The finish line is in sight folks … from legs to back to chest to shoulders … we’re a long way. For the development of muscle mass we have now pretty much had the important groups, however .. we have skipped a fairly large muscle group, namely deeeee… Abdominal muscles!
But you don’t have to train your abs, right Jay? You get it in the kitchen, or wrapped in foil around your fatty tripe, bought on Instagram. Yes, well, no.
To get muscles visible, a low enough fat percentage is important. That goes for the longitudinal stripes in your monstrous calves, that goes for the feathers on your quad trees, for the transverse stripes in your horseshoe trice… oh wait, wrong article. But at least it also applies to visible abdominal muscles.
Do you have a low fat percentage, but still not satisfied with the way your abs look? Then this may be the article you’ve been waiting for so long.
ANATOMY AND FUNCTION OF THE ABDOMINAL MUSCLES
Let’s start by debunking the myth that abs need to be trained on super high reps, or they can’t grow.
Like all of the skeletal muscles of your body, the abs can not only get stronger and harder, but when trained, they will also increase in total muscle volume. This is something to keep in mind as training the obliques, for example, can definitely make your waist wider instead of narrower.
The abdominal muscles are often said to be sufficiently trained for heavy compounds (such as squats or deadlifts). Some bodybuilders generally do not do these exercises for this reason. However, several studies debunk this story; Compounds certainly stimulate the abdominal muscles somewhat, but not as intensely as isolated abdominal exercises do. To give you an idea, a simple sit-up seems to cause twice as much abdominal muscle activation as a heavy squat.
The abdominal muscles often refer to the rectus abdominus, but the “abdominal muscles” as a whole include many more muscles.
THE RECTUS ABDOMINUS
Let’s start right away with this muscle. The rectus abdominus, more commonly known as six-pack or eight-pack.
Whether 6 or 8 blocks are visible is partly genetic; some people just don’t have 8 blocks, no matter how dry they are. The ‘blocks’ can also lie parallel or alternately. This is also genetic and cannot be trained.
These muscles provide flexion of the spine and rotation of the torso.
On the outside / side we have the external obliques; these muscles provide flexion of the spine, for compression of the abdominal wall, such as when bracing the core with heavy compounds, and finally they help with rotation of the body and lateral flexion (tilting the spine sideways).
Below the external obliques are the internal obliques. The function of these (not visible on the outside) muscles is rotation of the body and lateral flexion of the spine.
THE OTHER ABS
Within that lies the transversus abdominus. This muscle provides compression of the abdominal cavity and stability of the core. This muscle is very active in exercises where posture and balance are important (a lot!) And can be trained with vacuums.
Furthermore, by contracting the abdominal muscle can work on anti-rotation or anti-extension of the spine; for this reason, the abdominal muscle is also very active in an exercise such as the plank.
Finally, the division of muscle fiber type. The abs appear to be spaced about 50/50 fast twitch slow twitch. For that reason, a distribution of low weight, more reps and more weight, low reps should be a good approach. As we actually see with all muscles.
OPTIMAL TRAINING OF THE ABDOMINAL MUSCLES
Above you can read what the functions of the different abdominal muscles are. You can already see it, there is a lot of overlap in function. Many of these exercises will therefore not only target 1 muscle, but most likely a number or even all of the different muscles in the core. This also makes sense; the back of the body is protected by a thick spine (which, by the way, lies in the middle of the body and not so much at the back) surrounded by very thick muscles (read the back article). The front and side of the abdominal cavity are not protected by bone, but only by muscle. These muscles must keep the organs in and protect them and be able to build up pressure when bracing.
The first exercise that comes to mind when talking about abdominal muscles is the sit-ups. And while this exercise generally activates the abdominal muscles well, there are better exercises. For starters: weighted crunches.
From previous articles we have learned that one of, if not the most important factor for muscle growth is the progressive overloading of a movement. Eternal but keep increasing the number of repetitions is not a good example of this; always take a heavier weight (and keep the implementation the same !!).
Crunches are sometimes in the wrong light because they would put a bad strain on the back. However, with a decent performance (as with any exercise!), This seems to be not so bad. A study on this topic did not find an unambiguous conclusion.
Exercises such as an ab wheel-out or an ab-pike (feet on the seat of a rowing machine, hands on the floor, and feet towards your chest with straight legs) provide extreme activation of the abdominal muscles (if you do it properly. and your lower back doesn’t collapse). With proper execution, these are definitely good weapons in your arsenal to those abs that you think make you irresistible but it’s a shame they don’t work for your character (xoxo).
However, with these exercises we again encounter the problem that they are difficult to aggravate. For this reason, we should also comment on the results obtained by these exercises in some studies; because these exercises are so tough, their intensity cannot be compared to a simple crunch or leg-raise.
Sure, they are good exercises. But if we weighted down (and matched intensity) other abdominal exercises, they might be a lot more similar in activation.
Studies also show that there is actually such a thing as ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ abdominal muscles. With pain in my heart I have to admit that some gymbro’s got it right here (I tell myself that this is the exception that proves the rule).
In summary, heavy or weighted exercises should be your main choice and we can emphasize the lower and upper abs separately.
THE COMPLETE PICTURE
After reading the article below, together with all the knowledge from other articles, you will have a complete picture of how to properly train all muscles, at least in terms of exercises and execution. To put all the above information together and to get a complete picture of our perfect abs workout, read the section below.
Since the abdominal muscles (much more so if the back muscles do) run around the torso, for optimal training we will have to train the abdominal muscles at different angles, in different movement patterns.
If we consider the functions of the abdominal muscles for a while, we arrive at the following:
– Flexion of the spine (upper abdominal muscles). As with a crunch variant, for example a weighted decline crunch, preferably for a cable stretch instead of with a dumbbell, in connection with the possible loss of muscle tension.
– Flexion of the spine (lower abdominal muscles). Since the abdominal muscles attach to the ribs and pubic bone, we can train them through a crunch, but also a reverse crunch or a leg raise. This can be lying on the floor, but also hanging from a bar.
– Lateral flexion of the body. Like a cable side bend
– Rotation. Like with a cable wood chops
As said before, it probably makes little sense to do 200 situps every night before you cry yourself to sleep alone (because seriously, who does this)
What does work is a number of sets between 20 to 30 reps (if you can save a lot more, then you can make the trade heavier) and a number of sets between 6 to 12 reps to do with the heavier exercises.
Train your abs about 2 to 3 times a week, 6 exercises in total per week, 3 to 4 work sets per exercise.
Finally, it is probably best not to train your abs before your heavy compounds for stability.
SAMPLE ABDOMINAL MUSCLES SCHEDULE
A Decline bench cable crunches, 3 sets of 8 reps
B Reverse crunch, 3 sets of 20 reps
C Cable wood chops, 3 sets of 20 reps
A Ab pike (rowing machine), 3 sets, 6 reps
B (Weighted) crunch, 3 sets, 25 reps
C Russian twist, 3 sets, 8 reps