Training Articles

Trust Your Gut

10 ab secrets to build that six pack

By Clark Bartram

sixpack
Training abs requires a lot of hard work and imagination. Of all the body parts, abs are probably the least fun to train, but they’re also the first thing to get noticed on the beach. Not only are strong and defined abs the cornerstone of an ideal physique, but having core body strength is also vital for top performance in all your physical activities. And I do mean all your physical activities! 

Properly trained abs can help you be more competitive in sports, they can make it easier to do your job or fix things around the house. And best of all, they can make your romantic romps more fun and exciting. Not bad for just a few minutes of concentrated effort each week!

I recommend training your abs every other day after a weight workout. All you have to do is choose two or three different exercises and perform four to five sets of 10 to 12 reps for each one. Just remember, however, that no amount of any exercise will give you that coveted six pack if you have a layer of fat around your middle. You need to get your body fat down to about 10 percent or less before your abdominal muscles become visible. So be sure to consistently eat right and do a lot of cardio (I often tell people that the best exercise for abs is 30 minutes on the treadmill!).

For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume that your nutrition is on target, that you’re training aerobically to stay lean and that you really want to enhance your training so you can develop world-class abs. What follows are my top 10 favorite abdominal exercises of all time. Some of them will look absolutely crazy. Others will look kind of familiar, but with a special twist or two to make them more effective. The whole point is to hit your abs from a lot of different angles so you can really get them to pop. If you’re ready to take your abdominal training to the next level, here we go.

Tornado ball—Wall chops and seated chops
Grasp a Tornado ball with a slight "choke up" on the rope. To do the wall chops, lean back against a sturdy wall and bend your knees into a slight squat. Then rotate from side to side, slamming the Tornado ball against the wall. Do this ballistically for about 30 seconds. Seated chops are performed with the same intensity. Simply sit down on the floor and move the ball overhead. These two movements are nearly impossible to duplicate in any gym. Start with one 30-second set for each exercise.

Surrender sit-ups
These are called surrender sit-ups due to the hand position. Your arms will be above your head as if you were surrendering to someone. In the upright position, place your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lower yourself back like a traditional sit-up, but only go as far as you can without lifting your feet off the floor. When your feet begin to rise, come back up to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes throughout the entire movement.

Power Wheel crunches
Unlike a traditional ab wheel, a Power Wheel is attached to your feet, and you move your legs instead of your arms. You can either bend your knees and tuck them into your chest, or do a "pike" with straight legs. Either way, be sure to exhale on each contraction.

Swiss ball weighted crunches
The opportunities are endless when it comes to a Swiss ball, but weighted crunches are one of my favorites. Choose a weight that allows you to perform three sets of eight to 10 repetitions. Position yourself on the ball just to the front of the top (to ensure a full range of motion) and slowly allow your spine to wrap back around the ball. Be sure to anchor your feet with a weight at least twice as heavy as the weight you use to perform the exercise.

Swiss ball reverse crunches
Position your body so your scapula is centered on the top of the ball. Grab a stationary handle above your head and tuck your knees up and around toward your face. I use my eyes as a reference point. As in all abdominal exercises, it’s imperative that you exhale during the effort. Reps are not the only indicator of a good abdominal workout … you should feel each one in the muscle, without obsessing over how many you do.

Hanging leg raises
There are two schools of thought when it comes to hanging leg raises. If you do the entire movement from completely stretched out to completely contracted, then your psoas muscles (hip flexors) assist in the movement. If you start the movement with your legs bent at 90 degrees, you eliminate the use of the hip flexor group. I suggest you mix it up and do the exercise both ways.

Janda sit-ups
These are tremendous once you get the hang of them. Assume the traditional sit-up position, with your arms crossed over your chest. Have someone grab the back of your calves and pull slightly. Slowly sit up, maintaining a contraction in the glutes. If you can’t pull yourself up right away, start with the negative part of the movement.

Full contact twists
These are similar to Tornado ball chops, but they can be done in a gym without any special equipment. Get a 45-pound Olympic bar and place one end in a corner to hold it in place. With your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and arms fully extended, hold the opposite end of the bar and rotate it overhead in a semi-circular motion. Be sure to rotate at the waist and feel the movement throughout your entire core. Do one to three sets of 15 to 20 reps.

Medicine ball throws on Swiss ball
Assume the same position on the Swiss ball as you would if you were doing weighted crunches, and position your feet under two dumbbells for safety. Ask a partner to help you with an 8- to 10-pound medicine ball. While seated on the Swiss ball in an upright position, have your partner throw the medicine ball over your head so you can catch it (under control) while lying back over the Swiss ball. Sit up and throw the medicine ball back to your partner. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Cable side crunches
Using a cable in the highest position, grasp the handle with one hand and rest the other on top the hand grabbing the handle. Your hand should be at your temple. Keeping your arm completely stationary, crunch between the waist and lower chest only. The movement will be small and very isolated. Be sure to do both sides for about three sets of 12 to 15 reps with a challenging weight.

There you have it! If these 10 exercises can’t give your abs a good workout, nothing can! When you get comfortable doing all these great exercises you’ll be able to train your abs more instinctively, mixing up different exercises during each training session for maximum impact. You’ll be able to trust your gut and pick a variety of exercises that are most effective for you, and you’ll start getting results fast.

Always remember that abdominal training is the essence of a strong, stable and attractive physique, so don’t be one of those guys or gals who never takes the time to add a few challenging ab exercises to your routine. With a little attention to detail, you’ll be well on your way toward getting the kind of tight, defined midsection that has the amazing ability to turn heads.

A wise man once told me something that I’ve burned into my memory and carry with me all the time, "I may not be where I want to be," he said. "But thank God I’m not where I used to be!" So just keep at it. You may still not like training your abs, but by spending the extra time and trusting your gut to choose just a few killer exercises, you and the rest of the world will certainly like what they see.