Great abs are made in the kitchen and hardened in the gym.
I usually respond with: a) you already have them =) and b) what you really want to know is, “how do they become more visible?” Aka How do I look great with my shirt off. There are three REAL answers to this question and they are listed in order of importance:
- Get your food dialed in
- Get your workout intensity up
- Crush those abs like there’s no tomorrow
1. Get Your Food Dialed In
If you don’t get your food figured out, you are almost wasting your time. This is the cornerstone of any bodybuilder who has managed to get below 10 percent body fat—which is the unwritten number where you need to be to see your abs.
So this is the area you have to figure out FIRST. Not second, not third. Focus on your diet and body fat first and you will see the long term benefits of eating properly. This will shape your body in ways you’ve never imagined.
There are a lot of different ways to go about dialing in your food, and they are dependent on you. The best way to start is by incorporating some basic nutritional principles that will help you lean out over the long term. You can find some of these principles in this Eating for Weight Loss: 3 Effective Tips to Finally Succeed article.
2. Get Your Workout Intensity Up
If you want to burn fat to get to the sub-10 percent body fat level while still maintaining muscle mass, it’s important to work HARD! Specifically, start adding in HIIT (high-intensity interval training). That means working your butt off, taking a rest, then working it again. You should be huffing and puffing to get into the right zone where you will be burning fat.
What you are looking for is something called EPOC (exercise post oxygen consumption). Generally speaking, we get high levels of EPOC when we work hard enough to really stress our system. When we do this, our system has to raise its metabolism throughout the rest of the day in order to repair itself. Where does it get the energy to repair from? Body fat. Just what you were looking for.
3. Crush Those Abs Like There’s No Tomorrow
Sadly, this is the least efficient way to see your abs, though still effective if you have a low enough body fat percentage.
With targeting your abdominals, your goal is to build up muscle mass in that area. This will give your belly a little bit of a belly bulge if you still have excess fat there. But if you have paid attention to steps one and two and are finally at a low enough body fat percentage, then this shouldn’t be an issue. If you are at this point already, go reward yourself with the killer abdominal workout below.
The Killer Ab Workout
You ever seen a sprinter’s obliques? They are unbelievable! The force it takes for them to hold their body in a good position while sprinting all out puts a load of stress on their obliques. Not only that, sprints get your heart rate up and make you work hard, which will put you into EPOC later in the day.
Run 10-second sprints on a track or treadmill after a thorough warm up. Follow that up with 30 seconds of rest. Repeat 4-5 times.
*Note* If you have never done this before, start slow! Sprinting isn’t something you can just get up and do if you haven’t been off of the couch in 5 years. Check with your local coach who can help you understand what is needed to prepare for a good sprinting session.
Leg Raises with Hip Thrust
One of the hardest abdominal muscles to train is your lower abs. It can be really difficult to get them firing. One exercise that will help with this is leg raises.
This exercise is a beauty. Lying on your back with your hands planted on the floor palms down, slowly lift your fully extended legs off the ground until your feet are pointing straight above you. From this point, drive your feet straight up in the air while trying to thrust your hips upwards. Reverse this action all the way down to the ground and repeat.
During this exercise, think of bracing or contracting your lower abs to help stabilize your lower back and spine to give you more protection in that area.
TRX – Supermans
Who would ever think acting like a superhero would give you abs? =)
Hold yourself in a plank position on the TRX suspension straps. Drive your hands forward to a position that is difficult but maintainable. Hold for 5 seconds and move back. Repeat 10 times.
Again, during this exercise, it is important to brace your lower abdominals to protect the low back. If you feel pinching or pain in your lower back, you are likely going too far and not stabilizing your core enough. The other tip that helps with this exercise is to work on driving the back of your knees up to the roof. This will help turn your quads and glutes on to create more stability while you are planking against the TRX straps.
TRX – Knee Drives
Hold yourself in a pushup position with your feet in the straps. Squeeze your abs. Drive your knees forward underneath your body. Bring your feet all the way back and point your toes to turn your glutes on. Repeat 15 times.
You’ll likely feel a tendency to drive the knees super far with this exercise. Instead, drive them a shorter distance forward and take more time doing it. At the end of the movement, aim to have the top of your thigh perpendicular to the rest of your body. This will keep you from overextending and rounding out your lower back.