Okay so the last one of these ‘perfect workout’ blog posts and I feel there is no more fitting topic to finish off with than the perfect abs workout. So let me just start by saying that it isn’t possible to solely train your way to six pack abs, so if that was what you was hoping to find out how to do by reading this, then I apologise, but it isn’t possible! Visible abdominal muscles are the result of being at a low enough bodyfat percentage so that the abdominal muscles can be seen. This is achieved through a combination of diet and exercise and also has a fairly large genetic component too. By this I am referring to the fact that where people store their fat isn’t always the same, some people store more fat in the stomach region, this makes it harder for the abs to be visible and so a lower bodyfat percentage will need to be achieved for them to be seen, while some other people store more of their fat in their lower back or legs, this allows the abs to be more visible at a higher bodyfat percentage.
Unfortunately, this is completely controlled by your genetics and so there isn’t much control you have over this. So we need to focus on the aspects we can control; diet and training, the latter of which we will focus on here.
Anatomically speaking there are 4 major parts to the abs:
· External obliques – they are on the side of your upper stomach and allow you to twist side to side
· Internal obliques – these are on the lower outer stomach and work together with the external obliques to help with twisting and turning
· Rectus abdominis – this is the actual ‘six pack’ muscle which gives the visual appearance of abs, it is very important for posture and breathing
· Transverse abdominis – these are deeper muscles which provide stability and strength to the upper body
When it comes to abs training I am a firm believer in just keeping it simple, I always programme or recommend 4 types of exercises;
1. An exercise where you are bringing your lower body up, so that you work the lower ab muscles e.g a leg raise
2. An exercise where you bring your upper body up, so you work the upper ab muscles e.g sit ups (the exercise selection on this one isn’t too important, so long as the shoulders come completely up off the floor)
3. A twisting movement where you turn from side to side e.g Russian twists
4. A stabilising movement where you stay completely still and hold a position which maintains tension on the core e.g plank
Abs/ core training is a personal trainers dream in terms of creativity because there are so many ways you can modify the training to make it more enjoyable or more difficult. These can range from adding weight to an exercise, incorporating a more dynamic aspect to the movement, such as throwing a ball during the movement, cables or bands can be used to change the resistance level, positions can be held, negatives can be used, you can perform an exercise one side at a time, the options are literally endless. BUT and this is a very important but, it is important to remember that all of these variations are essentially descendants from the 4 types of movement above. The reason it is so important to remember this is that you can add whatever new challenging aspect to the exercise, but the movement of the core muscles must stay the same, for example if you add a ball between the feet and throwing it using the legs, during a leg raise, then that is brilliant, so long as you are still able to effectively execute the exercise, if you bend your knees and start recruiting other muscles not in the core then very quickly you will start to notice that it is other muscles which are feeling tired or burning rather than the targeted core muscles.
In terms of core training frequency there are many different schools of thought regarding this, some say that you should train your core the same as any other muscle group and only work it a maximum of twice per week, other people have said that they work their core every day and have seen great results. Personally I fall somewhere in the middle of these two. Firstly, I do believe that the core can be worked much more frequently than other muscle groups, this is simply because of the nature of the muscle, the core never stops working, if it did we would just collapse over because there would be nothing holding us up. This must mean that the core has a high tolerance to workload, this in theory would then mean that the work required to prompt the core to adapt would be very high in order to overload it. However, I do agree that sometimes we should train the core more like other muscle groups, for example you wouldn’t expect to do 50 bodyweight squats and have massive legs, you accept that you will likely need to do sets of 6-12 reps at a high percentage of the maximum weight you can lift in that rep range in order to prompt muscle growth, but so then the question becomes, why do we think that we can cause the abdominal muscles to develop and grow in response to lots of bodyweight exercises with very high reps?
This is why with core training I have always tried to include a good balance of lower rep weighted exercises in addition to some higher rep bodyweight exercises. The real answer to how often you can train your abs I would say has to do with your training experience. If you are completely new to training or have taken a long period off where your abs haven’t been trained then I would start with a low weekly volume of 1-2 times per week, this is because your muscles will likely find the new training stimulus hard and need additional time to recover. As your muscles develop you will be able to increase the workload and then volume.
The last point which I want to make is in my opinion the most important point of all, whilst it is nice to have a toned stomach or visible abs it is important to remember that your core does far more than just sit there and look pretty! A strong core can help to protect you against a whole range of injuries and a strong core is also highly beneficial in almost every sport due to both performance benefits and injury prevention. So if you start to struggle for motivation when it comes to training your abs, try to remember you aren’t just doing it to look good one day on the beach, you are doing it so you can stay safe and reduce your injury risk as well.
I hope this blog post has helped and has given you some more information when it comes to training your abs. If you have any questions then feel free to drop me a message.
Next week’s topic – 6 month vegan review