Coach Sean on Ab Training
Before I get into this week’s Training Tip, why not beat around a few of my favorite, always entertaining ab myths that still seem to haunt me after all these years. I’ve now come to terms and accepted that these will never go away. But I will try my hardest to exercise patience when they are dropped on me 🙂
Coach Sean’s Top 5 Ab Myths
1. The more you train them the better they’ll look. False. Just like any other muscle, more isn’t better and they follow the same stimulate, rest, recover cycle like anything else.
2. Training abs will give you a thick waist. Not really. There are far bigger culprits to thickening the waist than doing the occasional core workout. Eating big meals, taking certain supplements and overdoing heavy compound lifts too frequently and with incorrect breathing techniques are far more likely responsible.
3. Most of my fat is around my waist so I need to train abs more. No you don’t. What you need to do is diet a little harder and sprinkle in some HIIT cardio to blast your fat stores. You’re wasting your time in the gym training abs any more than twice per week.
4. I train lower abs one day and upper abs the next, then sides the other day. Smh….no. That’s not how things work. When your abs contract then tend to contract as an interconnected complex group of muscles, not individual, compartmentalized separate entities. Train your abs, then rest. No need to split everything up.
5. My abs suck, so there’s no point in ab training. Sure, and why not give up on anything else in life that doesn’t come easy while you’re at it. Be consistent 😉 While you can’t change the shape, insertion points and length of a muscle, you can always improve upon what you’ve got. Can’t see your abs popping? Then focus on hypertrophy workouts for the six-pack look. Got a thick waist? Go easy on the crunching and focus on core tightening instead.
That should shed some light on some of the more basic fundamentals of how not to do it and I wouldn’t be fair unless I also shared how I prefer to do it as well.
Coach Sean’s Ab-Training Fundamentals
While I’ll admit I’m not really big on ab training (Adam even less), I do generally have most clients do some type of ab/core work once per week to sharpen the details and make things pop a little more in some clients. As we all know, the amount of activation of the core muscles during many of the compound lifts like squats, bent over rows, deadlifts and overhead presses shouldn’t be overlooked. Perform these basic lifts properly with an awareness of the core and proper breathing technique and you can really think of this ab training a supplement or insurance policy to what might already be enough for most. So bottom line, I don’t always train abs, but when I do, here’s how I’d do it. Go nuts.
General Style – I’ve always preferred to hit the abs with a circuit style of training – giant sets or at least tri-sets and very rarely ever do standard straight sets. The abs are generally able to recover quickly and withstand higher amounts of volume with shorter rest intervals. The ideal ab workout for me would be 4-5 different ab exercises that stimulate the core through different angles, performed in a circuit with no rest between each exercise and 2-minute rest periods after the circuit. Try to avoid repetitive movement patterns with the exercises and to make things easier, you can move from lower, upper, transverse, overall, isometric hold. I’ve posted some examples of some of my favorite exercises below for you to assemble your own ab workout.
Sets & Reps – If doing a circuit like described above, go with 3-4 rounds and 15-20 reps per exercise. For static holds, do a minimum of 45 seconds and no more than 90 seconds to keep things moving.
Rep Cadence – for hypertrophy, I’ve always preferred ‘explosive with control’ and a strong mind-muscle activation engaged throughout. I think this is best for stimulating any type of hypertrophy of the rectus abdominis area. I’ll slow things down when doing the crunchless ab movements (see below) and use a much more controlled pace.
Workouts – For clients looking to make the six-pack muscles pop a little more (assuming they are lean enough to even see them), I’ll do one intense ab circuit every 5-7 days where you should be sore for 2 days afterwards if you’re doing it right! For clients just looking to tighten the waist and don’t benefit from having a glaringly obvious six-pack on stage (i.e. bikini), I prefer to stick to crunchless ab movements once or twice a week while incorporating breathing techniques and lots of iso-holds. For me personally – if I’ve got a shoot coming up, I’ll do one ab circuit and one crunchless ab workout per week in the final 4-6 weeks leading up to the shoot to sharpen the details. Any other time, one crunchless ab workout per week is plenty to maintain optimal core strength and function.
Favorite Ab Exercises (rectus abdominis hypertrophy)
Hanging leg raises w/ Slings
Weighted cable crunches
Decline board straight leg raises
Stability ball crunches
Stability ball pass
Hanging windshield wipers
Decline board crunch
Crunchless Ab Exercises (core tightening)
Ab wheel rollouts
Photo credit: Jason Breeze