We may well be approaching “sweater weather,” but is it ever a bad time to talk about abs? This article aims to overview the nutrition and training protocol to develop your abs into a facet of your physique you can be proud of.
Abs have gained this reputation as an enigma for gym-goers. Should I do sit-ups? How many sit-ups? Does what I eat matter? I’ve been to two Orange Theory classes so why don’t I have abs? Etc. Here, I hope you find your answers.
Nutritional requirements for visible abs
You often hear “Abs are made in the kitchen,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. You can perform the best training routines in the world, but ultimately too much belly fat will obscure your abs from being visible. So, how lean should you be?
Abs become appreciably visible at ~10% body fat for men and ~17% for women. That’s a huge generalization because everyone does lose fat differently. Personally, my belly is one of the most stubborn places to lose fat. Part of that is being male; part of that is just genetic.
I won’t get into specifics regarding eating practices conducive to reduce body fat, but if that does interest you, here are some articles that might be of use…
The Best Way to Train Abs
I don’t treat abdominal training too differently than any other muscle group. I think all too often people tend to train their abs without weight or while looking at the clock instead of counting sets and reps. I’m not saying your 2 sets of mason twists for 30 seconds are useless, but the concept of progressive overload still applies, so I prefer to count sets and reps.
What exercises should I choose?
I typically program 2/3 of my exercises as “trunk flexion” and the remaining 1/3 as “hip flexion.” Basically this means that a majority of the exercises involve my legs being fixed in a position and my trunk doing the movement as opposed to vice versa.
Some examples of my favorite exercises for each variation are below.
Examples: Decline Sit-ups, Crunches with a cable and rope attachment
Example: Hanging Leg Raises, Lying Leg-Hip Raise
How much and how often?
Again, I don’t train abs much differently than any other small muscle group. Some muscles are prone to quicker recovery than others. A good rule of thumb is that smaller muscles, such as the abs, recover quicker than do larger ones such as glutes or pecs.
Therefore, I recommend training your abs anywhere between 3 and 6 times per week for a total of 10-25 sets total and working close to failure.
Take Home Points
If you aren’t sufficiently lean, you won’t have a pretty set of abs regardless of how much time you spend on them
I recommend using primarily exercises that involve trunk flexion instead of hip flexion
Since the abdominals are such a small muscle group, training them more frequently is probably appropriate if you’re trying to maximize gains
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Thanks for reading.