As a trainer, I get asked a lot of questions from people looking to build their physiques, better their health, and reach new goals-- especially at the start of the New Year!
One of the most common questions I get asked?
“How do I get abs?”
This question comes to me in a variety of forms from “If I train abs everyday, when can I expect to have abs?” to “How many crunches should I do to get a six-pack?”
My answer is typically the same:
“Just because you’re training abs doesn’t mean you’ll have abs.”
Yes, this can be disheartening to hear, but let me explain…
When it comes to abs, ab training is only part of the equation. It is not as simple as just “doing 50 crunches a day” (or else we could all walk around with six-packs), it comes down to a lot of other factors such as:
-Types of ab training
-Form and execution
...to name a few.
So, if a flat tummy and rock-hard-abs are on the top of your “resolution” list this year, then read on to ensure you’re taking the right steps to get there!
Don’t ever think you can out-crunch your diet. It doesn’t matter how many ab exercises you do a week, if your nutrition and diet aren’t in-check, then you’ll never see that six-pack.
Adhere to a healthy diet → lower your body fat percentage → get more visible abs
(If you need help making sure you're eating appropriately for your goals, I'm more than happy to lend a hand!)
2.) Training programs
If you’re strictly performing just isolation ab exercises, then you’re only hurting yourself!
Compound, total-body movements are key to working the core. Exercises such as front squats, deadlifts, and standing, overhead work engage every inch of your abs! They keep the midsection engaged as it is called on to stabilize your body, so don’t forget to incorporate them into your training program!
(If you need help with your training programs, allow me to build you one!)
Your abdominals are just like any other muscle in your body. You wouldn’t train chest every day because you know that would leave no time for recovery/growth, so what makes you think you should train abs every day??
Your abs need time to rest just like every other muscle group. Doing planks or crunches at the end of every workout only leaves your core in a constantly overworked state. This type of overtraining will hold you back from achieving any results for all the work you’re putting in.
(For more on the importance of rest and overtraining for ALL muscle groups -abs included-, click those linked words!)
Aside from timing rest, you should also focus on timing your ab work. That aspect comes with two parts:
First, make sure you are not doing your ab exercises at the start of your workouts. Being that the abs do play such a core (...core, get it?) role in so many other moves, if you burn them out too early, you’ll have a tough time doing other ab-intensive exercises such as standing shoulder presses or squats.
Your core keeps you spine protected, so you need that operating at full capacity during your lifts-- save the ab training for the end.
Also in regards to timing, you do not need an entire workout dedicated to just abs. In reality, you just need about 15 min. max! And, if you’re already doing compound exercises like the ones I mentioned in #2, then one or two exercises for 2-3 sets at the end of a workout is actually plenty.
4.) Types of training
Are you guilty of just doing crunches?? Well, time to switch it up! There are so many more effective exercises out there than the traditional crunch. Think about it, if you’re repeatedly doing crunches day in and day out, and wake up each morning ready to take on more-- do you really think they’re working?? Think about how you feel after a good workout, chances are you aren't training those same (now-sore) muscles again soon.
Instead of sticking to one, ineffective move, aim to include a variety of core exercises that work your abs from various angles such as abdominal rollouts, plank series, and cable woodchops.
5.) Form and execution
Just like you do with every other muscle group that you train, you need to stay focused on your form when training your abs!
You wouldn’t quickly or sloppily deadlift or squat, so why rush through your ab work without any thought about what you’re doing?
If you want an exercise to really work, you have to focus on your form throughout the entire execution of the move! Get that mind-muscle connection going and think about what you’re doing with every single rep.
While, yes, we all have abdominal muscles, not all of us have the same structure of abdominal muscles. Because of that, abs look different on every person.
Think about a bodybuilding competition, while all competitors probably have great looking midsections, they certainly do not have the same midsections.
Photo courtesy of FitnessVolt.com, 2019 Mr. Olympia results
Much like face structure, hair color, and bone structure, your abs are usually determined by your genes. So, thinking you’ll be able to have the exact same looking abs as someone else is pointless!
Whether it is a blessing or a curse for you, your genes will ultimately play a role in your “quest for a six-pack”.
For those with genetically large muscle bellies and short tendons, abs will appear more plump and full. They also may look more defined at a higher body fat percentage than the stomachs on those with thinner muscle bellies and longer tendons at the same level of body fat.
Depending on the muscle bellies, tendons, and lean-ness, abdominals can look vastly different on everyone. They can look defined, popping out like a pack of hamburger buns, or they can look more indistinct, resembling a smooth brick wall.
All in all, your genetic makeup will affect the outcome and overall look of your six-pack.
And of course, probably one of the most important elements to “getting abs”?
Abdominal development takes time and consistency-- so, stay patient and stick with it. Once all of the above factors are put in place, slowly but surely, those abs will start to make an appearance.
Rome wasn’t built in a day!
...and bonus “ab” tip: Please, for the love of protein, avoid wasting your money on any sort of “ab” gizmo or gadget!
Swiveling on a board or strapping on a shaking belt twice a day isn’t going to be the magical solution we’ve been searching for all these years… just put in the work and have the discipline.