Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Let's be honest. We all want at least some form of Ab definition. This definitive AB guide will answer everything! (Simplified)
To effectively work the abs we need to very briefly understand how they move and function
Well, at least a little bit!
Unfortunately just doing mindless crunches at the end of a training session just isn't going to cut I'm afraid
We need to know how to effectively work the whole core region and which exercises we should be doing to get the best results possible
I'll be honest, this post is pretty in-depth and quite advanced
But if you're serious about getting great results, let's read on!
WHAT ARE THE STOMACH MUSCLES?
Rectus Abdominus (Abs): These are the juicy ones you see on men on the front of the magazines. The 6-pack. These flex the spine.
Transverse Abdominus (TVA): Maybe you’ve heard the term in a Pilates class? These are the deep, trunk stabilisers. Strong TVA muscles will improve your posture and reduce lower back pain.
Internal & External Obliques: These are the horizontal lines you see on really lean people, located on the side of their bodies. These are the rotation muscles.
HOW DO WE WORK THEM ALL?
Later I'll share a super simple workout for you to add to your weekly routine, but first I want to quickly cover exactly how to work your stomach muscles.
When I'm running a Primal Bootcamp, I tend to end most sessions with some sort of core training
Usually for around 5-7 minutes before we start stretching down
I’d say 90% of the time I'm the first person to stop in agony grabbing my abs in pain
You see, it's common that most people can't really ever feel their abs working, or even, know how to properly engage their core
But why is this?
So there are a few reasons;
1. WE SIT A LOT
As a society, we sit. A LOT.
In fact, the average Brit sits for around 10 hours a day and that doesn't include sleeping!
We also drive more and lots of us sit at desks to work (like me right now) and then after a long day of working and commuting we slouch on the sofa in front of the TV
Sitting is very convenient, but it's not great for our health or ab strength
This constant sitting slowly switches the abs off
Then when we come to train and perform various crunches and planks it's no real wonder we can't feel the abs working
Bloat plays a big part in our ability to switch on our abs
When we eat certain foods that cause bloating our abdominal region expands
To allow for this growth our deep core muscles (TVA) have to relax to compensate
This means when the clock strikes gym-time and you start pumping out crunches left right and centre - it's near on impossible to actually feel any stomach activation
In fact, it's more common than not, that your lower back is actually doing most of the work
Bloats something that I can't sum up in a short paragraph so I'll leave these two fantastic blog posts for you to sink your teeth into later
The way we move is so important for good posture and a strong set of abs
It's very common people simply don't use their legs, glutes and abs when picking things up and bending over
When we bend over to pick something up, no matter how heavy the item, we should be pushing our bums right the way back to keep our spines lovely and straight
Most people will round their spines which adds an excessive load to their lower backs
The abs and the lower back help support the spine as a team
Rounding your back switches off the abs and overloads the lower back
This creates an imbalance which can result in pain, poor movement and sleepy abs
Are you beginning to see how much it really takes to get strong and create visible abs?
This is exactly why there are no shortcuts or quick fixes to your fitness goals!
HOW CAN YOU WAKE THEM UP?
So let's kick those abs into gear
To do this I want you to do a really simple "activation" exercise
Lye flat on your back with your legs in the air
Place your hands just under your bum - this helps to keep your back flat
Pull in your stomach and squeeze your abs - I always imagine a weight's about to fall from the ceiling and land on my stomach, so I want to tense to protect myself
One leg at a time, slowly lower to the ground, keeping your stomach braced at all times
You want to try and hit 10 reps, your feet stopping about a foot off the ground
10 reps might be easy. So pause. Re-set your stomach and keep going. Always stopping after 10 reps to check your stomach is still engaged.
When performing I want you to think about your stomach muscles. The more you think about them and the more consistent you are with this exercise, the better results you'll get
This will increase your "mind to muscle connection" (how much you feel the muscle working)
This is so important to get better results and finally wake up those core muscles
Aim to complete 50 - 100 reps before starting this workout.
TARGET YOUR CORE FROM EVERY ANGLE
As you're now aware from reading the first paragraph, our stomach muscles are pretty complex and therefore move in loads of different ways
So to target them all effectively and to get really good results, we can't just do crunches, we need to hit them every muscle from every angle
Below I've listed the 3 key areas and put together a really well-rounded ab training plan
But first, check out how to master each of the exercises to get unreal ab results
(Click the exercise name for video demo)
Think about “peeling” off the ground and sitting up towards your knees, engaging your stomach during each rep
Each rep is beautifully controlled and tension is kept on the way down as well
Slow and controlled here
10 slows reps is a million times more effective than 50 "flying-headbutt" crunches
TVA: BIRD DOG
On all fours, with your shoulder blades over your wrist, slowly lift your left arm and your right leg so you’re “pointing”
Hold for 2 seconds and return. Swapping sides after 15 reps
Perform these without arching your lower back, super slowly
These might not be “sexy” and produce the same burn as a crunch, but these are essential for decreasing back pain and tightening your waist
Bird dogs work the deep stomach muscles that help pull the waistline in and keep everything strong and tight
OBLIQUES: BICYCLE CRUNCHES
A bit of coordination here I’m afraid
Lye on your back with your knees at a 90-degree angle. With your hands on your temple rotate towards your opposite knee, kicking your other leg out straight as you do so
Perform these slowly and controlled, none of that erratic kicking please
Now for the plan!
Pause when you need to, remember; form always comes first. It’s better to reset than lose control of your movement so your back and hip flexors just do all the work. Be patient
ONE LAST NOTE
Abs are a bi-product of strength
Strong people have abs, they might be covered by a layer of fat, but they're there
To really develop your stomach muscles and drop your body fat to be able to see them:
Make sure your diet healthy (high in veg, protein, water)
You're consuming the correct amount of calories a day, and
You're following a tried and tested training plan
Thanks for reading,