There are three main categories of guys in the gym relative to ab training. The guys that never do abs because “what the hell, ya can’t see ‘em anyway”. Those guys that give them the cursory 3 sets of 20 reps “sometimes”, and the ab fanatics that bomb and blast ‘em every chance they get. Everyone wants a 6-pack, not everyone has one. Actually most guys do, but they are forever buried under that layer of fat that is going to come off “someday”, as soon as the trainee gets just a “little bigger”. Without going in to a big discourse about keeping bodyfat levels in check while adding mass, and doing periodic cutting cycles to keep lean, I’ll just go strait into what I believe to be the best way to train the midsection for both looks, and functional strength.
I believed in training abs the traditional way for a long time. And by traditional I mean the high rep, low intensity method. While I have never been one to recommend doing them more than twice a week, abs were one of the few things I frequently did recommend doing twice a week. Something I don’t do for most bodyparts. Ab development suffered because of this, for both myself and those I trained. Then, enter the genius of Louis Simmoms, powelifting guru. Louis maintains, and rightfully so that if you want to have a big squat and a big deadlift you have to have bullet-proof abs. And not just abs that look good, but abs that are strong. And carrying that logic out, a bodybuilder without a big squat and deadlift is typically not a very developed bodybuilder—period! OK, so we need that foundation of strength in the mid-section to be able to do the core movements effectively, but will this also get us the abs we want to show off when our shirt is off? In most cases, for most people YES! So what does Louis recommend for abs? Training them HARD and HEAVY like any other muscle. No high rep low intensity pumping here. Westside relies on sit-ups on the glute/ham raise machine, weighted incline sit-ups, cable pulls, and weighted sit-ups. So you’re probably asking, what’s so special about this? Well they key is they are done with maximal intensity for relatively low reps in most cases. Doing so ensures a level of functional strength that just doesn’t occur when going light for high reps. When training abs this way you get abs that both look good, and provide the support that you need when going heavy on the core lifts. Back strain is reduced, and in case anyone is getting ready to object, you DON’T get a big blocky midsection with the lower reps. Just good, solid ab development.
OK, so how to implement this for bodybuilding purposes? The way I do it for myself and most of my training clients could not be simpler, nor in my opinion much more effective. My core exercise, and the one I get the best results with are HEAVY weighted sit-ups. These are done by putting a dumbbell on your chest, with your feet locked somehow to prevent you from tipping over-lol. I stick mine under the power-rack with the pins in the lowest position. Any method of locking your feet is fine though, and just having someone hold them works perfectly. The movement is done with your knee joints broken, NO STRAIT LEGGED SITUPS HERE! But only bend your knees enough to keep the stress off the lower back. With the weight held high on your chest explode to the contracted position and do a nice S-L-O-W negative. Two sets of 8-10 reps after warm-ups is all you need. What almost all my trainees find is a HUGE strength potential that has been left un-tapped. It is common for guys to add 50 to 125 lbs on this lift in 2-4 months. Ab development skyrockets (provided bodyfat levels are low enough for them to be seen) and the strength base they develop in their mid-section helps all their lifts requiring torso stability. If you are a fairly easy gainer follow them up with some hanging leg raises. There are many ab machines in the gym that are well thought out, bio-mechanically correct, and fit the majority of people out there fairly well. Many of these machines can be used with the same principle with great results. The key here is keeping the weight high and the sets low. And for all you 2-3 (and more) times a week ab trainers, I challenge you to try this concept for 6 weeks, while only hitting abs once a week and see if the results don’t amaze you. I’m confident they will.