Training for Abs
While nothing turns heads like a well defined, full set of abs, getting those abs is easier said than done. In order to help you get there, lets uncover a few ab training myths, briefly touch on the most important piece of obtaining abs, and provide you with some beneficial ab training exercises.
Dispelling the Ab Training Myths:
Contrary to popular belief, the abs or Rectus Abdominis is really only one muscle. It stretches from the top of your pelvis up to your ribcage. The “six-pack” is merely sections of this one muscle. There are certainly many other muscle groups that make up the complete set of abs and core, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on “the pack.”
The action of any muscle is simply to contract. And as you can’t contract half your bicep or quad, it makes sense that you cannot contract half your abs as well. Therefore articles about “upper ab” and “lower ab” training are not exactly beneficial. I’m not discounting those training methods but the simple fact is that if you can’t see your lower abs, it just means you’ve got fat covering them, not that you need to “work” that area harder.
The difficulty in obtaining great abs is not so much building the muscle. It’s cutting enough fat from your body for them to show. You probably know by now that spot-reduction of fat simply doesn’t work here. In order to show those abs you need overall fat loss 🙂
A Few Areas to Focus On:
Let’s get back to a sit-up variation, but forget about the all-the-way-up sit-ups you see in the movies. Your abs are fully contracted when your shoulders are about 5 to 6 inches off the ground. So, don’t bother trying to impress or outperform someone by touching your elbows to your knees. It does nothing extra for you. Half sit-ups or crunches, as they are sometimes called, are the way to go.
Don’t wedge your feet under something to help you get up. You don’t need to do this if you are doing crunches properly anyway. Your legs should be at 90 degrees to each other and your knees at 45 degrees to your waist. If you need to, use something to press your heels back against to stabilize yourself. This way you will use your hamstrings instead of your hip flexors which will keep the focus on your abs.
Keep your hands lightly held against the side of your head or crossed on your chest. Don’t clasp them together behind your head or neck. If you do you will be tempted to pull with your hands to get the last few reps out, which will put unnecessary strain on this fragile part of the spine.
To Make this movement even more beneficial, hold a weight plate with arms extended, or attach a band behind your head for added resistance.
Another great exercise for abs is kneeling cable or band crunches. You will need special equipment to perform this exercise. This is where you kneel and contract your abs so that your upper body arches forward/downward. You hold a rope attached to a high pulley with weights for extra resistance. The idea is to lock your arms against your upper body so that you pull down only with your abs and not your arms. To perform this movement correctly, keep your hips forward the entire movement, which should be about the same as during our correct crunch.
Our fitness classes incorporate a great deal of ab training and teach many great ab and core movements. If you aren’t able to make one of our classes, here are several exercises to get you started.
15 Other Beneficial Ab Exercises:
The following 15 ab/core exercises are not your typical internet abs. These are safe, proven to get results, AND best of all, they are from my personal arsenal. I would highly recommend filing these away and incorporating them into your training routine.
•Choose 3-15 of the exercises.
•Perform 3-5 sets of each with 1 minute rest between sets OR complete one exercise after the other in circuit style. Rest and repeat the cycle.
•Focus on slow, controlled form and perform reps to failure for each exercise.
•If more than 20-25 reps are reached for any exercise, increase the difficulty by holding the contraction longer, and/or add weight (i.e. medicine ball, plate, band, etc.)
1) In & Out: Sit on floor with hands at sides, knees bent with feet on floor. Raise feet off floor and bring knees in towards your chest. Straighten legs back out and repeat. Advanced: Raise arms straight overhead.
2) Double Crunch: Sit on floor with hands at sides, knees bent with feet on floor. Raise feet off floor and bring knees in towards your chest. Lean back and straighten legs out and repeat. Advanced: Hold contraction for 1-2 seconds.
3) Short Bicycle: Sit on floor with hands at sides, knees bent with feet on floor. Raise feet off floor and make small circles with legs as if pedaling a bicycle. Complete 25 reps forward and 25 reps backward without stopping. Advanced: Raise arms straight overhead.
4) Tall Bicycle: Lying on floor with hands locked behind head. Crunch your right elbow to your left knee while straightening your right leg. Repeat on other side. Advanced: Hold contraction for 1-2 seconds.
5) Knee Wraps: Sit on floor with hands at sides, knees bent with feet on floor. Raise feet off floor and bring wrap hands around knees (without touching), open arms into a T as legs are extended out.
6) Scissor Hold: Lie flat on your back, extending one leg skyward, while lifting opposite leg off the floor a few inches. Alternate your legs in a scissor motion. Hold for a 3-count each rep. Keep both feet flexed throughout entire exercise. Advanced: Crunch at the top of the scissor.
7) Butterfly Hip Raise: Lie on back, open hips, and bend legs so that the bottoms of your feet are touching. With arms at sides, rock your hips, lift pelvis, and drive feet directly up towards ceiling (toes straight up, not over face). When lowering legs back down, do not let them touch the ground.
8) Straight Leg Hip Thrust: Lie flat on back with arms straight at your sides and legs straight up at a 90 degree angle. Thrust hips off the floor, trying to touch your toes to the ceiling. Focus should be on keeping the legs straight at 90 degrees (not towards head).
9) V-up: Lie flat on back with legs straight out and arms extended straight up towards ceiling. Sit-up and reach for your toes. Return to a flat back and raise legs off the floor to 45 degrees. Sit-up and reach for toes while legs are at 45 degrees. Repeat sequence.
10) Leg Climb: Lie on back with one leg bent, foot flat on the floor. Other leg should be extended straight out at a 45 degree angle. Climb leg with alternating hands. Repeat sequence on your other leg.
Sequence 1: Beginner Level (4 leg grabs: thigh, calf, ankle, toes)
Sequence 2: Intermediate Level (2 leg grabs: calf, toe)
Sequence 3: Advanced Level (straight to toe)
11) Floor Wipers: Lie flat on back with legs straight out and arms extended straight up towards ceiling, holding dumbbell, medicine ball, or barbell. Keeping your legs straight, raise them up to your left hand, lower them back towards the floor, then lift them toward your right hand. Repeat sequence. Advanced: Add weight and/or swing legs further out.
12) Supine Toe Touches (L): Lie flat on back with arms straight at your sides and legs straight up at a 90 degree angle. Version 1: Reach up with one hand and touch opposite foot. Version 2: Reach up with both hand and touch both feet.
13) Plank Hip Dip: Lie on stomach with forearms flat on the floor and hands clasped. Keeping your legs straight and locked at the knee, raise your hips until they are as high as possible. Hold this position for a moment before lowering hips back to the floor. Without resting on the floor, gently touch your hips down and repeat the raise.
14) Stomach Vacuum: stand upright and place your hands on your hips, and exhale all the air out of your lungs, completely. Expand your chest, pull your stomach in as much as possible, and hold. Visualize trying to touch your navel to your backbone. One isometric contraction of 20 seconds is one repetition. You can work your way up to 40 or 60 seconds. Once mastered, the Stomach Vacuum can be performed in a standing, kneeling, seated, and lying position.
15) Janda Sit-up: Sitting in a normal sit-up position, feet flat on ground, sit-up while vigorously tightening hamstrings and glutes. As you begin, fill your lungs with air and in a slow (three to five second count) sit-up, slowly exhale.