A clearly defined set of abdominals is almost without dispute the single most important aspect of a well-built male figure. Biceps and pectorals which are not too outstanding may still be overlooked, but take away the abs and basically we can forget about everything else. :)
So how do you acquire that beautiful six-pack? The most important thing we have to do is to (a) burn away the fat ― to burn away that layer of icing above our abs as much as we can so the abs will stand out. It is useless to focus on (b) training our abdominal muscles only without attending to (a), because no matter how well-developed your abs are, they won't show unless that layer of fat above them has been eliminated. (Abs expert Mike Geary ― of whom more below ― has placed so much emphasis on (a) as to claim that "The best ab exercise is no ab exercise," but that's exaggerating a little. There is a place for ab exercises ― though only the right ones and in the right amount, of course. He himself admitted so, too!)
How do we get rid of that stupid layer of icing, then? If you're at this page, you must have gone through my page on 'Building a Macho Man Figure' already, where the issue regarding how we may dispose of our (excess) body fat has already been discussed. So if you haven't read that section yet, you know what to do. :)
What about (b), then? To begin with ― and this might surprise some ― certain well-known 'abdominal exercises' actually don't work, such as normal crunches and sit-ups (especially when you do them with your feet being held down by someone or something). Your abdominal muscles are actually not the prime movers when you perform the normal sit-up; other muscle groups are doing the work. So, don't do sit-ups ― at least not the normal, standard type. There are many other ab exercises which truly target the abs.
My ab routine, which always comes at the end of a weight training session, consists of the following exercises (in the same sequence as below):
│ Hanging leg raises.
This is supposed to be one of the best ab exercises around (provided you do it correctly, of course) and works both your upper and lower abs. Hang from a chin-up bar. Keeping your legs straight, raise them up together ― not too quickly ― until your feet are above your head, Don't arch your back, and don't SWING your legs up ― that's cheating. :) As you raise your legs, try to move your hips up as well and focus on using your abs to bring your hips up. Think of your abs as a contracting accordion pulling up the hips and legs. Now lower your legs ― again, not too quickly. Do a total of 5 reps, then rest for half a minute and do another 5.
This could be a difficult exercise for beginners. If you find it too difficult, then just raise your knees to your chest instead, though here again you should still attempt to move your hips up and use your abs to do that as far as you can. And if you find it hard to maintain your grip on the chin-up bar, consider getting a pair of ab slings, such as AB-OrigiOnals«. (I use a pair myself; they're extremely durable.) They are slings that allow you to hang from the bar like you're hanging from a parachute, so that you can focus on training your abs without worrying about your grip. It's not cheating ― you're training your abs here, not your grip!
│ Leg raises or full vertical crunch
This also targets both the upper and lower abs. Lie on your back (use an exercise mat for greater comfort) with your hands tucked beneath your hips and your head, shoulders and legs slightly raised from the floor. Now keeping your legs together and straight, lift them up ― not too quickly ― until they are nearly vertical, and when you reach this position raise your legs up vertically, as if you were trying to stomp the ceiling. Then lower your legs again until they are just above the floor, though not resting on it. Repeat for a total of 10 reps.
Keep your head and shoulders slightly off the floor at all times. And here again, try to get a feel for your abs contracting as you raise your legs and 'stomp the ceiling'. Focus on using your abs more!
│ Double leg over
Trains the obliques, the muscles at the sides of your torso. Lie on your back (here again, use an exercise mat for greater comfort) with your hands tucked beneath your hips and your legs pointing straight up. Now move your legs together towards the right ― not too quickly ― keeping them straight at all times, until they touch the floor to your right. That's one rep. Now raise and move them in the opposite direction (i.e. towards the left) until they touch the floor again, and so on. Aim for 10 reps.
│ Frog crunch
Targets mainly the upper abs. Lie on your back with your hands cupping your ears ― not locked behind your head, because you're not allowed to pull with your hands when you sit up ;) ― and your legs spread so that your heels come together while your knees are as wide apart as would be comfortable for you. (Positioning your legs in this way forces you not to use them to help you in your movements. :)) Now slowly raise your head and shoulders as high up as you can, as if trying to sit up. When you reach the highest angle you can manage, hold it there for a second, then slowly return to a lying position, with your legs still flexed. Repeat for a total of 10 reps. Again, here you should concentrate on using your abs as far as you can when you sit up.
A fast one. Lie on your back with your hands cupping your ears, not locked behind your head. With your head and shoulders off the floor, touch your left elbow with your right knee while thrusting out your left leg, as shown in the illustration above. Now thrust out your right leg and bend your left, and touch your right elbow with your left knee. In this way your legs go through a cycling motion, hence the name of this exercise. Go for 20 reps, and try doing this one quickly.
This, then, is my (current) ab routine. (I might make improvements on it in future by replacing some of the exercises.) Give it a try and see how it goes. Just remember that it's of little use for acquiring a six-pack unless accompanied by a fat-burning program, and that these are by no means the only ab exercises there are ― there are many more out there. Be adventurous and experiment; find out about those other exercises and give them a try, too!
A great source of ab exercises would be Mike Geary's The Truth about Six-Pack Abs. This veritable encyclopedia of abdominal development lists dozens of exercises, all explained and presented clearly with photos. Nor are we merely given a bunch of exercises; this is an all-rounded battle plan for building a six-pack which also includes such things as information on what types of food and exercise to avoid, detailed meal plans and even recipes using foods that actually fight abdominal fat, and so on. Mike is careful as well to chart out different programs for guys and gals. It is not therefore for no reason that this program ranks as one of the most popular fitness e-courses around, and more than one quarter of a million users over the world can't be all wrong. If you're serious about acquiring washboard abs, this is a must-have!
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