When it comes to abdominal training you have three different theories that people feel will give you the best results.
Which Group Is Right?
On one hand, you have the group that usually has a high body fat percentage, eats a poor diet, and believes that high rep abdominal training will magically melt the fat off of their midsection.
The second group will diet very strict and feel that since they can see their abs, they don’t have to train them at all, and also rationalize not training them due to the fact that they get trained indirectly from performing compound exercises.
The third group will be on and off with their diet and train their abs hard and heavy on a regular basis. This group feels that by training them hard they will make the abs grow, causing them to be visible through their abdominal fat.
None Are Right!
For maximum results I do not believe that any one of the three groups is correct in their belief.
My personal feeling regarding abdominal training is to use resistance exercise to develop the muscle, and then diet real strictly to strip the body fat from the body in order to make the abdominal muscles visible.
If you apply one of these methods but not the other (such as: dieting and not training your abs, or training your abs really hard, but not staying strict on your diet), you will not achieve maximum results for your efforts.
To develop your abdominal muscles to their full potential you must follow a strict high protein, moderate carbohydrate, moderate fat diet, in order for your body fat to be at a low enough level to make your abs visible.
Diet is approximately 80% of the equation in bodybuilding, and if your diet is not on point, you will not receive the results that you are after.
Well, enough talk about the diet (since I have covered that in numerous articles already) – it’s time to discuss abdominal training.
When training your midsection, I feel that you should either start with lower abdominal exercises where the legs come towards the chest (leg raises, knee-ins), and then finish with upper abdominal exercises where the chest comes towards the hips and oblique muscles (sit ups, crunches, machines, side crunches).
The abdominal exercises for your lower abs are usually harder, which is why I believe that you are better off putting those exercises first in your workout.
Another way to use this approach is to alternate between a lower abdominal exercise and an upper abdominal exercise, and then finish up with your oblique muscles.
Now that I have this out of the way, let’s discuss the best exercises to maximally develop your abdominal muscles.
Hanging Leg Raises
I believe that hanging leg raises for your lower abdominal muscles are like doing squats for legs and bench press for chest. This exercise is the hardest exercise for the abs, but it will also give you the best results. The hardest part of this exercise is to contract your legs up with your abdominal muscles, and to not let the rest of your body become involved in the exercise, causing your body to start swinging.
This will take some practice as well as concentration. I would also recommend that you use wrist wraps with this exercise so that you don’t have to worry about your hands slipping off the bar.
For sets and reps on this exercise I recommend starting off with two to three sets, while aiming to get 10-15 reps on each set.
If you can do more reps per set, I wouldn’t recommend going over 20 reps, and if you can I would advise that you try putting a very light dumbbell in between your feet to ad some resistance to the exercise. This would allow you to keep your reps in the 15-20 range.
Decline crunches are the second best mass builder for the abdominal muscles.
Similar to the hanging leg raise being the hardest exercise for the lower abs, this exercise, when performed at a steep decline is the hardest exercise for the upper abs. When performing this exercise you want to keep your lower back really tight and keep your chest up through out each rep.
As far as hand positioning goes I like to keep them across my chest if you are not holding a weight plate. Breathing technique is also very important with abdominal training to get a maximal contraction on each rep.
On the negative portion of the rep you should be taking a deep breath, and then exhaling at the contraction while squeezing your abs.
For this exercise the sets and reps should be similar to the hanging leg raise. However, with decline crunches I feel the reps should stay in the 15-25 range for two to three sets.
What I like to do with this exercise is perform the first set with no weight for 25 reps. On the second set I will hold a 25lbs plate and perform 20 reps.
For the last set I will go up to a 45lb plate and do 15 reps, then drop the 45lb plate and grab the 25lb plate and do another 15 reps, then do another 15 reps with my own bodyweight.
Cross Bench Knee-Ins
This is somewhat of a difficult exercise to describe on paper but I will do my best. For cross bench knee-ins (seated flat bench leg pull-ins) you position your body across a bench and place your hands with an underhand on either side of the bench. Your butt should be positioned at the far edge of the pad, almost like your going to slip off and keep your legs out in front of you.
You then want to balance your body with your hands and your legs while keeping your abs tight. Now what you want to do is perform a knee-in in the position you are in.
In the contracted position you want to bring your chest towards your knees and squeeze your abs for a hard contraction. This exercise will target the lower abdominal region as well as the upper abdominal region.
I feel that this exercise should only be used with bodyweight, keeping your reps in the 15-20 range for 2-3 sets.
If you are really strong with this exercise you could place a light dumbbell in between your feet to add some resistance, but I would still try to keep your reps up in the 15-20 range.
Kneeling Rope Pulley Crunches
Another great exercise that targets the upper abdominal region is rope pulley crunches (cable crunches) with added resistance. This exercise is pretty easy to explain, you basically just kneel in front of a cable station while holding the ropes over your head.
One key point is to make sure your knees are in the right position in front of the cable stack or you will not feel the exercise correctly.
When you’re set correctly in front of the stack, you then pull down on the ropes while contracting your abs. At the end of the rep the ropes should be pulled down on either side of your head, then slowly let the rope come back up to stretch your abs before performing another rep.
For sets and reps I feel that three sets of 15-20 reps should be sufficient on this exercise.
Start your first set with a lighter weight and work up to heavier weights through out the set. If you want you could even perform a triple drop set on this exercise going from a heavier weight to lighter weights, but I do not feel it is necessary if you already performed a triple drop set on the decline crunch.
Cable Side Bends
The last exercise in this workout are cable side bends for the oblique and intercostals muscles.
For this exercise you want to have a handle attachment on the cable, with a moderate weight on the stack. You then want to grab the handle and take a few steps away from the cable stack so that there is tension on the cable.
Using the handle on the cable you want to pull down and squeeze your side to contract you oblique muscles. After you perform one set for one side of your body turn around and perform another set for your other side right after.
I do not feel that a lot of oblique work is necessary but this is one exercise that I find valuable to add to your workouts. For this exercise 2-3 sets of 20-25 reps should be more than enough to finish off this abdominal blast.
This workout that I’ve outlined is a pretty detailed and intense abdominal workout. However if your diet is not on point you can do this workout for years and still not see one visible abdominal muscle.
I suggest performing this workout twice per week, and coupled with an effective fat loss diet you should see your abs poking through in no time.
You have to remember though, everyone has their abs; they’re usually just covered with a thick layer of fat. So get to work!