When people talk about a six-pack, they’re actually talking about the rectus abdominis, also known as the abs.
Let’s face it, the only reason people start working their abs in the first place is to look like Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike.
The common approach is to do a million sets of planks and a billion reps of crunches, and pray for the best when summer hits. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually work.
You may often hear that “abs are made in the kitchen,” which means that no matter how big your ab muscles are, if you have a bunch of fat around your belly, you’ll never see them. That being said, in order to have a McConaughey-level six-pack, you must first be at a low enough body fat percentage to reveal them.
However, if the abdominal muscles are not developed at all, they simply will not look very defined, even if you have low body fat like Matt. So when you put those two pieces together, you need to train to develop your abs, then reveal them through your diet.
Training the Abs Through Spinal Flexion
When training your abs, it helps to split the load into two types of motion, the first being spinal flexion, which targets the top bit of your abs.
Spinal flexion is what happens when you do a sit-up. But at a certain point, once you get good at doing sit-ups, and doing them at body weight simply isn’t challenging anymore, then you may need some machine assistance.
How to Use an Ab Crunch Machine
For this reason, the ab crunch machine, which most gyms should have, is a great way to progressively overload your abs.
To train on the ab crunch machine, sit down on the machine and place your feet under the pads and grab the handles.
Arms should be bent to about 90 degrees as you crunch. To crunch, try to imagine touching your elbows to your knees, bringing your top and lower halves together at the same rate.
Use only your abs to propel the weight.
When you first perform this exercise, move at a slower pace as you establish a strong mind-muscle connection.
Training the Abs Though Leg Lifts
Crunch type motions will do a great job for stimulating upper abdominal growth, but we also want to make sure we aren’t neglecting our lower abs.
The lower abs are usually the toughest to reveal since they require the lowest body fat to be visible often need to be targeted independently. To best target your lower abs leg lift variation are your best bet.
The double leg thrust is one of the easiest and most effective variations of a leg lift ab exercise that can be performed at all training levels.
How to Do a Double Leg Thrust
Simply sit on a bench, grab a dumbbell, and squeeze it with your feet.
While balancing on the bench with your hands, extend your feet away from you before driving your knees towards your face.
What’s great about this exercise is that it requires little technique and can be made more challenging simply by grabbing a heavier dumbbell, although lighter dumbbells should feel pretty heavy on this exercise.
Other Abdominal Training
I would be remiss to not discuss other parts of proper abdominal training. While the rectus abdominis is the focus of this article, your midsection is also comprised of your obliques and your transverse abdominis.
Your obliques are sometimes referred to as your side abs. They assist in spinal flexion (like in the crunch) but also play an important role in rotation of the trunk (torso) and lateral flexion. Including an exercise like a standing cable wood chop is a good way to keep your sides strong.
How to Do a Standing Cable Wood Chop
To perform a standing cable wood chop, you’ll need to attach a handle to the highest position on a cable pulley machine.
From here, with your side to the cable, grab the handle with both hands and take a step away from the pulley.
Keep your arms straight and your feet shoulder width apart.
In one smooth motion, pull the handle down and across your body all while rotating your torso.
Make sure to keep your arms straight and core tight for the entirety of the exercise. Make sure to perform on both sides of the body.
Your transverse abdominis are in charge of creating intra-abdominal pressure and keeping your core stable in heavy lifts.
If people have ever told you to imagine being punched in the stomach as you squat or deadlift, they are telling you to use your transverse abdominis to create the stability necessary for lifting heavy loads.
So long as you are using proper breathing technique in your heavy lifts, your transverse abdominis should be getting stronger as the weight progresses.