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by Anthony Millar of dotfitness.co.uk
We are all familiar with the appearance of a "six pack" and the aesthetic quality it can bring to any physique, yet this issue often attracts great debate. "Just how do you get that six pack?" "How many sit-ups do I need to do to achieve that look?" "Do you need to train your abs every day? These are just a few of the many questions I have answered in relation to perfecting the mid-section and through this article I hope to settle these as well as many other queries for good. Hopefully it will not come as too much of a surprise that there is a lot more to getting "ripped" abs than doing a few sit-ups. Indeed, one has to consider calorie restriction, cardio vascular training, supplementation in the form of thermogenic aids, plenty of quality rest as well as a cleverly worked out training plan to achieve a quality mid-section worthy of recognition.
So it is important that the individual takes this holistic approach to training abs, as it is the most efficient way to get worthy results in as little time as possible. However this article is going to concentrate on the training of such muscles as this in itself is often neglected or done incorrectly. Abdominal muscles are like any other muscles in the body inasmuch as they are their to perform a specific function. In this case to allow movement around the abdomen. Therefore like other muscles abdominals should only be trained a maximum of twice a week. On the face of it this does not seem like a lot, but we are not talking about 3-4 “soft” sets before we go to bed. When you consider the damage 10-12 working sets to failure can inflict when done correctly and intensely it will become apparent why the training of such muscles is not required every day.
It is also worth considering the principle of priority training when working the abs. This suggests that the stomach muscles be trained first in the workout so that you approach them fresh and motivated. This technique will help the abs develop faster as it ensures that the mid-section is given sufficient attention, whereas if they are left to the back of the workout they are inevitably trained badly or neglected entirely. Like all muscle groups you need to have a definite structure when attempting to train them. This plan of attack helps guarantee that the muscles are developed to their full potential. It is worth noting though that this structure is not indefinite as the order of exercises and rep ranges can be altered to provide a constant stimuli.
So, what is a sound basic structure on which to base our abdominal training? To answer this question, you must first identify the sections of the stomach area that you wish to train. To attain a well balanced mid-section you have to isolate and breakdown the entire area surrounding your waist. These groups of muscles I am going to refer to as the uppers (top 4 abdominals), the lowers (bottom 2) and finally the sides (external obliques and serratus). The most fundamental movement for the uppers is undoubtedly ‘crunch’ orientated exercises. Note that I recommend ‘crunch’ and not the straight-leg sit-up that we were forced to do in P.E. This is because the latter does not involve a concentric contraction ( a shortening of the muscles). Instead there is an isokinetic contraction (no shortening) which is much inferior and more hazardous to the lower back. I would recommend constantly switching the type of crunch, as their are many varieties. For example these exercises can be performed on an abdominal crunching/cable machine, an abdominal roller and performed solo with either feet raised or on the floor. I would recommend doing 5 working sets to failure of no more than 20-30 reps performed strictly with attention to form and style. As soon as the target rep range can be achieved regularly with relative ease then it is time to increase the resistance, e.g. a plate across the chest, more weight on machine or performed within shorter rest intervals etc. Try to avoid using to much weight. Too much resistance will thicken the waist line, which lowers the aesthetic quality of your physique.
The most natural movement for the lowers is the leg raise, or various adoptions from the leg raise. A great alternative exercise to this is to hang from a chinning bar and raise the knees toward the chest, this exercise is called the hanging leg raise. Although it is well worth noting that the wearing of wrist straps can be critical to the outcome of this exercise, as your grip may well fail before your stomach muscles fatigue. However this is a minor disadvantage in comparison to the benefits one can achieve from this movement alone. Conduct no more than three working sets to failure with a similar rep range to the crunches. A good way to increase your resistance is to place a small dumbbell in between your feet when executing the leg raises.
Finally to finish off the workout it is advisable to stress the sides of your waist. These muscles are quite small in comparison to the uppers and lowers and therefore need no more than 2 working sets of 20-30, as the entire mid-section is significantly worked during the training of most other body parts. However, they need to be fatigued and taken to failure all the same. A great exercise to do this is a sort of dumbbell arc movement. This is where you stand holding a single dumbbell (if in your left hand you shall be working the right side) and gently lower the weight so that it slowly rolls down toward you knee cap. As with all anaerobic exercises exhale as you contract the muscles, slowly returning to the starting position. On completion simply change the resistance over to your other hand and repeat the whole process. Alternatives to this are to crunch from the side on an abdominal roller or to incorporate a twist into your crunches.
In conclusion then, the abdominals training session should be short and sharp, lasting no more than 20 minutes. Intensity should be central to your workout, as should correct form and execution of all exercises. If even the slightest doubt enters your mind on how to perform such exercises ask a qualified instructor, that is what they are there for. Do not bog yourself down with lots of exercises for lots of sets and hundreds of reps every day. This is no good, it can prevent the muscles from recovering/developing, besides this ‘old hat’ theory will not burn away a significant amount of fat. Pick 3 basic exercises, one for each aspect of the mid-section and experiment within each area to find out which one works best for you. This article has outlined the main exercises, but there are many more to be tried and tested.
Try to incorporate this regime before you workout, preferably as soon as you get to the gym. This will help speed up the development of your mid-section. Do not be fooled into thinking that a cleverly worked out training regime is the be all and end all to achieving a detailed mid-section. I cannot emphasise enough of the importance of a proper diet and the inclusion of cardio-vascular regime. These will ultimately determine the appearance of your abdominals and surrounding muscles. Plenty of quality rest and a well worked out supplement stack are also advisable, as they offer more, different pathways to achieving muscular development with a reduction of fat. If you can strive to combine all of these features together, then it really is just a matter of time before you can boast a quality ‘six pack’ that has so far eluded you.
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