Who ever said there is any special secret to acquiring the ultimate six-pack? That’s right, it’s the manufacturers of products like the Ab Roller and Torso Trimmer and exercise ‘experts’ on the pages of mainstream fitness magazines.
Generations of fitness enthusiasts have been forced to believe there if only they did exercise X on product Y, they would be granted access into the elusive world of carved abdominals, when the truth is that doing hundreds of crunches or regularly working out an Ab Roller won’t provide the results you want.
The real ‘trick’ to developing your midsection is creating a well-rounded routine which targets all abdominal muscles and maximizing the effectiveness of every movement you make – just like you would do for any other body part. Given that your diet is in order and you don’t pack excess belly fat, smart weight training will do the job.
It’s time to push your abs to exhaustion – these 8 advanced technique tips will help set you on the road to sculpting a midsection worth showing off!
#1. Ditch the Belt to Develop Core Power
Squats and deadlifts are great for training your transverse abdominis (TVA), which is located underneath both the external and internal obliques – but only when you don’t wear a weight belt. Training without a weightlifting belt is the proper way to train your core muscles for strength and stability; the typical trainee has a weak core and using a weight belt only serves to mask this problem.
A weight belt offer important advantages for strength athletes, but it’s highly recommendable to focus on building substantial core strength before you start using it. Otherwise, over-reliance on a weight belt might cause your core muscles to become disproportionally underdeveloped. And the benefits from developing a powerful TVA include both improved aesthetics and improved lifting performance.
That being said, you shouldn’t rely only on heavy squats and deadlifts to get a complete abdominal training – as great as they are, these two don’t actively work your rectus abdominis through its full range of motion.
#2. Break Your Rectus Into Regions
The fact is that there are no upper and lower abs – the rectus abdominis is a single muscle and you can’t really isolate any portion of it independently. Still, this doesn’t mean that you can’t emphasize one region over another. The rectus abdominis runs the length of the abdomen from the bottom tip of the sternum to the pubis bone in the pelvis, and it’s responsible for flexing the torso and spine by pulling the ribcage closer to the pelvis, although it can also contract the abdomen without moving the torso.
During movements where the hips are static (such as crunches), the process of contracting the upper region of the rectus abdominis moves your ribcage closer to your pelvis, thereby causing greater involvement of the upper part of the abs than their lower region. And when you perform exercises in which the torso is stationary and the pelvis is pulled into the ribcage (e.g. ab wheel roll out and hanging knee raise), the lower region of the abs undergoes a greater amount of shortening and is trained more effectively.
#3. Round Your Back
During ab exercises, you need to have a forward bending motion at the waist, above the hip joint, to cause the muscle fibers of the rectus abdominis to contract. Yet it is fascinating how many people seem unable to realize the difference between movement at the hips and movement at the waist. You can often see people do cable crunches with a flat back and by hinging at the hips, when they should be curling forward and down in a controlled manner to really work their abs.
At first thought, it’s kind of a good thing that people approach ab exercises with a flat or slightly arched back – that means they’ve learned the importance of protecting the spine during resistance training. However, if you maintain a flat back in the lumbar region during ab exercises, the rectus abdominis won’t be able to actively contract, and without achieving proper contraction, you can’t say you’ve trained the muscle.
#4. Bring Your Legs Up Higher
Hanging knee and leg raises are great core-strengthening exercises that target the lower region of the rectus abdominis, hip flexors and lower back. To properly perform them, you have to avoid swinging the torso, jerking your legs up and hyperextending the lower back.
Instead, you need to maintain a still torso and focus the movement only around the pelvic area and legs, contract your core musculature to generate the movement, and keep your spine flat and neutral. If you’ve got these three under control, it’s time for the next big tip: get your legs up as high as possible. Most lifters are satisfied by bringing their legs up to the point where they’re perpendicular to the body and then they stop the motion.
However, this causes very little movement in the lower spine and this movement is mainly caused by contraction of the hip flexor muscles. Unless your pelvis and hips activate into a front tilt and move toward the belly button during contraction, your lower abs won’t be properly engaged. Next time you perform hanging leg raises, try bringing your legs up higher to really feel your lower abs working overtime.