ABs, arguably the most sought-after aesthetic goal in all of fitness. It’s not a surprise that so much of fitness marketing revolves around getting abs, with even crazy promises of abs as quick as 6 minutes.
Interesting. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly the case. There’s a little bit more to it. So, let’s go over some of the best and true practices for getting abs. We’ll also bust a few ab training myths along the way.
Some Myths About ABs
1. Let’s start off with a myth: No, you don have to do hundreds of crunches and crunch variations. The issue with this high rep approach is the lack of progressive muscular overload.
2. To build the muscle of any kind, you have to continuously provide a stronger stimulus than you did prior, often through increasing work volume.
3. Higher reps can somewhat achieve this but hardly in an effective manner since repetitions are only one factor of volume progression.
4. The best practice is to not only continuously increase repetitions, but also increase the intensity, or resistance. Something like 10 to 15 reps of a very challenging intensity, for a few sets, will be better than 100 repetitions of easy crunches.
5. As you progress, you can further increase the intensity and/or rep count of the exercise, but you don’t need crazy rep numbers.
Train ABs Every Single Day
Now, on to another popular myth: training the abs every single day. Sure, you can technically train your abs every single day. Whether that’s best practice, however, is another story.
According to muscle hypertrophy experts Bret Contreras and Brad Schoenfeld, much like all other muscles, the abs go through the wringer of elevated muscle protein synthesis post-workout for about 48 hours.
If you train your abs again before the 48 hours, you’re probably hindering peak muscle growth, and over time, it might lead to localized overtraining. Plus, the vertebral discs of your spine might actually need more recovery time.
So don’t risk back problems tomorrow for the sake of chiseled abs today. Best practice: Take that two days of recovery before training abs again.
What Types Of Exercises?
Speaking of exercise, let’s talk about exercise options. Now, your abs, or rectus abdomen is, is only a single muscle. Any type of exercise employing lumbar flexion will stimulate the entirety of your abs.
However, stimulation is not all equal. EMG data suggest that exercises that lead with the upper body to initiate lumbar flexion, like crunches, have a greater propensity to stimulate the upper abs.
Movements that involve more posterior pelvic tilting, or initiating with the bottom portion of the torso and legs, tend to stimulate the lower abs better.
With this in mind, the best practice is probably to have more than one exercise in your ab training repertoire to effectively target both the upper and lower abs.
Now keep in mind that we need to factor in intensity. For beginners, when targeting the upper abs, 10 to 15 good crunches might be challenging enough.
For the more advanced, doing crunches with a medicine ball on your chest or a 10-pound plate behind your head would be a good way to progress intensity.
Cable Crunches & Lying Leg Lifts
Cable crunches, where it’s easier to adjust the resistance, can work as well. For lower abs, doing lying leg lifts is a good starting point, just make sure you do them properly.
As you progress, you can move on to something like decline leg lifts and then hanging leg lifts for more of a challenge.
Quick Tips For doing lying leg lifts
- Tilt and squeeze your glutes
- Push lower back to the floor
- Elevate hips off the floor at the end
Partner-Resisted Lying Leg Lifts
Partner-resisted lying leg lifts where a partner pushes your legs back towards the floor can also be a step up. Make sure you don’t forget the rest of your core, like your obliques.
The obliques’ function is to laterally flex and rotate the trunk. Cable chops and weighted side bends are good options here.
Now, although ab-specific exercises are needed to build your ab muscles, for overall strength and stability development, the best practice is to have an overall workout plan that also incorporates larger movements that require core stability.
More Exercises For ABs?
Here I’m talking about exercises like squats and deadlifts. These will develop stronger stability throughout the entire core, including the rectus abdomen is obliques, the transverse abdomen is, and the spinal erectors, the muscles responsible for another side of the sagittal lumbar movement, lumbar extension.
To a lesser extent, unilateral movements, movements employing one side of the body at a time, like single-arm presses, develop the core as well.
With all this being said, exercise choice still ultimately comes down to you. Choose the ones you personally find most effective. Just get that intensity up.
Nutrition For ABs
Now, to top everything off, let’s get to the most factor of all: nutrition. You simply cannot escape this one.
You might have even heard of the old saying, “abs are made in the kitchen.” Personally, I don’t completely agree with that statement and would rather say it’s more in line with, “abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen.”
If I were to give it an arbitrary percentage, I would say the battle for getting abs is 30% training and 70% nutrition.
Nutrition for getting abs follows all the same rules as any general fat loss goal, which I’ve covered in detail in past articles.
But long story short, you need to maintain a calorie deficit. Fewer calories are consumed than calories burned. Some basic tips to help you along the way is to aim for more healthy whole food choices containing fewer calories but are nutrient-dense.
I’m talking about green veggies, starchy carbs, lean meats, beans, and so on. More protein is always recommended, especially for fat loss, as protein has been shown to help with hunger and appetite and mitigate muscle loss. We have linked some of the best whey protein down at the end of this article for you guys!
Other tools that you might want to try is intermittent fasting to manage hunger or carb cycling, which base food intake on your workout plan.
Burn Some Calories
If tinkering with nutrition is not an easy task for you, then you might want to consider increasing calories burned instead.
For some, steady-state cardio would be good to achieve that. For others, something like HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, would be a better fit, especially if time is an issue.
That pretty much covers the best practices, in my opinion, on getting abs. I’m sure some of you have your own great tips and best practices so please share some of your ideas in the comments below. Well, that’s it for this article. Thank You.