Everybody wants a tight midsection. In fact, the standard for midsection perfection has risen to a new level over the past few years, and flat is no longer good enough. People crave chiseled abdominals. The obvious reason for this is that a flat stomach with sharp delineation rivets people's eyes to your physique, and a muscular midsection (for a man or woman) says you're in shape and ready for action more than any other body-part.
Abdominal training has come a long way since the days of situps, situps and more situps. You rarely see trainees performing this exercise anymore because people realized that the rectus abdominus' range of motion is fairly short, and trainees began emphasizing the crunch to etch the upper abs and incline or hanging kneeups to hit the lower portion. While the rectus abdominus is actually one muscle, studies suggest that the upper and lower sections can work somewhat independently; the upper abs pull your rib cage toward your pelvis, and the lower abs curl your hips toward your navel.
So there you have it. Crunches and kneeups, ab article over, right? Not quite. Ab training has taken a giant leap forward lately, and anyone interested in the fastest results possible should be aware of an innovation in this area. It's called the Ab Bench, and according to its developer, Fred Hatfield, Ph.D., its curved back support is what makes it so special. This revolutionary, albelt simple, alteration makes the standard crunch movement not only more comfortable but tremendously more effective because the curved pad allows you to prestretch your abs prior to crunching into the maximum-contracted position. With a prestretch you activate the myotatic reflex, which causes the abdominals to contract with more force so that you get more muscle stimulation with each rep. When you do a standard crunch, the floor or bench you're lying on prevents you from reaching this prestretch position. In other words, you're only working half of the abs' range and drastically cutting the exercise's effectiveness. The Ab Bench solves this problem and makes full-range abdominal exercise a reality. Once you introduce this piece of equipment into your ab routine, you'll never go back to standard crunches again, guaranteed.
Some experts say that the Ab Bench also works the lower-ab region when you reach the contracted position and then pull forward into an upright posture, but beware that the upper and lower actions are almost pure isolation movements. While you should strive to isolate target muscles, most bodybuilders will tell you that isolation exercises work best when they're used in conjunction with compound, or multi-muscle, movements. For example, squats, a compound quad exercise, along with leg extensions, an isolation quad exercise, make for a much more effective leg workout than the extensions alone. This is because the human body's muscles are intertwined, and compound movements tend to more closely simulate natural actions than forced isolation does.
Nevertheless, isolation exercises are very important when you're after the most rapid development. Just don't neglect compound movements. For example, hanging or inclined kneeups, in which you pull your upper legs into your chest and roll your hips toward your abdomen at the end of each rep, involve both the hip flexors and the abdominals. Follow a few sets of this compound exercise with a couple of sets on the Ab Bench, and you have one of the most powerful, efficient ab routines going. Here's how that program looks:
- Incline kneeups 2 x 8-12
- Ab Bench crunches 2-3 x 8-12
If you don't have access to an Ab Bench, the following routine will also work wonders on just about anyone's midsection:
- Incline kneeups 2 x 8-12
- Cable crunches* 2-3 x 8-12
- *With low-back support from your partner so you achieve a prestretch.
Work either of these routines For a more in-depth analysis of ab twice a week with about a minute's training, as well as training for the rest between exercises and watch as other major bodyparts.
Perfect Ab Exercises
Lie on a slant board that's set at a fairly high incline. With your legs extended and a slight bend at your knees, raise your legs up. As they reach the point where they're perpendicular to the floor, roll your hips toward your navel, bringing your knees into your chest. Hold for a two count, and return to the starting position. Tip: Exhale hard as your knees come into your chest to enhance the abdominal contraction.
Ab Bench Crunch
Sit on the Ab Bench with the arch of the bench against your middle back. Grab the rope handles, pull them down onto your chest until the cross-piece behind your head is about one inch from your neck. Anchor your hands on your chest and allow the weight to pull you back into the prestretch position as you lift your rib cage. With a quick twitch, drive down into a crunch position to where your abs are contracted. Without pausing, pull yourself forward another inch or two until your body is upright, or perpendicular to the floor. Slowly return to the starting position. Tip: Don't pause at the top; instead, twitch out of the prestretch position to activate the myotatic reflex.
Hook a double-rope attachment to an overhead pulley. Get on your knees facing away from the weight stack and hold the ends of the rope behind your head. Have your partner place his or her hand on your lower back so that you can arch your back and prestretch your abdominals. From this prestretch position quickly twitch and drive down into the abs' fully contracted position. Hold for a count of two and then return to the starting position. Tip: Don't mimic a situp motion; instead, crunch down, curling your torso and bending your spine.
The Hard-Body Diet
No routine will etch in delineation if there's a thick layer of fat covering your midsection. You must be lean if you want those abs to stand out in bold relief, and the key to getting lean is to eat clean.
Clean eating means you focus on consuming the foods that give you the proper fuel for your particular lifestyle. Bodybuilders are anaerobic animals, and that means you need foods that provide you with enough glycogen to fuel high-intensity muscle contractions and enough protein to repair your muscles after you train. A diet that consists of 50 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat is just about perfect for any athlete interested in building muscle. For example, six ounces of lowfat cottage cheese on top of four pear halves (canned in their own juice, not syrup) gives you 282 calories, 22 grams of protein, six grams of fat and 35 grams of carbs. That translates into 31 percent protein, 19 percent fat and 50 percent carbs, almost a perfect meal as far as bodybuilding macronutrient percentages go.
If you strive to keep all of your meals close to the above percentages and then reduce your calories little by little (say, every week or two) and/or step up your aerobic activity, you can essentially build muscle as you melt fat. This will transform your physique and make your muscles more visible in no time.
If you're really serious about a physical transformation, get a set of fat calipers, such as those in the Accu-Measure Body Composition Kit, so you can monitor your progress. The scale alone simply doesn't cut it, especially if you add muscle as you lose fat. In most cases your scale could be arrested for fraud! For example, imagine putting on five pounds of muscle and losing five pounds of fat. You look fantastic and feel better, but your scale says nothing happened. Talk about frustrating! When you use the AccuMeasure calipers, you can actually track how much muscle you gained and fat you lost, so you know exactly where you stand, no guesswork necessary.
Lose fat at a moderate pace, methodically and sensibly, and use fat calipers to monitor exactly where you stand on a regular basis, and you'll be happier, healthier and sexier and those abs will look as if they've been doing some serious battle with a hammer and chisel.