The True Method to Obtain Abs
I believe abdominal training is often one of the most confused topics in the gym. Nevertheless, a large majority of people include this type of training in their workout, yet have the incorrect thought process as to what will be achieved. As a result, from this “hot topic,” we tend to see outrageous exercises, movements, and even classes that claim they will give you a “stronger core” or a "six-pack in days." However, it frequently leads to low back pain and imposes dysfunctional movement patterns in our functional activities. Instead, I encourage a paradigm shift in your abdominal training mindset to optimize your training to obtain the six-pack look. Furthermore, in this article we will examine the “why” for abdominal training and explain what makes a good exercise.
1. Understand your "why" for training abs:
Regardless of your ab exercise of choice, you need to have a good understanding of why you are performing the given movement. Lets clear our mind of the obsolete thought process that direct abdominal work will give you a “six-pack.” Below is an example of the mindset that should be used to attack your abdominal training.
I’m performing “X” abdominal exercise because it will then allow me to perform “X” resistance exercise correctly (i.e. squats). As a result from a stronger “core,” I am able to push myself harder without compensating during these “X” resistance exercises. Therefore, I am able to impose more stress on the system to increase my metabolic rate. From this, I am able to decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass over time. From the stronger foundation (core) and the increased demand on the system, (harder workouts + increased metabolism) I will begin to see my abs.
So, the abdominal exercise of choice is not what is giving you the “six-pack” look. The abdominal exercise is improving your functional abdominal strength (if performed correctly), which allows you to push yourself harder in the gym, which then has a greater physiological impact to decrease overall body fat (i.e. you see your abs).
2. What’s a Good Ab Exercise?
There are hundreds of exercises that could be labeled as a “good ab exercise.” However, let's not think about a specific exercise, but look at what that given exercise is challenging and how it is able to carry-over to your resistance training. Once you understand these concepts, you can essentially make any movement a “good” abdominal exercise. Let's quickly look at the squatting example again.
For a squat, what needs to occur in order to not compensate? In general, as we squat, we need to be able to withstand a flexion, extension, and rotational moment. In other words, we need to resist the hip, thorax, and the neck from falling forwards, backwards, and rotating.
So, what should our abdominal training focus on (HINT: I just gave you the answer)? It should be anti-flexion, anti-extension, and anti-rotation in nature. Why? Again, if we are able to resist falling into these compensations, we are able to continuously challenge our body (Going back to section 1 of this article).
So, change your mindset the next time you are doing that plank (anti-extension abdominal exercise) and holding it for minutes. The goal for performing is not to obtain a “six-pack." The goal is to withstand the forces that are acting on the pelvis and not allowing it to fall into extension. Fast forward to performing a squat. In order to perform it correctly and challenge the proper muscles, you have to be able to withstand the extension forces that act on the pelvis. Sound familiar?
Full Circle Moment:
-Understand why you're performing a particular abdominal exercise
-Be aware as to how resisting that motion will help your bigger lifts (i.e. anti-extension from planks improves squats)
-Get stronger in resisting that compensatory motion (getting a "stronger" core and knowing why and how it will help)
-Train hard (the ability to resist the compensatory motion allows you to do so)
-Increased Metabolic Rate (from harder training)
-Decreased Body Fat (from increased metabolic rate)
-SIX-PACK! (from decreased body fat over the abdominals)
As a quick side note, we are all cognizant that the quote, "abs are made in the kitchen" is generally correct. Simply stated, if you have body fat over the abdominals, you won't see them. So, a healthy eating lifestyle is a critical component if you are wanting to visually see your abs. However, the nutritional demands for a “six-pack” are generally well understood.