Poliquin Live

Tip 374: Get Better Abs: Three Strategies for Stronger, Leaner Abs

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 5:49 AM
Get better abs with a complete fat-burning, muscle building approach. Many people struggle to see the results they desire in their abdominal area because their training and diet aren’t effective, or they have plateaued with traditional rep protocols. Get results by training the whole body, eating correctly, and managing the stress hormone response.

A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reminds us how ineffective much ab training is.  It’s actually surprising an entire research group would waste time and money on such a study since even the traditional crunch doesn’t measure up if you want chiseled abs and a lean torso, let alone to be strong and able to transmit force through the ground for sports performance.

This study compared muscle activity in the rectus abdominis during a traditional crunch and the basic jackknife exercise with the Ab Lounge machine. The traditional crunch used the upper and lower abdominals more than the Ab Lounge, but neither one has much utility in the Poliquin world.

To truly strengthen and hypertrophy the abs, including the obliques, perform a wave-like periodized training program that includes squats, chin-ups, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts. Research shows that because the abdominal fibers are predominantly fast-twitch, they respond to intense overload and lower rep prescriptions. Sure, you can strengthen your abs by doing thousands of reps a day, but it won’t be as effective as training hard and heavy, and then cutting fat with sprints, the right foods, and minimizing stress.

To lose fat and reveal those abs once you’ve got ‘em, perform sprint intervals for conditioning: A variety of protocols work, but if you’re pressed for time do ten 35-meter sprints at maximum effort with 20 seconds rest. Or if you want a slightly less painful protocol, do six 200-meter sprints with 2 minutes rest.

Eat a high-protein diet, but make sure you get adequate fiber. Research shows that individuals who eat more fiber have less visceral fat and intestinal inflammation than those who eat less. Shoot for at least 25 grams a day of fiber. Don’t rely on getting all your fiber from carbs if you are eating a high-protein diet because even if all your carbs are coming from vegetables and fruit, it is unlikely you will get enough. Consider getting more good quality fiber from a supplement, and try to rotate the kind of fiber you get because your body will respond best if it has to process different sources regularly. 

The third thing you need to do for leaner, harder abs is to manage stress. The hormone cortisol is released when you are under physical and mental stress. When cortisol is chronically elevated—as it is for many of us in this high-pressure world—it shifts the body into a fat storage mode in the abdominal area. Do whatever works for you to minimize stress: try meditation, yoga, walking, martial arts, mental imagery, and play with your kids, etc. I guarantee that if you can minimize stress in your daily life, get adequate rest, and train regularly, you will see better, leaner abs by the end of the summer.

For More Tips on Getting Leaner Abs, read the Top Thirty Tips to Lose Belly Fat.

Nelson, G., Ben-Forsythe, D., et al. Electromyographic Activity of the Rectus Abdominis during a Traditional Crunch and the Basic Jackknife Exercise with the Ab Lounge. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(6), 1584-1588.

Sitilertpisan, P., Pirunsan, U., Puangmali, A., Ratanapinunchai, J., et al. Comparison of Lateral Abdominal Muscle Thickness between Weightlifters and Matched Controls. Physical Therapy in Sport. March 2011. Published Ahead of Print.

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