The core training is one of the most commonly done workout routines. The rock hard core, which is considered the cornerstone of an athletic physique is arguably the most difficult body part to develop. Part of the problem is that there are several different types of exercises available for the abs. To fit so many in a single workout is itself a challenge. And, don’t get me started on difficulty in selecting the best suited ones.
Another reason behind the inability to develop abs is that people often fail to understand the anatomy of the midsection. Also, they fail to understand that different exercises target different ab muscles. The crunch is the most commonly done exercise for the abs. But, very few know that crunches only hit upper and mid abs. Then, there is a case of not doing exercises with the right form and flaying yourself around like a fish out of water. So, here are 8 underrated tips that will help you get the special six packs.
Round Your Back
Yes, you read it right. You have to round your back while doing crunches. Your confusion is understandable because in almost every training article, the reverse tip is given. In most of the exercises, to round your back is the biggest mistake you can make. While doing squats, deadlifts, barbell rows or almost any other exercise, you have to keep your back straight to minimize the chances of getting injured and to extract the best out of the exercise. You have to do reverse while training abs. The reason being that maintaining a flat or slightly arched back ensures your opposite muscle, which is abs, won’t be able to fully contract during the exercise routine. And, if the muscle isn’t fully contracted, then it isn’t worked fully.
Keeping your back flat coupled with the fact that people often bend at the waist while doing exercises such as cable crunches and decline crunches, means that your abs muscles aren’t fully engaged. Of course, the argument has been made by some experts against doing crunches itself. So, you can imagine their reaction on being told about rounding the back. The lower back problems don’t come from doing simple crunches, but from doing them over and over, every day, year after year. So, the wise strategy would be to diversify the workout routine.
Emphasize Specific Areas
Yes, it is impossible to isolate individual ab muscles. However, you can emphasize one muscle group over another. Just like you emphasize the upper chest muscles by doing the incline bench press or lower chest muscles by doing decline press.
Most abs routines and exercises places too much emphasis on the upper abs. So, you have to make sure that your ab workout routine has the necessary balance, which can be done by adding lower ab specific training moves. The exercises in which lower body is stabilized and hips hinge as you curl your upper body are predominantly upper abs exercise. A perfect example of such movement is crunches. The cable crunches are another great example.
To put more emphasis on the lower abs, you have to do the reverse, which means the upper body should be static and lower body should do all the work. A good example of such exercise is hanging leg raises. Then, there are some exercises in which both the regions can be targeted. In such exercises, the lower and upper body curls towards each other, such as V-ups. Also, you can target the oblique muscles by doing rotating, twisting or working in lateral plane, such as side bends.
Make Progress in Workout
Most people believe that abs workout is all about doing the same handful of exercises over three sets of twenty five repetitions. This won’t take you anywhere. You need to make progress in your workouts, you have to make them more challenging.
Your abs muscles are like any other muscle group. Tell me, whether you would make any progress, if you continue to do bicep curls with same weight over same number of reps in same number of sets? No, you wouldn’t. You can’t build any muscle without an overload. Overload is what enhances your strength and makes the muscle stronger. And, you can increase overload by increasing the resistance, doing more repetitions of the given exercise and decreasing the rest time. Try to focus on any one variable and give your standard workout a much needed makeover.
Weighted Move First
The abs contain a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers than any other skeletal muscle groups. However that doesn’t mean you won’t have to train fast twitch muscle fibers. And, the best way to train them is to go for the low to moderate reps with added resistance. The fast twitch muscles make almost half of the midsection musculature.
To better hit the fast twitch muscles, start the workout with weighted abs exercise. This will also help build the ridges that give your abs a three dimensional look. Select a weight that allows you to do sets of 8-12 reps until failure. There are number of exercises that you can do with the addition of weight or resistance. For example, you can do classic crunches by holding a weight around your chest. Or, you can do cable crunches with increased resistance.
Also, you can opt to do bodyweight exercises in which leverage and gravity work against you and make the exercise difficult to do. For example, ab rollouts and decline crunches. Also, you can make moderate changes to exercise form to increase the level of difficulty such as raising your arms over your head while doing crunches.
The Peak Contraction
Lifting a weight or doing a particular exercise is great. But, the key to get the maximum benefit out of the movement is to hold the weight or a specific pose. This is called peak contraction and is applicable for every body part. You have to consciously squeeze the muscle at the end of the range of motion. Doing 25 crunches in a set is good. But, squeezing your core at the top of the exercise is what makes it great. Think it doesn’t make any difference? Try some hanging leg raises and hold your legs straight out for a second or two. You will get the point once you do it.
Of course, you would be able to do less reps. But, that doesn’t matter, unless you are working out just to boast about the number of reps you are doing. But, then you can lie about it. Yes, your ego will take a hit, but you would be able to work your muscles in a much better way. The quality and difficulty of the movement is always important.
Never Rest Between Reps
When you are training with cables or machines, it is very easy to allow the plates to touch down during the reps. When the plates touch down, the end of the range of motion instantly vanishes and the strain or load on the muscle disappears as well.
This mechanism can be easily noticed in machine exercises such as chest press machine. This is less obvious in bodyweight exercises that you do to sculpt your midsection. One way to implement this concept while doing bodyweight exercises is to ensure that the load on the muscle remains throughout the exercise. For example, while doing bodyweight exercises in which you have to lie on your back, keep your shoulder blades off the mat as you descent to the lying position. Touching your shoulder blades to the ground means you will have to start new rep from the starting position.
As said earlier, you have to ensure that you maintain quality and difficulty while doing the exercise. By not taking rest between reps, you will place more tension and load on the muscle, which means your muscle will work harder.
Don’t allow Hip Flexors to takeover
First of all, let me clarify which muscles are called hip flexors because majority are bit confused about it. The hip flexors are a group of muscles that emanate from the lower back and pelvic region, and end in the upper region of the thighs. It is often seen that people mistakenly work hip flexors, and believe that they are working lower abs.
The sure sign and most common scenario where your hip flexors take over while doing the abs exercise is when during sit-ups, you pull your upper body through your thighs rather than using your torso to curl your upper body up. In such cases, you would have noticed that you feel strain on your upper thighs. The best way to take your hip flexors out of the equation while doing crunches is to bring your thighs to a 90-degree angle with your hips. Just take your feet off the ground and ensure your shins are parallel to the ground.
Finish with a Plank
Sometimes, the simplest exercise is the best. And, it surely is true in case of plank. Over the past few years, this static exercise has gained immense popularity and has become trainer’s firm favorite. Some experts even argue that plank is more effective than the classic crunches in pursuit to sculpt a flat and hard midsection. The reason why it is considered the best abs exercise is that it works all the muscles in your midsection including rectus abdominus (also known as the “six-pack muscles”), transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, hips, and back. Another great thing about plank is that it burns more calories than any other abs exercise as it employs more muscles.
Also, you don’t have to lie in a prone position to do planks. According to the experts, you can do different standing exercises and at the same time, do a plank like movement. For instance, the pushup is a moving plank. The squats and deadlifts also have a plank type position at the top of the movement. The bicep curls and overhead lift have a plank movement as well.
To put it simply, you can reap the benefits of plank movement in several different exercises by pulling your belly button in as you do the specific exercise. Consciously, contract your core hard while doing the standing exercises such as pressdowns, lateral raises, and shrugs.