be achieved, it’s best to either add weight or embark on training styles which will provide more resistance and mechanical overload. 

Ab training is very simple: Low body fat + efficient compound movement ability/ mastery of the ability to recruit your abs during all movements!

There’s never been a better time to get on the abs train than today, get out there and make them abs pop so hard, you can GRATE CHEESE on them!

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