Hidden Six Pack Secrets: How to Make Your Abs Pop Like a Pro
Summer is almost here, and as usual, just about every gym rat is worried about his abs. From the big guys to the smaller guys, even athletes and powerlifters like to look good come beach season, and gyms across the country are going to be filled with people trying to attain that coveted six-pack.
However, most people go about things the wrong way. Maybe not completely wrong – everyone’s at least lifting weights and following some sort of diet – but there are a few things most lifters need to fix if they really want to get their abs to pop like a cover model’s. So, if you want to finally get that pro six pack this summer, stick to the following tips during your spring and summer training.
Use Standing Exercises
Crunches and sit-ups aren’t bad, and I actually like to include them in just about every ab routine for myself and my clients. That said, you’re missing out if you do all of your ab training lying down or hanging up in a leg raise station. Your abs are meant to stabilize your body while moving on your feet, so stand up!
What exercises can you do while standing? My favorite is the most basic – the pull-down crunch. Attach a rope to a high pulley, set the pin about halfway down the stack, and put your feet in about the same position they’re in when you squat. Once you’re in position with the rope held behind your head, just crunch down and forward, focusing on the contraction in your abs. This is a tough exercise, but you may be surprised at how much weight you can actually use with good form after just a few sessions.
Train Your Obliques
You may think you want great abs, but what you’re really after is a great midsection – and that includes, your abdominals and your obliques. The abs are actually one long muscle that extends from your sternum to your pubic bone, and the six-pack appearance is caused by thin, sinewy tissues that stretch across that muscle.
The obliques, on the other hand, are a completely different muscle group located on either side of the abdominals. And no, training them will NOT make you look “blocky.” The abs and obliques both have every limited potential for hypertrophy, and the width of your waist will ultimately determined by your genetics. If anything, a “wide waist” is often a lame excuse for being just plain fat!
You don’t need to bust out a 5-rep max on any ab exercise, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you only ever do hundreds of burning reps with your body weight. That kind of training certainly has its place, and for whatever reason it does seem to improve the overall appearance of your abs, but most of your ab training should be done weighted.
Instead of worrying about sets of 10 or fewer, however, just aim for 15-20 reps with progressively heavier weight. It’ll take a long time to progress on really tough movements like crunches with weight held behind your head, but you should gradually moving the pin down on the stack for stuff like ab pull-downs and twists.
Ditch the Belt
If you use a belt for damn near every set of squats, deadlifts, and even rows, now is the time to stop! Belt up for your heaviest sets of lower body movements, but ditch the thing for lighter sets and upper back exercises. Your abs will look better as a result, and your core will be far healthier and stronger. Combined with some decently heavy crunches and leg raises, and you may even see some new gains on your squats and deadlifts!
Stick to Your Diet
This should be a no-brainer, but it seems plenty of people – even experienced gym goers – don’t grasp the idea that abs are really made in the kitchen. You could have the thickest, strongest set of abs the world has seen, but if your body fat percentage is too high, they’re going to remain hidden behind your gut.
The exact diet you should follow is a topic for another article, but there are a couple of critical mistakes most guys make when they try to get ready for summer. First, you’ve got to actually plan out your diet. Winging it may work if you just want to get into decent shape – and you’ve already developed great habits – but you’re going to have to plan things out if you want to get lean enough to see that full six pack pop.
Of course, a plan is worthless if you don’t take steps to actual follow what you’ve written down. The other thing most guys fail to do is weigh and measure their food. Your hunger will work against you as you approach the single-digit body fat levels necessary to see your abs, and if you eat the amounts you “feel” like eating, you’re never going to get that lean! Weigh your meats and starchy veggies, measure out your rice and oatmeal with measuring cups, and start using an actual tablespoon to measure your nut butters and oils. Your “two tablespoons” of peanut butter per day can easily turn into five or six if you’re measuring them with your favorite cereal spoon, and those calories alone are enough to completely derail your diet.
Maintenance: Easier than Attainment
A word of advice to guys who tend to get chubby during the winter – your life will be a whole lot easier if you just practice some restraint! Unless you’re on an all-out quest for as much muscle mass and strength as your body will ever be able to carry, you should not be bulking past about 15 percent body fat. Any more than that, and you’re not really putting on extra muscle, but you are setting yourself up for a miserable diet down the road. Remember, it’s a lot easier to stay lean than it is to get lean, so stay within range of a six-pack year-round. My rule of thumb is that if you’re fat enough to be self-conscious about taking off your shirt, you’ve gotten too fat!