Abs: everyone wants them, but we already have them.
We associate their visibility with optimal health, peak fitness, and strict dieting. We try endless routines that promise to give us a shredded six pack in a few days, yet we never end up seeing them.
Everyone has abdominal muscles; it’s the amount of body fat around our midsections that determines whether or not they are visible.
Body fat levels vary with everyone. 15% body fat on a 5’7” 120lb female may look incredibly different from the same percent on a 5’5” 130lb female. There are different kinds of body fat:
Visceral: fat that surrounds organs; more harmful type of fat; lies around the midsection; high levels usually mean an unhealthy lifestyle.
Subcutaneous: fat that lies directly under the skin; safe and healthy for our bodies; important for hormone health and daily body functions.
How each person carries those two types of body fat is unique. This can be based on their lifestyle habits, the nutritional choices, hormones, genetics, and surrounding environment.
Just like any other muscle group in your body, your abs shouldn’t be trained every single day because then you aren’t providing those muscles with enough rest and recovery; and that is when your muscles actually grow and change. They can be added in as accessory work at the end of 2-3 training days each week, which I truly believe to be more than enough. You indirectly target your abs with other exercises like squats, deadlift, dumbbell rows; really any exercise that requires you to brace your core and any unilateral movements (you use your core to create stability.)
We know that less reps and heavier weights will build strength (the density of your muscle mass) and we know that more reps with lighter weights will create hypertrophy (small muscle tears and increasing your muscle volume.) This is the exact same fact with your abs. The heavier resistance that you put on your ab workouts (ie. weighted sit ups or Russian twists) then the thicker your abs will become. Keep the weight lighter and do more reps will give that leaner and longer appearance to those muscles.
It’s important to train your entire core, not just hitting the abs in front of your stomach. Your core goes all the way around, including your back, so having a strong core is going to help build your best body, abs included!
I consider ab workouts under two categories:
- Movement (like when you are moving your core and abs, such as sit ups or twists)
- Bracing (like when you hold a position, such as a plank)
Here’s an awesome hybrid of both movement and bracing exercises to add to the end of your workouts. Choosing one of these supersets is more than enough for one day:
Movement: weighted full sit up x 15 reps
Bracing: high plank alternating shoulder taps x 10 each side
Movement: overhead side-to-side medicine ball slam x 10 each side
Bracing: alternating dead bug x 10 each side
Movement: hanging knee tucks (or like a Captain’s chair) x 15 reps
Bracing: Paloff cable hold x :45 seconds each side
Your build your abs – just like every other muscle group in your body – with resistance training in the gym. Your nutrition and your levels of body fat determine the visibility of your abs.
An important factor to remember is that having visible abs doesn’t change you as a person. Sure, they’re a great accessory to flaunt in the summer time, but they don’t improve your quality of life, make you any happier, or get you a pay raise in your job. Abs are great, but they aren’t everything. Train your entire body, give it the rest it requires, and fuel your body with the nutrition that it needs in order to perform, grow, and change body composition.
If you’re interested in learning more about me and what I do, please visit my website. I am a certified nutrition coach who teaches clients how to eat the foods they love without restriction while reaching their body goals. I also provide custom strength training programs for clients who are looking for serious results, no matter the level of experience.