Sit-ups aren't good enough - A 3 step guide to building impressive abs
Years With a "Beer Belly"
Whether at the beach, at a swimming pool or even when I was hoping to work some magic with a romantic partner.
I had a significant beer belly, probably from the years of drinking beer and alcohol on nights out, which was usually followed by a kebab or pizza later on in the night or next morning (or both).
I didn't understand why I didn't have abs like I'd seen on the covers of fitness magazines. I often did sit ups in my room, often over 100. Surely this was enough to give me great abs like I'd always wanted? Or so I thought.
Summers came and went, each time I'd sit thinking "this will be the year". For many years, it wasn't, I'd increase the amount of sit ups ready for summer, ensuring my abs were aching every day. Sadly, this still wasn't giving me the results that I wanted.
As time went by, I simply covered my midsection with baggy t-shirts where possible and when visiting the local swimming pool I rushed into the water so my stomach would be disguised by the splashing water.
I remember there was always at least 1 guy in great shape, whether at the beach or the swimming pool, sometimes even at festivals too. They usually had a really attractive partner which I thought must be in part due to their impressive bodies.
Each time I'd see them I'd feel even worse about my own physique and hoped one day if I did even more sit ups, I'd end up with a better body.
What's the Fuss about Abs?
Or maybe your reading this and realised that Summer is not that far away and you want to know all the things you should be doing so when you take your top off, people will be able to grate cheese off your abs.
Whatever your motivation - you'll find everything you need in this guide. This guide will give you the three steps in detail about how to really ensure you spend your time building abs effectively, rather than completing sit ups and hoping for change.
We are only human, and vanity is a motivating factor for many in terms of improving health. Having great abs is about more than picking up that hot person at the beach though!
Great abs are a critical part to a solid core, which can improve posture, increase the strength of various other compound exercises and even help protect you against injury.
These can all have excellent benefits for your sports performance too, whether you're a football player going into a heavy tackle, a baseball player wanting a more powerful swing or even a dancer wanting to pull off some more advanced movement.
Step 1 - Vary your routine
Variety has more benefits than simply broadening your horizons by travelling so that country you've never been before, it's also helps you create an impressive mid-section.
First, it's important to understand a little more about ab-anatomy.
The abdominal section is much more than 6 bubbles you need to sculpt before you head to the beach.
This is the muscle which everyone refers to as the "six-pack" (or if you've been really lucky with genetics, the "eight-pack"). It's made up of a sheet of muscle which connects your rips down to the pelvis.
Typically, the muscles main job is to contract the abdomen or replicate the crunch motion overused by so many. It's also got some bands of connective tissue which go horizontally across the muscle giving it that rippled appearance which creates the visual six-pack.
Similarly to the rectus abdominis, the external obliques run around and down in a diagonal direction towards your pelvis. Due to the location above the waist, they are particularly effective at not only crunching the abdomen left and right, but also for helping twist the torso.
In the gym, you may have seen people grabbing a heavy dumbell or plate and simply lowering and raising one side of their upper body - which is a great way to work the obliques.
When your body fat is low enough, these are the muscles which can help create that V shape around your pelvis, like an impressive belt of muscle.
No prizes for guessing where these guys are hiding! Similarly with the external obliques, these muscles run diagonally from the hip bone towards the center of the body, but sit internally (surprise surprise!).
When activated, these guys compress your abs, rotate and flex the side of your torso.
This is the deepest layer of muscle and wraps around the abdominal area, providing stability and protection for the spine. You can think of this as your biological weightlifting belt.
This area is also referred to as the transversus and can support compressing the abdomen area.
In terms of the exercises which are ore effective than your typical crunch or sit up, there was a study complelted by two individuals at the San Diego State University Biomechanics Lab. These are your guys who really know human anatomy, think of them as your "abdominal engineers".
They uses electromyography, which is simply a technique to measure the electrical signaling of different muscles that are being activated, their results were pretty interesting...
As can be seen above, there's much better exercises to use if you're really looking to activate the entire abdominal region.
If you're really eager to start creating an impressive set of abs, pick 3 or 4 exercises to build into a weekly ab routine and see how you feel after 8-10 weeks.
Here's a whole list of exercises which are more effective than the traditional crunch to build great abs:
- Ab wheel roll outs
- Side planks
- Hanging leg raises
- Leg raises
- Floor wipers
- Turkish get ups
- Bicycle crunches
- Russian twists
- Decline sit-ups
Remember - there's nothing to stay you can't combine exercises either...
If you're feeling up to it, try some rotation based abdominal exercises straight after a few reps of a regular ab exercise - for example, after doing 60 seconds of the plank, try 30 seconds doing a side plank on each side!
Alternatively, after a few hanging leg raises, try raising your legs to the left and the right to give your obliques a bit more work too.
Of course, it's worth noting that the body functions most effectively as a single unit - which is why compound movements are the effective for a number of reasons.
With this in mind, don't forget to make the most of your full body movements, even if building up your abs is a priority.
By building heavy squats, deadlifts and other "big effort" exercises you'll not only be helping to stabilize your core, but also giving your body a great big testosterone boost to support fat loss and muscle gain. Not bad considering you'll be done in half the time too!
Step 2 - Train to Grow
Though a crude example, it does ring true...
"Abs on a skinny guy are like huge boobs on an obese woman - they just don't count" - Anon.
