The most common goal and desire within the health and fitness industry is the desire to develop a flat, sexy, toned, and well-defined midsection. We’re talking beach body abs folks. Who doesn’t want abs? Whether you’re a competitive athlete, figure or bodybuilding competitor, or just an individual interested in looking and feeling his or her best, the universal sign of conditioning is a well developed and toned midsection.
Being a former athlete, personal trainer, contest prep coach, & natural pro bodybuilder I know all the benefits of having a strong core, as well as the benefits of staying lean enough so that your abs are visible. The desire to create a toned midsection should not be solely out of vanity, carrying a low level of body fat impacts every aspect of your life. Creating a health looking physique will result in disease prevention, more energy and more confidence. In fact, the confidence one gains when they make physical changes in their physique is empowering in all areas of your life. I promise, if you make a physique goal to develop amazing abs, and you reach that goal, you will improve every aspect of your life from your job, to your family, to your love life.
As state earlier, beach body abs are the absolute most coveted thing in the fitness world. It is by far the most common question I get. It ranges in variation from “How can I get a six-pack?” to “How many crunches should I do per day?” Abs are also the most improperly trained body part by the masses. I don’t know how many times I inactively watch people tirelessly going through the motions and doing hundreds of crunches for 45-minutes four or more days per week. Forget the fact that most of their exercises and movements don’t even properly target the abdominals, because that 45-minutes of abdominal training could be refocused into something that could actually have an impact on developing visible abs, cardio. In fact, in order of importance, here is a list of things one must do to develop VISIBLE beach body abs: Consistency, proper diet, aerobic exercise (cardio), total body weight training, & proper abdominal training. That’s not a typo. Proper abdominal training will result in visible six-pack abs only when the accompanied by all of those other things
Before we actually get into abdominal training, you must understand that your diet has to be right before you will ever see your abs. No matter how well developed your abs are, you will never see them if they are covered by a layer of insulation (FAT!). I could write forever about diet, and yes there are literally thousands of ways to diet in order to lose fat. Personally though, I recommend a diet high in protein, low in carbohydrates (timed carbohydrates), and moderate in fat. You should get your protein from lean sources like ground turkey, lean ground beef, chuck tender steak, chicken breast, egg whites, & of course Humapro. Timed carbohydrates is just a fancy way of saying you should take your carbohydrates during times when you are most insulin sensitive, such as first thing in the morning and immediately post workout. Doing this will result in proper nutrient partitioning so that insulin can work sufficiently in storing the carbohydrates as muscle glycogen instead of body fat. Also, you want to make sure you are getting most of your fats from EFA’s (Omega-3 & Omega-6 Fats). Some of the better sources of EFA’s include macadamia nut oil, extra virgin olive oil, fish oils, almonds, & natural nut butters. In fact, I recommend taking in some extra EFA’s (5-7 grams for females & 7-14 grams for males depending on size and goals) with your pre workout meal to blunt the release of insulin. This can place the body in a physiological conducive to burning fat for fuel during your workouts.
Be sure to build your diet around your lean body weight and adjust accordingly as you are losing fat. For example, start with 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, .75 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight (take ¼ of your carbs with meal 1 & another ¼ with meal 2 and take the other ½ immediately post workout), & .30 grams of fat (predominantly from EFA’s) per pound of bodyweight. On non-weight training days lower your carbohydrate intake by simply dropping the post workout carbohydrates and keeping meals 1 & 2 the same as training days. For a male that weighs 200 pounds it might look something like this:
Protein – 200 X 1.5 = 300 Grams Protein/Day
Carbohydrate – 200 X .75 = 157 Grams Carbohydrate/Day (75 grams on off days)
Fats – 200 X .30 = 60 Grams of Fat (35 grams from EFA’s)
If you are a women that desires showing off a beautifully chiseled midsection simply cut protein consumption to 1.25 times body weight, carbohydrates to .5 times body weight, and keep EFA intake at .30 times bodyweight. Or you could simply use the Humapro diets provided by ALR Industries at www.alrindustries.com or www.humapro.com
Now that you have an idea of what kind of diet may help you develop beach body abs you need to design a cardiovascular program & weight program to help burn calories and maintain muscle mass in your hypo-caloric state. Performing weight training 3-5 days per week is customary. There are many great weight-training programs out there. Those that know me are well aware that I am diehard disciple of Eric Broser’s Power-Rep Range-Shock training. Some other great training programs include volume training, HIT, and DC training. As far as cardio goes, when trying to get beach body abs, you should dedicate 5-6 days per week to cardio. Start out doing 30-minutes per day and slowly add 5-10 minutes until you are doing 45-60-minutes of cardio at each session. Keep track of your heart rate during your cardio sessions; 60-75% of your
Maximum Heart Rate (220-your age) is ideal for fat loss.
Finally, it’s time to get into actual abdominal training! It’s actually pretty simple to build an effective abdominal routine. Even so, I find it amazing how many people over train, or simply improperly train this body part. The first thing to realize is that abs should not be trained everyday. I’ve found that most people get best results from training abs 2-3 times per week on nonconsecutive days. Next, it’s important to understand the biomechanics of the abdominal muscles. The mid section is made up of many different muscles. These muscles all perform different functions and create different movements. The best abdominal programs will include multiple exercises that target each of these muscles for complete stabilization of the torso and complete abdominal development. The following section has some of the more critical abdominal muscles listed with their functions and some of the best exercises to build, tone, & sculpt these muscles.
