You’ve been working on attaining the coveted 6-pack for years and your current lifestyle and training regimen just isn’t cutting it. There are so many elements that contribute to strong, aesthetic abs and often times, it’s one element or more contributing to your lack of change or improvement.
Here are five ways to improve your abs, and no … doing 500 crunches per day isn’t one of them.
1. Eat a smart, clean diet
We’ve all heard the sayings, “abs are made in the kitchen,” or “you can’t out train a bad diet.” Well, it’s true. Your diet plays a huge role in your body composition; it affects how much body fat you have which in turn affects how easily your abs can be seen, with minimal or no strength training whatsoever.
To improve your diet, be sure that you are aware of your macronutrient requirements based on your goal weight, age, gender, and current activity level. Consuming high protein and lower fat in the diet will be beneficial in terms of keeping your body fat percentage lower. Also, trying to eat smaller meals every 3-4 hours, rather than 2-3 larger meals each day, will help to teach your body to burn fat more efficiently.
Be sure to stay hydrated and drink at least half of your body weight in fluid ounces each day. This may sound like a lot, but it is doable and necessary for optimal function, as well as weight loss/maintenance. When it comes to improving your abs in relation to your diet, remember to eat for the body you want.
2. Don’t skip cardio
It is true that cardio of any kind is going to burn calories, but not all methods of cardio are created equal. Research shows high-intensity interval training to be the best type of cardio to burn body fat and to get the most benefits in the least amount of time. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves intervals of speed or hard work, alternating with intervals of recovery or lesser work. Be sure to include a warm-up and cool down, aiming for 10-30 minutes total for the duration of your HIIT session.
Start with shorter durations and work your way up to slowly build up your endurance. Because the goal of high-intensity interval training is to really push yourself, aim for no more than 2-3 cardio sessions of this type per week. Add in 2-3 sessions of steady state cardio into your training as well. Steady state cardio is less intense for a longer duration and the goal is to maintain the same, moderate heart rate the entire time.
HIIT and steady state cardio can be performed on the modality of your choosing, for example: running, cycling, plyometrics, or swimming. If performed with consistency, sticking to this cardio routine will help to melt off the body fat.
3. Incorporate weighted abdominal exercises
Weighted abdominal exercises have their place in any and every program. Every other muscle group is trained with weighted exercises, so why not the abs, too?
You want to be sure that you work the abs through their full extension and full contraction. Keep this in mind when it comes to exercise selection. For example, any abdominal exercise performed lying on your back on the floor only allows for an extension at a little over 50% of what you are capable of.
Examples of good weighted ab exercises include weighted ab mat sit ups, high pulley crunches with back on a preacher curl bench, and weighted hanging leg raises.
Adding weighted movements will help to improve their strength and overall appearance over time, and implementing weighted ab training into your program twice a week will produce tremendous gains. Aim for 3-6 exercises using 3-4 sets of 6-20 repetitions.
4. Incorporate bodyweight abdominal exercises
Bodyweight abdominal exercises are great for many reasons, one of which being that they require no equipment and can be done anywhere. Bodyweight abdominal training is beneficial because it helps to build lean muscle mass and can aid in making the abs “pop,” without adding additional width to your waistline.
Examples of beneficial bodyweight abdominal exercises include planks, dead bugs, v-ups, and the dragon flag.
Aim for 2-3 sessions of bodyweight abdominal exercises per week either, ideally in combination with a few weighted abdominal exercises. For bodyweight movements, aim for 3-4 sets of 15-20 repetitions.
5. Focus on good form
In addition to utilizing strictly abdominal exercises as a means of abdominal training, activate your core with heavy compound movements, and by performing unilateral exercises with good form. This is a method that you will hear many powerlifters and bodybuilders discuss as they typically do not incorporate a ton of strict abdominal work into their programming, rather they gain strength and aesthetics via good form and core activation in all of their training. Remember to brace your abdominals, and keep the belly button pulled in and the ribs pulled down during the bulk of your movements.