The most effective way to train Abs

Everyone wants great abs, right?

Whether you're a seasoned Weightlifter and want stronger abs for a more solid pull, or you simply want to look better naked, this post is for you.

The notion that Abs are made in the kitchen is utter ridiculous. Dieting is almost always necessary to reveal your abs, however your abs are no different to any other muscle group you train in the weight room. They must be trained no differently to any other muscle group.

This means you need to quit the crunches I'm afraid.

Muscles need to be stressed in a progressive fashion, meaning, you need to constantly add greater mechanical load and volume in order to stimulate their growth. Exercise selection can help with mechanical load to a certain extent, but nothing beats good old fashioned resistance.

Don't get me wrong, if your trunk is incredibly weak, simple bodyweight exercises like planks, deadbugs and hollow holds may be enough of a stimulus for you at the moment, but once you're capable of performing around 20 repetitions of an exercise (or 60 seconds of an isometric exercise) you need to find a new way of providing your muscles with greater stress and mechanical load.

Just like any other group of muscles, the Abs are made up of various fiber types. This means that your training must accommodate both faster and slower twitch fibres by using exercises that help you reach fatigue somewhere in the 8-20 rep range.

If you're incorporating strength movements into your programme like back squats, front squats, snatch pulls, clean pulls, snatch deadlift, bent over rows etc (you should be!) then you are already taking care of the lower rep range and stimulating your abs with near maximal loads. All of your direct ab work, therefore, should be in the form of moderate load and moderate reps. If you can perform more than 18-20 reps of an exercise without reaching complete failure then the load is too light.

For the most part, your abdominal group are made up of mostly slower twitch muscle fibres and as a result their ability to recover is pretty impressive. As a result it is important to hit them numerous times per week. Training your abs once per week is not enough. By the time you're ready to train them again, they have already 'over-recovered' from the previous session the week before. Ideally you need to train them 3-4 times per week.

From experience, your Abs can take as many as 25 sets per week before you'll find yourself struggling to recover. That doesn't mean that 25 sets per week is your aim! It is important to build up to that volume slowly and progressively. Remember, the stimulus needs to be progressive to ensure they grow and adapt. If you start with 25 sets per week right off the bat you won't be able to progress the volume from one week to the next and you'll likely end up fatigued and maybe even injured!

The minimum volume you need to perform to get results is around 12 sets per week, therefore it makes sense to use that as a starting point.

Whilst it is true that you can get away without performing any direct ab work and rely on bigger lifts, I believe that you're missing out on results if you dont try to perform at least 4 sets of direct ab work three times per week. Conversely, if you can only attend the gym three times per week then you should not be cutting out important exercises to make room for ab work. If you're only squatting, pulling and rowing once per week but find the time to train your abs directly then you've got serious programme issues.

When it comes to exercise selection I am a big fan of sticking with, and mastering, the basics. If you are constantly trying new exercise variations you will never be able to progress them to the extent were you are exposing tissues to a significant stimulus.

I love this quote by Ryan Horn:

"A good carpenter has to decide what they are going to build and devise a plan before purchasing materials. Coaching is no different. Let basic training principles, your coaching skill set and athlete needs drive your exercise selection. We are chasing adaptations not exercises".

The idea that training must be always be fun and interesting is bollocks in my opinion. Yes, sustainability and client 'buy-in' is essential, but a lot of sustainability issues come down to lack of results. Whether you like it or not, you only become good at what you do often. If you are one of these people who like to try different things every few weeks then expect mediocre results.

My favourite go-to ab exercises are:

  • Roll Outs

  • Garhammer Raises

  • V-Ups

  • Isometric holds on GHD with Single Arm Press

  • Candlesticks

Most of the time these exercises are performed incorrectly. Roll outs being a common one. Check out the video below for advice on how to do them correctly:

If you'd like more help on the matter, or perhaps a programme of your own, don't hesitate to drop me a message and I'd be more than happy to help. We don't bite!

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