I recently had the opportunity to write an abdominal article for FitnessX magazine. This was an amazing experience for me as it was my first time writing for a magazine but also because it was the first time I have co-authored with my other half, Leon Hall. I look forward to many more opportunities to write for magazines such as FitnessX. Please check them out at www.fitnessx.com, and download the article in pdf format here.
You can ask anyone, "What is one of the major indicators of a person in top physical condition?", and be assured 9 times of 10 you will receive the answer, "defined abs". The reason for this, unfortunately, is because the area around the abdomen is one of the most common for the body to store fat, making abdominals one of the most difficult, and often one of the last, muscles to notice the results of your hard work and dedication.
There are two main objectives you must take into account in order to achieve that desired 6 pack:
Lose the fat - dropping the extra pounds around the mid section will uncover the hidden muscle underneath.
Develop the muscle - build and define the ab muscles to obtain that shredded, lean look.
The first objective, losing the fat, consists of diet and cardiovascular activity. One must consistently eat clean, maintaining a balanced diet, high in protein, and with regulated carbohydrates. Participating in a cardio regime will also be necessary. High Intensity Interval Training is a great way to burn calories and fat, but remember, higher intensity cardio training, when done in excess, can also burn that hard earned muscle. So, be sure to vary and alternate low intensity and high intensity cardiovascular training.
Ok, we could spend all day breaking down diet and cardiovascular training, but for the purpose of this article, lets discuss what we consider to be the most neglected aspect of abs training, especially by women, and what is potentially the most rewarding. Developing the Muscle to obtain that much desired six pack.
Your abdominal muscles are just like any other in your body. What would any fitness expert tell someone if they asked "How do I build my ~ insert favorite muscle here ~ ?". Well, they would most likely tell them to train for hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is the enlargement of muscle fibres, and this type of training typically consists of an 8-12 rep count of 2-4 sets at about 70-80 percent of your one rep maximum.
You must use resistance to develop the muscle, and of course this applies to the abdominals. This is the key to achieving your strong, define, abs.
If you saw someone performing 100 bicep curls with 5lb dumbbells in your gym, what would you think? You would probably think their arms aren't going to grow, right? They might become more defined, over a long period of time, but they are not going to turn into 20 inch pythons. So why do we consistently perform hundreds of sit-ups with only body weight if we don't yet have the size and definition in our abdominals to see them?
You must constantly increase resistance in order to build the muscle. Lets stop being afraid of the weights.
Now, we know many people, especially women, don't like to sit in the gym on a beautiful summer day, surrounded by others in an overly crowded weight room. But luckily, resistance training doesn't mean you have to be confined indoors, you just need to get a little creative. Hey, it's summer time! Get out there and enjoy the fresh air and the sun. Burn a few extra calories by getting an outdoor workout in this amazing hot weather. To get you started, here are a few exercises for your abdominals that you can perform indoors or outdoors, with minimal equipment. We will start with light resistance for those starting out, and make adjustments to increase resistance as we go. This workout should be performed three times a week, on non consecutive days, with a rest time of 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
Seated leg pull-ins
This exercise is commonly performed on a mat or the edge of a weight room bench, but we prefer finding any raised, flat surface that you can find outdoors. Performing this exercise on the edge of a raised surface will further utilize the weight of your legs against gravity, resulting in greater resistance.
Your abs should be doing the work in a slow and controlled manner. We find that with the knees slightly bent, you are able to get a good stretch and increase the resistance felt on the lower abdominals.
You can also choose to extend your legs straight, this will increase the resistance to the upper abdominals. For even greater resistance, try to hold a medicine ball or any kind of weight between you feet or knees. Just remember, know your limits and incorporate slow and controlled movements.
Decline Reverse Crunch
We were lucky to be able to find an outdoor decline bench for this example, but this can also be done on a hill or any angled outdoor surface. If you do not have a device above your head to hold you steady, you may lay your arm flat by you sides for stability, although, this will make the exercise more difficult. For a beginner, you may want to simply perform this exercise on a flat surface instead of a decline surface, as the greater the angle the greater the resistance.
For a beginner, we would suggest to only rotate at the hips, leaving them in contact with the surface at all times. This is safe because it does not flex and put pressure on the spine. However, for someone more advance, with greater strength on their core, we prefer to continue the movement as far as possible while squeezing your abs. If this is done in a slow and controlled fashion the risk is minimized. For even greater resistance, once again, try to hold a medicine ball between your knees with your feet crossed, just remember know your limits and use slow and controlled movements.
Hanging Knee/Leg Raises
Hold on to a bar and hang in a rested and relaxed state, this is a great way to start as well as a great way to stretch your lats, spine, core and arms.
Some important things to remember during all of these exercises; keep it slow and controlled, focus on tightening the core during the entire ROM, exhale during contraction of the abdominals and inhale during extension. You should be using a resistance that allows you to reach failure after 8-12 reps. We hope this helps and that you are now a little more motivated to get outdoors and train with resistance. Maintain a clean diet with consistent cardiovascular activity, while performing resistance exercises such as these, and see the results for yourself!!