Targeting 6 Pack Abs
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
In my many years of personal training and helping clients and athletes achieve their goals the question I get the most is how to improve their abdominals. The abdominals are the focal point of any person’s physique. What a person’s midsection looks like will immediately tell you what type of shape or condition they are in. If a person has lean, ripped, 6 pack abs it tells you right away the rest of their body is lean and ripped.
The human body has a certain body fat distribution pattern and if someone has a ripped midsection they will most certainly have low body fat in general over the rest of their body. You don’t ever see a person with ripped abs and layers of fat rolling off their arms do you? Of course not, but at the same time you can see someone with ripped arms and at the same time still have plenty of body fat still around their midsection.
So the key to getting great abdominals is simple……..low body fat. A person doesn’t get low body fat by devoting a bunch of their training to lots of abdominal exercises. They get it through following a proper strength training program and most importantly a proper nutrition program. You can’t bring out cuts, definition, or tone (I hate that word because it has nothing to do with low body fat and is incorrectly used all the time in the fitness field) in a certain area like the abdominals by doing specific exercises to target that area.
The only thing that brings out cuts and definition is loss of body fat, period. I tell clients all the time that I will guarantee that they won’t achieve their fitness goals if they don’t follow a strict and consistent nutrition program (like the Eiden Principles nutrition program). A person can train as long and hard as they want but it will never compensate for a good nutrition program. With this all being said it doesn’t mean you should never do specific abdominal exercises. The abdominals are like any other body part and need to be trained to ensure balance and to prevent an injury from a muscle imbalance.
How should I train my abdominal region?
The abdominals are composed of primarily fast twitch muscle fibers, not slow twitch (endurance) muscles, and because of that should be trained with lower to more moderate repetitions. You wouldn’t go and do 100 repetitions of squats or bench press would you? No, then why would you do 100’s of repetitions of crunches or some other abdominal exercise?
What are the best abdominal exercises?
The best exercises for the abdominals are exercises most people would never think of. The best exercises for the abdominals are squats, dead lifts, chin-ups, and other big multi joint movements that require the abdominals, and also lower back, for stabilization. When I tell clients this they are always surprised to hear that these bigger movements work the abdominals more than any specific, isolation exercise you can do.
This has been proven in studies using EMG (electromyography). EMG measures the amount of muscles being recruited or used in a certain exercise. EMG has proven that best movements for the abdominals are big, multi joint exercises like squats, dead lifts, and chin-ups. There have even been studies proving that a person gets more benefit all around (fat loss, building muscle, etc.) from following a complete total body workout using big multi joint exercises to train their abdominals along with just one specific abdominal exercise than following a program consisting of just several different specific abdominal exercises (crunches, leg raises, reverse crunches, etc.).
So what do you recommend for abdominal training?
I suggest setting up a complete strength training program that trains the entire body through big, multi joint movements (squats, chin-ups, presses, lunges, etc.). I would use this to get the majority of your abdominal work in and then supplement with an exercise or two of some direct, specific abdominal training for the rest of your abdominal work. These one or two specific abdominal exercises shouldn’t take up a long time in your workout with 5 to 7 minutes being more than enough if done correctly.
If you are doing lots of big, multi joint movements in your workout program (like I like to use with my clients) then doing specific abdominal work may not be needed. In a couple of photo shoots I trained hard to get my body ready for in December 2011 I did 4 things (or didn’t do) that most in the fitness industry don’t do when trying to get in great shape. They are 1) I didn’t count calories. Don’t count calories but instead make calories count by eating the right foods, at the right times, and in the right portions. 2) I didn’t weigh myself.
I go by what I see in the mirror and how I feel. I think if a person lets the scale tell them what type of progress they are or aren’t making then they will most certainly never get in the best shape that they are capable of. 3) I didn’t do any traditional aerobics. I let my nutrition and weight training workouts burn the body fat and I do high intensity, short duration (12 minutes), interval training cardio work that is much more anaerobic in nature than aerobic only 2 to 3 times a week. 4) I didn’t do any direct or specific abdominal work.
My abs got their work thru the big movements like squats, dead lifts, and chin ups. I know the key to great abs is just getting your body fat low, not doing a bunch of abdominal exercise like crunches, sit ups, leg raises, etc. I mean when you look at a guy who has great arms or a great chest you are looking at that persons muscle development and noticing that. You can recognize if they have great development in those areas even if they have a decent amount of body fat. With the abdominals there is no one who would point to a guy with a gut and say he has great abs. He could have excellent abdominal development but no one would be able to tell if his abdominals were covered in layers of fat. When a person notices that a person has great abdominals they are noticing them because that person’s body fat is low or very low. This is because if a person’s body fat isn’t low you wouldn’t be able to recognize that person’s abdominal development where as with other body parts you would still be able to recognize it.
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