A well defined midsection is a clear illustration of pleasing aesthetics, conveying strength, power, endurance and health. For men, a defined midsection is one aspect of the important V-taper appearance, the desired look of a narrow waist and wide shoulders. For women, who tend to carry more fat around the abdomen than men, a defined midsection aids in the fit and athletic look. Looking past the aesthetical appeal of well exercised abdominals, the core muscles of the body play a fundamental role in overall body strength and function. Abdominal workouts which focus on core strength may benefit sports men and women, who are constantly twisting and turning during their discipline, or require overhead movements.
An abdominal workout for a sportsman will likely differ than that of a person seeking a greater aesthetical look, with both goals requiring different approaches. Different exercises, training frequency, rest times, rep ranges, number of sets, and resistance will impact on gains made in muscle strength, endurance and hypertrophy (size). Abdominal workouts which focus on exercises using low repetition and high resistance will tend to result in greater strides in muscular strength, great for those looking for explosive power and twisting in sporting disciplines. Abdominal workouts which include high repetitions with a lower resistance will improve abdominal endurance, which may be of benefit for those who take part in endurance sporting events, and also those looking for a flat stomach (due to low muscle hypertrophy occurring).
The desired six pack look requires a slightly different approach than the methods described above. Developing a defined midsection, with a visible six pack, requires the same principals as any other muscle you wish to define, with resistance training a stimulus for muscle hypertrophy, and an effort to reduce body fat levels via cardiovascular training and dietary intake. The increase in muscle size, whilst a reduction in body fat, will result in a more defined abdominal region.
The problems many face when trying to develop the classic six pack look are the lack of body fat reduction, and also the incorrect abdominal training for optimal hypertrophy. Dietary intake should reflect the goals of reducing body fat, whilst ensuring the correct nutrients are consumed to fuel workouts and growth of muscle tissue. Cardiovascular training is commonly implemented during fat loss phrases to increase calorie expenditure. The abdominal workouts should involve exercises which effectively target the Rectus Abdominis, incorporating correct resistance and rep ranges, including time under tension. Quick repetitions during abdominal exercises, such as crunches, will reduce the time under tension per repetition, plus increase the amount of momentum used for each rep. Every repetition should be performed in a controlled manner, allowing the muscle to contract, and relax, to cause the exercise movement.
The “six pack” look
Crunches (add resistance for progression) – 15 reps x 2 sets
Roman chair hip raise – 15 reps x 2 sets
Twisting crunches (add resistance for progression) – 15 reps x 2 sets
Perform 2-3 times per week, with at least a day’s rest between each session. Supplement into an overall balanced resistance training program. The aim of this abdominal workout is to aid in muscle hypertrophy (growth) of the midsection, to make the muscles more pronounced. Compound the muscle growth with a reduction in body fat and the result is a more defined abdominal region.
Cable crunches – 8 reps x 3 sets
Hanging hip raise – 8 reps x 3 sets
Twisting cable crunches – 8 reps x 2 sets
Perform 2-3 times per week, supplemented into overall strength training. Including the low repetition work, with the higher resistance, will train towards increased strength of the Rectus Abdominis and Obliques. It is important to remember the core muscles are constantly contracting during heavy compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts and over head pressing, and therefore the implementation of direct abdominal work should be planned carefully.
Endurance / flat stomach
Crunches – 25-50 reps x 2 sets
Laying hip raise – 25-50 reps x 2 sets
Perform 2-3 times per week, ensuring at least a day’s rest between workouts.
The above abdominal workouts are sample plans, and are based around exercise choice and rep ranges for the various goals. The workouts are best tweaked and integrated into an overall resistance training plan. Take a look at our – core exercises and muscles section for more details on abdominal exercises and muscle information.