Having a flat stomach and visible abs is one of the most searched goals in fitness domain, especially for the aesthetic aspect they provide. Therefore, the first question that arises in the head : which program does it allow you to obtain visible abs ? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not so simple and is not limited to training. The abdominal muscle group is the only one that is not visible even if you work it all year round. You can stick to the best training program, and you won’t be able to make your abs visible. Getting visible, ripped abs is the result of two factors : training and nutrition. It’s in this perspective, that this post comes to highlight thoses elements.
Just like the other muscle groups, the abdominal muscle group is made up of several adjacent muscles that can be classified into three families:
- The rectus abdominis in red color, which represents the famous six-pack. It is genetics that define the shape, the symmetry and the number of muscles above.
- The external obliques in orange color, located on both sides of the rectus abdominis. The function of these muscles is to allow the abdominal trunk and the middle section of the body to rotate.
- The deep muscles that are not visible in the image, below the previous external muscles. These muscles include the transverse and the internal obliques, located respectively under the rectus abdominis and the external obliques. These muscles play an important role in stabilizing and protecting the spine, together with the lumbar muscles. Well muscled, they will give the belly the “flat” look every fitness enthusiast is looking for.
We start by going over the exercises dedicated to the rectus abdominis. As a first classic exercise, you can perform crunches by positioning the legs on a bench (or in the air). It is possible to increase the tension by holding a plate or a dumbell, which you will position in front of you during the move. Crunching is also possible with a guided machine, with the possibility of gradually increasing the load. The crunch can also be done on a declined bench. This has the advantage of working with a larger amplitude. If you prefer working with cables, the crunch at the high cables allows you to exercise the muscles of the rectus. It is important to properly round your lower back when going down for optimal contraction.
The lower area remains the hardest to develop, reason why it is important to work it with additional exercises, such as the leg raises and knee lifts. These exercises are performed in a bench, on the floor, or at the pull-up bar, as shown in the image below :
Obliques and internal muscles
To exercise the oblique muscles, a different angle of attack must be adopted. Generally, all abdominal trunk spin exercises involve the external obliques. Unlike the crunch for the rectus, the oblique crunch consists in going up diagonally towards the opposite knee, alternating between the two sides. As a second exercise, you can rotate your upper body, using a load in your hands (a plate or a ball). However, it is not recommended to work with very heavy loads, as this risks developing too much large obliques, and thickening the waist. Another effective exercise for working obliques is the lateral leg raise, suspended int the pull-up bar, as shown in the following image :
When it comes to internal muscles, the best way to build muscle for the transverse and internal obliques is to do some sets of planks, which you can include in your abs routine. The duration of the exercise can be gradually increased as you progress, to further strengthen the deep muscles.
Visible abs = diet + workout
The abs are the only muscle group that you will not be able to see without a sufficiently low percentage of fat. Who says a low percentage, says nutrition and a controlled diet. But before talking about nutrition, let’s talk about training. The first step to get well visible abs would be to increase their volume by training them. It is therefore important to provide a training circuit for the abs when you are doing a bulk. During this phase, you must aim to work them as hard as possible. In most of the exercises presented in previous paragraphs, it is possible to add loads to increase intensity of the training. By developing the overall volume of the abdominals, they will be even more visible at a higher fat rate, which is not necessarily the case if they are not developed enough.
After the training factor, it’s time to tackle the second most important factor : nutrition. For almost all people (depending on genetics), the human body is programmed to store excess fat in the belly and waist, among others. To have visible abdominals, you must make sure that your waist has a sufficiently low amount of fat. The bad news is that it is impossible to target local fat loss, and order your body to target only the areas you want, such as the waist. Therefore, the goal is to adopt a suitable diet, allowing to create a calorie deficit, in order to force the body to lose fat overall, including the belly. For more details, I invite you to read my previous posts on how to manage the diet and macro-nutrients.
The last factor that will help you in your quest for defined abs is cardio (part of training too). Combined with strength training, cardio is another way that will add useful calorie expense to reduce body fat. Once in a while, the metabolism crashes during a low-calorie diet. Incorporating cardio sessions is an additional technique to create the desired calorie deficit. I therefore refer you to my post on cardio where I provide more details on its role.
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