Episode 21: Will Ab Workouts Make My Abs Show?

Written by Jonathan

So, do you need to do AB workouts to make your abs show? The short answer to this question is yes, but abdominal exercises by themselves aren’t enough, you also have to lose body fat.  You can see this in the real world with people that are very skinny but don’t have any muscle definition. Conversely you can also see it in heavier people that are really strong, like powerlifters because they can lift a lot of weight but sometimes you can’t see any abdominal definition in them at all. When I was a teenager there was a strongman that trained in the same gym as me and he used to do sit-ups on an incline bench holding a 45 lbs. weight plate above his head. Now that is not an exercise I would ever encourage any one to do because it’s actually quite dangerous but it illustrates my point, you can have the strongest core in the world but if you don’t have a low body fat percentage you will never see any of those muscle because they are hidden under fat and you can have a low body fat percentage but if you never exercise your muscles will not be developed and you won’t have any definition at all.

When we’re talking about body fat percentages that are low enough to see abs this means under 12% and sometimes lower for men, as long as they exercise and under 18% for women as long as they exercise and sometimes women can’t actually build their abdominal muscles up no matter how many core exercises they do simply because they don’t have enough testosterone to build bigger muscles period.  If you ever look at some figure competitors you’ll see that some of the women have no definition in their abs even though their body fat percentage is really low and their abdomen’s are entirely flat.         

So what kind of exercises do you need to do and how often do you need to do them to get ABS? First off, you need to treat abdominal muscles the exact same way as you would any other muscle, so if you want to develop them it means hitting them hard enough that they’re sore for a couple of days or more and then hitting them hard again when they’re not sore any more.

The second thing you need to consider is that your abs or made up of three parts, your Rectus Abdominis, which is your superficial ‘6 pack’ muscle, your Internal and External obliques which are on your sides and they help your body rotate and support your spine and you also have your Transverse Abdominis which stabilizes the spine and helps hold your whole torso in place, like the girdle in a dress that women used to wear, it’s the muscles that helps keep everything flat looking.   A good core program will cover all of these muscles, but if you specifically want a ‘6 pack’ there are a few exercises I would put on the top of the list. Start with front planks and side planks, they will help introduce your muscles to actually working and they touch every muscle in your core. They’re really common exercises so you’ve probably tried them before. We have some videos you can watch to make sure you’re doing them properly. When they become too easy you can move up to a front plank on the stability ball and then make it even more challenging by moving your elbows in and out. For your obliques you can do the side lean on a stability ball.

Once you get good at all the planks then you can hit the ‘grand daddy’ of all core exercises, the dragon fly. This is an extremely advanced exercise so you need to work your way up to it and there are several progressions of difficulty. If you’ve seen Rocky 4 you’ve seen the hardest variation of this exercise, you lay on your back on a bench and you grab the bench above your head then you lift your legs straight up and lower them trying to keep your body as flat as possible.  This description doesn’t do it justice so watch our youtube video or Rocky 4 if you have 2 hours to kill.    

I would also recommend you do exercises like squats and deadlifts to help strengthen the deep muscles of your core, they’re great exercises because you have to support your whole body, under load.

Getting visible ABS will be challenging and you will have to strength train as well as lose body fat to make it happen. Your abs are just like any other muscle in your body so treat them that way, which means if you want them to get stronger and to grow take them to failure between 8 to 15 repetitions or 45 seconds of an exercise and when you can do more than that, you’re ready for a harder version of the exercise.

If you’re interested in some very specific core programs we have various levels of core strengthening programs as well as an entire course dedicated to safely building a stronger core at my.fitnessforfreedom.com and check out our youtube channel for some very specific video demonstrations – Nathan thank you so much for that question we really appreciate it, I hope you found our answer helpful.




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