The route to a defined six pack

Written by Mark Coles - Follow on Google+ | Facebook | Twitter

There’s no doubting that one of the most talked about parts of a toned physique is the abdominal muscles. It’s one of the main parts of the body that really defines someone’s condition.

If I had a pound for the amount of times people have asked me about toning up their stomach, I’d be a very rich man!

Now I’m sure you will have heard the phrase “six packs are made in the kitchen”, to a certain degree I do agree. After all you can’t show off your abs with a thick layer of body fat covering them.

So with that in mind there will be two types of people who will be reading this article. Those that think I’m going to give a magic exercise to help shift the fat from around your belly, and those that are already in quite good shape but still need help to reveal their abs.

For those of you who think I’m going to reveal a super fat burning exercise, you’re going to be disappointed when I tell you that there isn’t one!  If over the years you’ve been out and bought all the six pack toners and DVD’s, you’ve been royally conned!! For you guys, your journey to seeing your abs really does start in the kitchen and knuckling down to some serious training.

As a guide for you, a guy will start to see an outline of his abs at 12/13% body fat and a female at around 14/15%. I’m not saying that at these reading you’re going to have a shredded six pack, I’m just giving you this as a guide. If you have your readings done and you’re a lot higher, then you’ll need to get back in to the kitchen and make the necessary tweaks to your nutrition.

If you’ve been reading my website for any length of time, you’ll also know that stress and insulin play a big part in body fat that accumulates around the stomach. If you’re unfamiliar with these two hormones, take some time to read these articles, “Cortisol and how it relates to belly fat” and “Insulin sensitivity and the connection to fat loss”.

At this point I may have a few unhappy readers who feel disheartened that they’re just not lean enough to see their abs. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to train them. If you’re not lean enough yet, just keep pushing on with your diet and training and you’ll soon start to see the outline of your abs appearing.  If you’ve been training them along side losing the fat you’ll be even more happy with the results when they finally come through. (If you need a structured nutrition/training programme, pick up a copy of my re launched and updated 8 Week Physique e-book).

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Now before I get into the fun stuff, I want to cover an area that is a very popular subject. There are a lot of articles on the internet where various different coaches and trainers say that the best exercises for the abs are the squat and the deadlift. Whilst I agree that these exercises are essential and that they do train the vital “core” muscles which support performance, our objective is the presentation of muscle as in our body transformations. Therefore the main reason someone directly trains their abs with us is to support their growth so that they look better.

As an experiment I took this information and decided to try it on myself, I dropped my weekly abs sessions and just focussed on my major lifts. What I noticed after a month was a distinct lack in definition and thickness to my abs (especially my lower abs) and they weren’t anywhere near as thick and prominent as before.   One thing that I did notice from this experiment is that they didn’t take long to come back once I put ab training back in. After only a few weeks of direct work I could notice a huge difference. So what I do now is only really focus on direct ab workouts when I’m at a time in the year when I really want them to stand out (holiday season!!). I allow 3 weeks of intense ab work and it doesn’t take long for them to creep back out.

I feel that it’s important to also mention that there are a lot of articles and research on the internet that look into the potential damage that direct abdominal training can cause to your spine.

In my opinion I think a lot of it is down to poorly structured strength training programmes. The type of people I hear of who suffer from training induced lower back injuries, are the very same people who use poor exercise form and are those who have a program designed around only training shoulders, arms, quads and abs.

A well-balanced program needs to include the very important postural and posterior chain muscles, these include the glutes, hamstrings and back muscles (including the lower back). Injuries to the lower back can come from poor posture such as a rounded spine, they can develop from sitting bent over at work or driving a car all day.

If your training programme puts you in these similar positions every day, it’s no surprise that 100 crunches at the end of your workout might bring on some tightness. When I design a programme for someone, I might leave direct ab work out until I have fixed a lot of the postural issues, I then bring it in towards the end when they’re getting leaner.

We’ve now reached the bit of the article that you’ve have been waiting for, the training side of things. I see loads of people hammering the weights and conditioning only to see them head over to the mats to do 3 sets of crunches before heading home.

Unfortunately, if you want to get that hard and chiselled look, you’re going to need to dedicate a little bit more time than that. I tend to do abs on a conditioning day, or I even do them on an off day, this allows me time to focus on each exercise.

Another point to make is that you won’t grow your abs without resistance. The moment I added load or made the exercises harder was the moment my abs started to grow and become more defined. So, from now on I always do resisted abdominal training.

I do abs in a tri set format as I’ve set out below or I add two or more exercises on top to form a giant set. I find that this system works a lot better than just focussing on one set, then rest etc. You’ll take half the time and get a lot more work done.

So, if you feel you’re abs are lacking, give this work out a try:‚Äč

A1. Weighted abdominal crunch on a swiss ball (keep your chin pressed firmly against your chest to minimise activity of your neck muscles and hold a dumbbell on your chest). Reach back lengthening your abs, before crunching back up, whilst keeping your chin on your chest.

  • 10 -12 reps
  • 3 sets
  • 2020 tempo
  • 10 seconds rest

 
A2. Bench Garhammer leg raise (30-degree incline bench) Lower your legs at 90 degrees whilst keeping your lower back flat against the bench

  • 10 – 12 reps
  • 3 sets
  • 2110 tempo
  • 10 seconds rest

 
A3. Body weight Side plank (rest on your elbow with your body parallel to the floor)

  • 30 seconds each side
  • 3 sets


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