In this regard, you're more likely to end up with a torso looking like Justin Bieber at age 15 unless you spend time growing your abdominal muscles into something more respectable.
Building muscle isn't a magical process, it simply requiredthree essential components.
Your abs are no different. Doing sit-ups every night to build an impressive six pack is the same thought process as doing press ups every night to create a powerful chest, but is much, much less effective.
But how can you effectively grow your abdominal muscles?
The same as any other muscle:
Get your nutrition right
The formula is consistent no matter what muscle you're hoping to build.
If it's the first time you're stepping into a gym, or you've simply not worked out in more months than you care to remember - you'll want to start small.
Try 2 abdominal sessions a week where you try 3 of the recommended ab exercises and complete 3 sets of 12 reps.
Once you're a little more comfortable, try 3 or 4 of the recommended ab exercises and complete 3 or 4 sets of 12-15 reps whilst using a hand weight to make the exercises slightly harder.
After a few weeks, you'll want to move onto something a bit more advanced. Try 4-5 of the recommended ab exercises and complete 5 sets of 12-15 reps whilst using a hand weight around 10kg where possible to push your abs even further!
A couple of ways you can add weights to the exercises listed:
- Ab wheel roll outs - start on your feet rather than your knees
- Planks - add a plate onto your back (may need the help of a friend!)
- Side planks - hold a weight in the air
- Hanging leg raises - grab a weight with your feet
- Leg raises - grab a weight with your feet
- Floor wipers - grab a weight with your feet
- Turkish get ups - use a heavier kettlebell
- Bicycle crunches - hold a weight behind your head
- Russian twists - use a heavier kettlebell
- Decline sit-ups - hold a weight behind your head
- V-sits - hold a weight above your head and meet your toes as you reach up
Once you're cruising through several weighted sets of different exercises with ease - you'll have a fairly strong and developed torso, you'll almost certainly have a six pack by now - the only question is whether you can see it!
Step 3 - Cut body fat!
This is probably the most obvious step of them all - yet for some people it can often be the most challenging. You can spend months building up your abdominal strength - but if you're body fat percentage is significantly higher than the number of toes you have, you won't be able to see much definition (if any!).
So how do we actually show off the hard earned abs we've been working for over the months?
Ideally - we'll need to get our levels of body fat below 10-12%, which takes both time and dedication.
Nobody said getting a great six pack was easy right?
Check out the images below to get a sense of what different body fat percentages look like, if you're looking to measure your own levels of body fat there's a range of calculators online but your most accurate reading will come from a professional examination (which can be fairly expensive!).
- Intermittent Fasting (eating all your calories in an 8 hour window every day)
- Calorie counting (using something like MyFitnessPal)
- Adopting a low carbohydrate diet
...just to name a few.
Losing bodyfat is not always easy and it's something lots of people in the Western World struggle with on a regular basis.
Making sure you keep an eye on the basics will help you along your journey and make sure you can identify when things are working and when things aren't:
- Try weighing yourself naked in the morning
- Take a picture of yourself in your underwear at the same time each week (don't worry - you don't need to submit your pictures to us!)
- Track what you eat
These things can give you some visual and quantitative data to look at and compare. Some questions you might have in mind if your weight changes or doesn't change:
- Have I potentially built muscle?
- Has my weight been gradually increasing for more than a couple of days? In which case do I need to eat less?
- Am I eating enough to have enough energy day to day whilst still losing weight?
- Does my body look slimmer?
- Do my clothes fit looser?
- How far away am I from my body fat percentage goal?
Use the answers to these questions to help you identify what's working and what isn't. With enough thought and dedication, you can watch the pounds of fat drop off week after week to reveal the toned set of abs you've worked for!
6-Pack Workout Plans
We're a bunch of really nice people here at 1 Hour Athlete, because of that we've gone ahead and created 4 different ab routines, and by the way, it's all free!
Ranging from beginner to intermediate, advanced and finally insane - whatever shape you're in you'll be sure to find a routine which can kick start your journey to an impressive set of abs.
Give them a go - and be sure to let us know how you find them by leaving a comment below!
Head out for 2 nights of drinking and pizza per week and you can almost definitely say goodbye to your ambitions of an impressive core section.
As there's a fair bit of work involved, you'll have to be fairly dedicated to really get great results. For many people this might mean making some sacrifices.
For example, if you're truly committed to an incredible six-pack and you're heading out to a restaurant, ordering a large burger, chips, milkshake and dessert will put a serious roadblock on your journey to being "ab-tastic". This is particularly the case if it happens more than once a week or if your diet isn't absolutely impeccable for the rest of the time!
Another example would be similar when it is a friends birthday. We all love to go and have a good time with friends, but if you're a "weekend-warrior" your fat loss journey won't be so easy.
Those beers on a Friday night, which might be followed by a pizza or fried chicken, will drop layers of fat around your mid-section. Carry any more than 12% body fat and all the work in the gym on your abs will be invisible to everyone but you.
If you're truly dedicated, a six-pack is always fun to have, despite the sacrifices you might need to make. You will have to decide for yourself whether you are prepared to make those sacrifices however!
So there you have it - your 3 step guide to build impressive abs and the six pack that you've been hoping for each Summer. Follow the 3 simple steps and you'll be sure to be successful.
Or maybe you know someone who is interested in a new ab routine?
Then why not share this article on Facebook? :)