If there were one part of the body that captured more attention, frustration, and envy than all others combined, it would have to be the abdominals. For those that have them, you already know what’s coming next. For those who have been clawing and fighting their way towards that allusive “six-pack” to no avail, keep reading because I’m about to give you the step-by-step guide to building the core of your dreams.
Let’s get the (hopefully) obvious out-of-the-way immediately; building a great midsection is not the result of tons of core work. The right core exercises are vital (as you’ll see below) but they’re not going to do much, at least visually, if you’ve got a layer of fat covering your muscles. This is why cardio and a great diet are the two most important components for anyone trying to develop lean, flat, abs. If anyone tells you you’re going to get a six-pack by doing tons of crunches alone, take this as your cue to stop listening.
Fortunately, more and more people are understanding this and have begun to include high-intensity cardio workouts into their training plans. Nonetheless, those hard to get six-packs still are far from common. So what gives? Well, the answer lies in the fact that we’ve been led to believe doing hundreds of crunches, planking for minutes on end, and doing other forms of body weight core work will carry us to the promised land.
Let’s take a step back in time for a second. Anyone remember Bo Jackson? Remember when he famously said he did 1,000 sit ups a day – then promptly lifted his shirt to show off his picture perfect abs? The idea that high repetition abdominal work = picture perfect abs was soon engrained in minds everywhere. Unfortunately, and without calling Bo Jackson a liar, this just isn’t how it works.
Stop for a second and think – what did you do the last time you worked your core? If you’re like the majority, you probably did a ton of high rep/body weight abdominal work. And, if you’re the majority, you don’t have tight and defined abs. Well, that’s about to change because you’re about to find out what it takes to build out that midsection.
Your abdominals are much like any other muscle in your body. They require a progressive training stimulus to continue promoting growth – in other words, you need to keep training them harder if you want to see results. Doing the same body weight crunches is only going to get you so far. For the absolute beginner, high-rep body weight core work can be a great thing. They’ll help firm you up, start to deliver a little shape, and give you a great base to work with. Now don’t get me wrong, these type of exercises are worthwhile and have their place, but they should never be ALL you’re doing for your core. To take things to the next level, you’ve got to do something different.
That something different is weighted core work. Just like you use weights to sculpt and tone your biceps, delts, and butt; the same must be done for your abs. Those who are lacking any form of weighted core work are most likely lacking a visually appealing core – simple as that. To give those abs a real kick in the pants, and get them growing, I’ve included my four favorite weighted abdominal exercises you absolutely need to start doing.
First up we’ve got the cable crunch. This move is great for hitting the entire abdominal muscle, especially when you’re stacking the weight to such a level that pumping out any more than 10-12 reps is a real challenge. Go hard, go heavy, and take adequate rest times between sets so you can really pound those abs into submission.
Next, we’ve got decline weighted sit ups. Position yourself on a decline bench (the one where your feet are higher than your head), grab a plate or add some sort of resistance, and perform 12-15 repetitions. If you want to really dial up the intensity, twist side to side at the top of each rep to really target those obliques and carve up that core.
The third staple in my core workouts are weighted knee raises. Grab onto a pull up bar or anything that allows you to get your feet off the floor. Holding a dumbbell between your ankles, pull your knees up and into your chest. Hold for a second, then lower. To make this exercise a little more difficult, instead of bringing knees to chest, keep your legs straight and perform and L raise. In theory, you should be trying to form a 90 degree angle between your upper and lower body. Whatever format you choose, shoot for 8-12 repetitions.
My last regular weighted core exercise is the crunch machine. If you’re gym doesn’t have one of those, don’t worry, you can simply double up on one of the exercises listed above. I’ll usually perform this exercise last, and really burn things out. Try to go for three sets, increasing the weight/decreasing the reps, on each additional set. Something like a 12, 10, 8 rep sequence would be a great place to start. Just make sure you’re going heavy so your last set of 8 reps are extremely difficult – you don’t want to breeze through these.
Once you start treating your abs like any other muscle you’re working to build, you’ll start to realize the successes that have been alluding you. Remember, no one is saying body weight only core work is no good, it’s just not the ONLY thing you should be doing if your goal is to develop a tight and toned tummy.
A sample core workout for me, would look something like this:
- Cable Crunches – 3 sets of 10-12
- Decline Weighted Sit Ups – 3 sets of 12-15
- Bicycle Crunches – 2 sets of 25
- Weighted Knee Raises – 3 sets of 8-12
- Flutter Kicks – 3 sets of 60 seconds
- Planks – 3 sets of 60 seconds
- Crunch Machine – 3 sets of 12, 10, 8
Have any questions? Need some advice? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you asap!