A classic “six pack” is on everyone’s wish list yet, surprisingly, most people are not willing to do what is necessary to attain it. In the first place, if you are significantly overweight, you will have to lose weight before there is any hope of washboard abs anyway. There might be a legitimate six pack under there somewhere, but you will have to find it by losing that excess baggage first.
The impressive six packs you see on bodybuilders in the muscle mags are not realistic for the average person (unless you are only seeking a one-time “look”). These extraordinary abs are the result of concentrated training and diet for a specific moment on stage or a photo shoot – it is NOT what they typically look like between contests. In fact, it is not unusual for some bodybuilders to carry an additional 30-40 pounds of extra bodyweight between contests. Unfortunately, drugs – namely steroids and other performance enhancing drugs – often contribute to the artificially enhanced abs that you see in many magazines too.
Some models (males in particular) are able to maintain some semblance of a six pack year-round – although not usually as remarkable as the six packs on bodybuilders – but they typically want to maintain a leaner appearance anyway so that they will not project larger on screen. The so-called six packs of most movie stars and celebrities that you see in the magazines, with some exceptions (e.g. Hugh Jackman) are not six packs at all and are, in fact, almost laughable. Sometimes you have to look hard to see any real “muscle” – they are just plain skinny. Worse, sometimes the six packs are artificially painted (see the recent feature on “Dancing with the Stars”).
But, assuming that you are not more than 10-15 pounds overweight to start with, what can you do to start developing some definition in the mid-section in short order?
In the first place, get over the fact that you hate working abs. Everybody hates working abs, so deal with it. Ab work is boring and time-consuming. But, the fact remains, if you don’t dedicate enough time and effort to working your abs, you will have to be content with your generous “one-pack.”
You should ask yourself why you are willing to spend hours doing cardio, perform multiple sets and reps in the weight room, and participate in every kind of group exercise in the world, but not spend an equal amount of time and effort working on the one body part that you covet the most – your abs. Working the abs is typically an afterthought – something you do have after you have finished the rest of your workout. If you have time. Why not make it an integral part of your entire workout?
Let’s make it easy. Work your abs every day. No exceptions. Even if you take a day off from your regular workout regimen, do something for your abs every day. Unlike other muscle groups, you can work your abs every day. Forget the old adage that you should give each muscle group at least a day’s rest between workouts. Baloney. You’re not trying to make your abs bigger – you’re trying to make them more defined. Some fitness professionals might disagree with this philosophy, but – hey – different strokes for different folks. It has always worked for me, and it has always worked for my clients, and I have been doing this for a very long time.
What’s the difference between working abs and working other body parts? In all likelihood you are typically using some form of resistance or weight bearing exercises for the other muscle groups – all of which are significantly smaller muscle groups that might require at least a day of rest between workouts for optimal results. However, the abs represent a much larger muscle group with more endurance than most other muscle groups and, in most cases, you are performing repetitions on your ab work without resistance. The midsection is also where most of the fat stores itself. It is true that you can’t spot reduce, but you CAN work abs harder and longer than other muscle groups to firm and tone the muscles to bring out the definition.
Some people might use cables or dumbbells to stimulate their abs with greater resistance than their own bodyweight, but keep in mind that the abs will grow with increased resistance just like any other muscle group. Is that what you want?
I can remember when I was wrestling in college and began using increasingly heavier dumbbells to perform side bends for my obliques (you know – those cute love handles on each side of your waist). My obliques were already rock hard from hours of wrestling and calisthenics but, to my dismay, they began to grow larger as I increased the amount of weight that I was using. It actually helped me in wrestling by strengthening my upper torso – particularly for escapes and reversals – but they were a real bear to reduce back down to normal size after the season.
Next, break up your ab exercises, whatever they might be – crunches, leg raises, hanging raises, or whatever – into sets and perform them in intervals instead of trying to do them all at once. For example, try doing a set of abs between every set of every exercise that you perform in the weight room. In other words, superset your abs with whatever other muscle group you are working. You’re undoubtedly going to rest between sets on your other exercises anyway, so why not do a set of abs while you are resting? What else are you going to do? By the time you finish your workout you will have completed more reps on your abs than you have probably ever done in your entire life but, by performing them in between your other exercises, you won’t be bored and they will no longer be just an afterthought.
If you are doing only cardio and not doing any resistance training, shame on you. But in that case, do a set of abs when you first get up in the morning, before and after your cardio workout, and before you go to bed at night.
Continue your cardio and whatever dietary means you are using to reach your optimal bodyweight because even though you are developing your abs with this regimen, they will not show substantially until you have lost that last 10-15 pounds. In no time at all, your abs will begin to peek through that last layer of adipose tissue and show themselves in all their glory.