Ab workouts are always the most marketable as no muscle group gets as much attention from both sexes than that abdominals. While a six-pack mid-section is deemed as some holy grail of exercise and nutrition, they way to obtain that look has been lost for years. No exercise program can overcome poor diet and bad nutrition, but there is a better way to acquire that tight flat mid-section so many crave. Too many trainers and cookie-cutter workout programs suggest that the best way to a flat stomach and make your abs pop is through sit-ups, crunches, reverse crunches and twists.
Training any muscle group in the way it works, or functions, is always a great start, but what if abdominals have been done wrong all the while? Many will tell you that the purpose of the abdominal muscles is to ‘crunch’ the upper body towards to the pelvic region – as a result crunches and sit-ups dominate most 6-pack programs. The visualization technique used was to imagine your abs like an accordion and round your lower back.
However, any time you start training heavy weights and compound exercises you learn very quickly that even performing squats and deadlifts can leave your abdominal region feeling some soreness the following day. Based on the assumption that abs ‘crunch’ this should not be the case. Looking further and analyzing these complex movements it becomes clear that the main purpose of your abdominal muscle group is to provide stability to your spine. This is the main ab function in all compound movements and a weak core absolutely negatively impacts your ability to squat and deadlift heavy weights.
The key to your core is to provide lumbar support and stabilize it – therefore resisting movement is the way to train the core, not create movement. While the ab muscles closer to the surface do help with movement (as in the crunch) it is the deeper muscles such as the transverse abdominus which provides lower back support and stability. Abdominal muscles that involves bring your shoulders to your groin will help, but in the gym the key to your core if providing stability and resistance to movement.
Using this knowledge it becomes clear that the ideal abdominal exercises will involve stabilizing movements that are designed to provide support to the spine and resist movement. As a result my recently embraced 6-pack program is full of plank isometric exercises hitting the core and stabilizers from different angles and directions. For now I have completely abandoned crunches, although I do feel they are a great exercise to help your abs pop when performed heavy, low repetitions and loaded with weights. Once you achieve the flat tight stable core through planking variations, then we can fine tune and do some cosmetic work using crunching movements which bring the upper body towards the hip area.
My current best abdominal exercises are (all performed to failure – times noted below are where I am at now):
1. Plank with feet elevated on bench – 2 sets of 60 seconds
– basic plank on elbows with feet elevated on exercise bench
2. Side Plank with feet elevated on bench – 2 sets of 60 seconds each side
– basic plank performed on one elbow/side at a time with feet elevated on exercise bench
3. Mountain Climber Plank with feet elevated on Swiss Ball – 2 sets of 60 seconds
– plank position but hands extended fully, not elbows (like a push up position), and feet together on Swiss Ball, alternate by bringing one knee toward your chest, hold it, then the other, continue alternating to failure.
4. Plank stacking weights from one side to other – 2 sets of 60 seconds
– your basic plank position but stack 3x5lb plates and 3x 2.5lb plates to the right of your right hand, begin by lifting your left hand across to pick up the first 2.5lb plate and bringing it across and placing it on the ground outside of your left hand, maintaining the plank position but only on one forearm as you move all 4 plates across your body. Continue until the four plates have been moved one-by-one from your right side to the left, using the left hand. Once you have moved all four plates from the right hand side to the left, reverse the action using your right hand to reach across and place the plate on the outside of your right hand, then pause before continuing to use the opposite hand again. If you are really strong and want to kill your core you can spice this up by lifting the opposite foot off the ground as you move the weighted plates. This means that if you use your left hand to move the plates from your right to your left, you will elevate your right leg – and then alternate by lifting your left leg off the ground as you use your right hand.
This program is absolutely killer and can be performed twice per week – if it is difficult to start with I would suggest performing exercises #1-3 one day and then exercise #4 plus weighted (cable) crunches on your second ab day of the week. Try it for a month or two and combined with solid nutrition your abdominals will be positively outstanding.