Getting perfect abs is nothing short of an obsession for many people. Tons of programs, products and gimmicks promise “six pack abs” by confusing and misleading consumers. The right ab workouts can help, but in the end, there is only one way to get the abs you want! You need a consistent, effective workout program that will help you burn fat and tone your abs. When it comes to abdominal workouts, here are the most essential things to know:
TARGET ALL FOUR ABDOMINAL MUSCLE GROUPS
One mistake many people make is to only work one or two sections of their abdominal muscles. There are FOUR layers of muscles in your abs! You need to work each layer/muscle group to effectively tone your abs.
- Rectus Abdominis – This is the “six pack” muscle. This paired muscle runs from the front of your ribs down to your pelvis. This the muscle referred to when people say “upper abs” or “lower abs”, but it is actually one big muscle – of which different areas can be targeted. Typical “ab workouts” usually focus on this muscle.
- External Oblique – The external obliques are the muscles that run along the sides of your ribcage, on each side of the rectus abdominis. The external oblique muscles allow the trunk to twist – contracting one of your external obliques twists your body to the opposite side. For example, contracting the right external oblique will turn the body to the left.
- Internal Oblique – Your internal obliques are located just inside your hip bones – just below the external obliques. They work in the exact opposite way as the external oblique muscles. When you do a twisting motion, one external oblique contracts while the opposite side’s internal oblique contracts. For example, twisting or crunching the trunk to the left requires the left internal oblique and the right external oblique to contract together.
- Transverse Abdominis – The transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle layer. The muscle reaches from each side of your lower abdomen towards the middle. It is primarily responsible for stabilizing your trunk and maintaining internal abdominal pressure. This muscle is especially worked when you do stabilization exercises like planks or other similar ab exercises.
VARY YOUR AB ROUTINE
In addition to working all four layers of your abs, you also need to change up your ab routine so that your muscles are continually being challenged. If you do the exact same ab exercises for weeks on end, your muscles will adapt and plateau – and you will miss out on some of the benefits of your training program.
QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
Have you ever heard someone brag about how they do 800 crunches/situps every day? You do not need to do anywhere near hundreds of reps! You will actually see better results by doing fewer repetitions of the right exercises with correct form.
When it comes to number of reps when weight training, the same rules apply to ab workouts. For longer, leaner muscle, you should do more reps (we’re talking sets of 12, 20, or sets of 30 seconds… not sets of 800!), and for building size (and deeper cuts), you should do fewer reps with more weight resistance (ie: sets of 5 or 8). An exception to this rule is for stability exercises, such as planks, where you will hold a single position for anywhere from 20 seconds to a couple of minutes.
And, just like other muscle groups, you shouldn’t train your abdominal muscles every day – which brings me to my next point:
TAKE TIME TO RECOVER
Your ab muscles are just like any other muscle – they need to be worked hard, and then given adequate time to rebuild and recover before then next workout. Depending on how hard your muscles are worked – as well as whether you are focusing on strength or endurance – you will need anywhere from 36 hours to 2 or 3 days recovery time between workouts.
And finally, (but most importantly)…
Most people focus only on doing tons of crunches and other abdominal exercises in an effort to get flat, defined abs. What many people don’t realize is that no matter how many crunches, situps or other ab exercises you do, you will never see improved definition unless you can minimize the layer of fat that covers your abdominal muscles. The muscles are already there – the key is getting to the point where you can see them! Yes, ab exercises can help improve muscle strength and tone, but burning fat is more effective BY FAR when it comes to overall improvement in the look of your midsection.
When it comes to burning fat, remember that there is no such thing as spot reduction! There just isn’t! This isn’t what most people want to hear, but it’s simply a fact. No product, ab workout or ab exercise alone will make you lose inches solely from your waist – so when someone tries to convince you otherwise, don’t fall for it! The bottom line is that in order to gain greater definition in your abs, you need to have a fitness program that will help you burn overall body fat. In order to burn fat most effectively, your fitness program needs to include regular cardiovascular exercise AND strength training – stay tuned for our next post, which will explain why both are so important! Pair that with healthy, well-balanced eating habits, and you are well on your way to effectively burning fat – and getting flatter, tighter abs.
Following these tips will help you to get the best results possible. In addition to great looking abs, you’ll enjoy other benefits as well. Stronger abs can make a huge difference in your posture and overall core strength, and can also improve your form and effectiveness during other weight training exercises. Minimizing excessive body fat will not only make a huge difference in your abs, but will also improve the rest of your body. Training your body the right way will allow you to get the abs you want and improve your overall health.