If well-defined abs were available in supermarkets they would be a bestseller. After all,one of the major goals for all individuals, irrespective of age and gender, is a six-pack. “We all want that washboard abs to get the perfect beach body,” says Rahul Huidrom, strength coach at Cult.fit. However, no amount of cardio, crunches and planks in the world are usually ever enough to get even a semblance of abs.
It takes a lot more than mere crunches and planks to get achieve the elusive abs. You would need proper movement mechanics and lifting techniques to first build a strong core. “Movements like squats, deadlifts, overheard press, bent-over rows… all train the core muscles and get your mid-section stronger. There are exercises one must do to isolate and target the abdominal muscles and I prefer to add this isolation work along with core strengthening drills,” says Huidrom.
Though abs are all the rage, your focus ought to be on the core. Core muscles are the powerhouse of the human body. “The core houses the central nervous system and the vital inner organs and helps you do everything including facilitating movement and bringing stability. It almost acts like a connector between the upper and lower body. That is why the abs workout and most compound lifts are referred to as core exercises or workouts,” explains Huidrom. A weak core could lead to poor posture, back pain and even lead to balance issues. One of the easiest fixes for back pain is often simply strengthening your core muscles. Studies suggest that performing core strengthening exercises can provide relief from a back problem and help to manage its symptoms.
“Abs just give our abdomen a nice shape and are brilliant from an aesthetics standpoint but a powerlifter, without a well-defined six-pack, may actually have a stronger core than a model with washboard abs and defined ab muscles,” says Huidrom. Having said that, in order to get your washboard abs you would need to eat clean, hydrate regularly, rest and exercise well so as to achieve and maintain your body fat percentage at 15% or less.
Some of the best ab exercises to achieve your six-pack as well as a strong core are hanging leg raises, ab mat sit-ups, cable crunches, landmine wipers and resistance band woodchops. Apart from helping you target the lower abdomen, hanging leg raises also help to improve grip strength.
People often complain about lower back pain while performing sit-ups and crunches. This is no reason for alarm but if you already suffer from lower back issues, it is best to avoid crunches and sit-ups. “For sit-ups, we use more of the hip flexor muscles that are attached to the thigh bone and lower back. Since the hip flexors attach to the front of the lumbar spine, if they become overworked or over-tightened, they can create an anterior pull on the lumbar vertebrae, which might be the reason for the discomfort,” says Huidrom. “Another reason could be when performing the movement, we may be pushing the spine onto the hard floor which may cause additional pressure to the spine.”
However, there are many other exercises that can be used to strengthen the core. Planks, side planks, bird dog, half crunches, glute bridges and wall sits are great exercises to train and strengthen your core. Since abs are a very small muscle group, you don’t need to set aside a special day to work on them, says Gagan Arora, coach and founder of Delhi’s Kosmic Fitness. It is best to add a short ab routine at the end of your regular workout at least about three times a week, he suggests.
While compound movements such as deadlifts, squats and bent-over rows are a great way to train the core, a good core training programme should also include movements like weighted deadbugs, bird dog and single leg deadlift too.“Performing these exercises along with other variations like hanging leg raises, landmine wipers, sit-ups and crunches is a great way to achieve your abs and core goals,” says Huidrom.
However, don’t be too eager and go all out doing abs and core workouts everyday. Like all other muscles, your abdominal muscles also need rest in-between exercise, say fitness experts and coaches. “Doing some crunches or planks at the end of every workout leaves your midsection in a constantly overworked state, preventing any results you’d like to see,” adds Huidrom.
Rahul Huidrom’s Ab Workouts
Cable/Machine Ab crunch: 12-15 reps
Cable/Machine oblique crunch: 12-15 reps
Ab mat/Swiss ball sits ups: 20 reps
Hanging leg raises: 8-12 reps
Lying knee tucks: 8-12 reps
Ab rollouts: 8-12 reps
Palloff press: 15 reps
Farmers carry: 20 steps
Weighted Deadbugs: 8-12 reps
Weighted hyperextensions: 12-15 reps
V ups: 12-15 reps
Weighted planks: 30 secs
Barbell floor wipers: 6-10 reps each side
Dragon flag: 12-15 reps
Cable woodchops: 12-15 reps
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.