This muscle is better known as the “six-pack”. This muscle originates at the breastbone and ribs and runs vertically until it attaches to the pubic bone. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a set of 6 or 8 different muscles, but it is one muscle that is connected by a tendon sheath. The function of the rectus abdominis is the flex, or bend, the rib cage closer to the pelvis. Any movement that incorporates the upper body curling or crunching the rib cage to the hips will work the rectus abdominis. When I train this area, I like to think of my midsection acting like an accordion. It’s also crucial to find that mind muscle connection when performing crunching motions so that you do not cheat. My favorite visual cue is to close my eyes during my sets and actually pretend my upper section of my rectus abdominis is rolling over the middle portion and then the middle portion is rolling over the bottom portion.
EXERCISES (Upper Rectus Abdominis):
- Floor Crunch
- Swiss Ball Crunch
- Incline Sit-up
- Roman Chair Sit-up
- Cable Crunch
Now, even though the rectus abdominis is considered one muscle, it is possible to focus your training on either the upper or lower portion. The above exercises predominantly will focus on the upper portion of this muscle. This is the reason that most people that are lean will have visible upper abs, but still lack clarity and definition in the lower portion of their abdominal wall. Because of this, there are certain exercises we can perform that will target the lower portion the rectus abdominis.
EXERCISES (Lower Rectus Abdominis):
- Hanging or Supported Leg Raises
- Hanging or Supported Knee/Hip Raise
- Incline Knee/Hip Raise
- Bench Knee-ins or Frog Kicks
- Reverse Crunch
There are two sets of oblique muscles that flank the sides of your body. There are internal and external obliques. The internal obliques are used for body stabilization and are extremely important in athletic movements and dynamic, open chained lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and the Olympic lifts. The external obliques are important more so for physique athletes as well defined external obliques can lead to an aesthetically pleasing physique and enhance the “v” taper. To work the obliques you must twist or crunch sideways. One thing you will want to stay away from is doing any type of standing twisting motion, such as what some of the old school bodybuilders would do with broomsticks or barbells behind their necks. This ballistic motion can cause trauma in the vertebrae as well as stretch out the oblique muscles making them appear larger, as if they were love handles.
- Twisting Crunch
- Lying Side Crunch
- Side Cable Crunch
- Hanging Twisting Knee Raise
- Supported Twisting Knee Raise
This is a muscle rarely talked about. The transversus lies to the side and slightly behind the rectus abdominis. It acts almost like a lady’s corset and it pulls the stomach up and in, keeping the midsection flat. This is crucial not only for physique athletes, but also for those that are interested in developing a toned, flat stomach. It is one of the hardest muscles to train. The absolute best way to work the transverses is to do an exercise called the vacuum. To perform the vacuum, simply pull the abs up and in as far as possible. I like to visualize the inside of my belly button touching my vertebrae. Hold that position for as long as you can. You can do this with a couple of twists to make the exercises more difficult and more effective. For instance, you can do it standing up, or on all fours. You can also exhale all the air in your lungs and perform the vacuum and attempt to hold it as long as possible. Another exercise you can do to train the transversus is to perform a hanging straight leg raise, but with a twist. When hanging on the bar, perform a mini vacuum by pulling your abs in as far as possible and holding. Inhale in this position, while maintaining the vacuum, and begin lifting your legs up (keep them straight) all the way until they touch the bar. Maintain the vacuumed position, exhale forcefully, and in a controlled manner lower the legs slowly and repeat for desired amount of repetitions. This exercise can also be modified by perform either a horizontal (adduction/abduction motion) or vertical (scissor) style kicks while the legs are in the up position (by the bar you are hanging on).
- Hanging FULL Leg Raise
- Hanging FULL Leg Raise with Horizontal or Vertical Kicks
How to Build a Complete Abdominal Training Program
To build a complete ab training program, you want to incorporate exercises from each of the above muscle groups. Because of their sheer difficulty, I recommend choosing a transversus exercises first followed by an exercise that hits the lower rectus abdominis. Your third exercise should work the upper rectus abdominis and you should finish with an exercise working the obliques. There is a strategic reason for choosing lower ab exercises before upper ab exercises and upper ab exercises before oblique exercises. Because the upper abs are usually more developed than the lower abs, we need to prioritize the lower portion, and due to the fact that the oblique muscles are used in stabilization, it is crucial to train them last. Now, the last thing we need to consider is rep ranges and total sets for each muscle. Below you will find a weeks worth of abdominal training. Notice that each day of the week the exercises are changed, as is the rep ranges and the order of the rep ranges. This is due to the fact that the body is an extremely adaptable machine and changing things up will lead to greater, more consistent gains.
- Vacuums (transversus) – 5-6 vacuums held as long as possible
- Hanging Leg Raises (lower rectus abdominis) – 3 X 10-20 Reps
- Floor Crunch (upper rectus abdominis) – 2 X 21-25
- Side Cable Crunch (obliques) – 1 X 16-20 Each Side
- Hanging FULL Leg Raise (transversus) – 2 X 6-8 Reps
- Weighted Incline Sit-up (upper rectus abdominis) – 2 X 10-12
- Bench Knee-Ins/Frog Kicks (lower rectus abdominis) – 3 X 13-15
- Alternating Twisting Crunch (obliques) – 2 X 16-20 Each Side
- Incline Bent Knee/Hip Raise (lower rectus abdominis) – 3 X 10-12
- Supported Twisting Knee Raise (obliques) – 2 X 13-15 Each Side
- Cable Crunch (upper rectus abdominis) – 2 X 16-20
- Vacuums – (transversus) 4-5 vacuums held as long as possible
Each set should be taken close to, or complete failure. This workout is not set in stone and can be changed form week-to-week or day-to-day. My suggestion is to vary your exercises and vary your rep ranges for each exercise. If you need to add resistance go ahead. Remember, building a great midsection has as much to do with diet and cardiovascular exercise as it does with ab training. Now, hopefully you have the knowledge and background to build an ab routine that will lead you to developing those beach body abs you’ve been dreaming about your whole life!