THE best abdominal exercise
Among the most common fitness questions, alongside how to get a bigger bench press or slim toned legs is the one that most people get into exercising for: the flat or 6-pack stomach.
There are a lot of guys who can be pretty muscular but still have a belly or an undefined mid-section. Equally there are women who don’t collect fat much elsewhere on their bodies but still have some excess adipose matter in that area.
It’s safe to say that regardless of other goals the toned midsection is on everyone’s list when they train (with the notable exceptions of heavyweight powerlifters and strongmen).
As I’ve written about before there are only two sure-fire methods of fixing this, and they do not involve a thousand sit-ups (see the full article on how to get toned here).
For a reminder they are:
- Lower your overall body fat percentage
- Develop and build muscle
I would split these into 70:30 in terms of importance. Six-packs and ‘washboard’ stomachs are primarily made in the kitchen- you can do all the abdominal work you want but if you are not doing cardio and eating healthy to lose the fat then it will be for nothing in the aesthetics department.
However number 2 is still worth 30%. And that’s 30% in contributing to the way you look: if we’re taking about being strong, functional and balanced then evidently direct ab workouts are much more important. It’s not all about looks.
With that being said doing worthwhile ab movements can help you to develop your muscles and therefore help you achieve your six-pack goals.
Abdominal muscles can grow just like any other muscle and the thicker and stronger they are the more pronounced they will be– this means that even if you don’t cut your bodyfat to 10% you can still have a respectable, if not ripped, set of visible abs.
If this ‘thickness’ sounds undesirable as a woman don’t worry: women have a naturally higher level of healthy bodyfat than men as well as much less muscle-building capacity which means that the equivalent effect is that you will get a solid and ‘toned-looking’ midsection once you get your bodyfat down.
And if you’re a guy worried about getting a thick midsection through intense ab work don’t worry unless you plan on taking stuff like HGH (Human Growth Hormone) anytime soon.
Related article: Will deadlifts make my waist thicker?
The ‘six-pack on top of a distended stomach’ look that you see on pro bodybuilders is not from doing ab work, it’s from using HGH and other drugs (or insulin abuse. Yeah, the stuff that diabetics need can be abused for muscle growth too).
Are you 100% natural? Go crazy, you can only win by developing a strong and stable midsection through the exercise I’m going to outline below.
So what is the best way to work your abdominals?
Something I have been doing for maybe the last six months, and something I attribute to really helping my deadlift go up in that time period is the hanging leg raise.
In it’s full form it’s quite an advanced movement but there are steps to build up to it.
The important part is to not swing your legs and make the movement controlled, both up and down, really concentrating on using your abdominals to do the work.
I do these at the end of every session, and as well as helping to develop grip and shoulder strength they have really helped me to strengthen my core which in turn has led to better stability doing overhead pressing movements, my deadlift, my squat etc.
Additionally that development has meant I don’t have to have a super-low bodyfat percentage to have a visible six-pack (but I admit the lighting helps a lot in the picture. To paraphrase from a favourite spoof YouTube channel, fitness these days is 90% lighting and Instagram filters).
In my opinion the hanging leg-raise, or a variation thereof, is all you really need in an ab workout.
I can only speak from my own experience, but having done no other direct ab work besides these (I haven’t done a sit-up in years) I have really noticed that not only has my core stability improved a lot, the whole area feels tighter and more solid.
They’re not easy though, and unless you’ve already got pretty good core strength (and grip strength) and are quite advanced it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do these straight off the bat: the best way to start is with supported leg raises first i.e. not hanging from the bar.
You can start out with the bent leg raise.
And progress onto the straight leg raise.
Keep track of how many reps you manage and try and beat it by one each subsequent workout.
You probably need to be able to do at least 20 strict, controlled straight leg raises before you can do the hanging version, but it’s not a hard and fast rule: you can obviously test out the hanging version whenever you like to see how far you can get your legs up.
The main thing to emphasis again is control and speed. Remember that the stress should be going onto your abs. Concentrate on the mind-muscle connection, and no swinging or momentum.
Start working on them at the end of every session and given enough time you’ll develop real core stability and solidity that will help you towards your 6-pack/flat stomach goals as well as helping your all-round lifting.
3 sets (as many as possible) everyday or at the end of every workout. Takes 2 minutes and that’s all you need!
Doing just this is not going to give you an instant toned midsection, but then again, contrary to 1.5 million different fitness scams out there, no one single thing will.
BUT if you combine doing this for two minutes at the end of every workout having been deadlfiting, squatting, overhead pressing etc. along with cardio and a diet that is 80% clean, you’ll see the difference, bit by bit.