Lee Labrada and Dr. Clay Hyght talk about how to get six pack abs.
I’ll never forget the first time that I saw NABBA Mr.Universe Serge Nubret “wiggle” his abdominal muscles. Yes, “wiggle.” While I’d seen thousands of bodybuilders grunt out abdominal poses, this was the first time I had ever seen a man with so much muscle control (and a little help from Mom and Dad on the genetics) that he could seemingly make the “little blocks” (as my boys like to call them) of his abdominal muscles move back and forth in a very strange synchronized fashion. Now, I am not talking about the abdominal “roll” of a belly dancer here. Serge moved those razor sharp abdominal sideways. One of the darndest things I’ve ever seen.
Serge was eating a chocolate bar the day before the competition. I had just won the IFBB Mr.Universe, and feeling a little full of myself I told him, “You’re going to get fat eating that.” Laughter from the small group surrounding him. “You want to see fat?” Serge asked. “Check this out.”
Serge raised his shirt and looking me dead in the eyes, proceeded to move those abs around like a Vegas dealer moving cards around on a table. S-t I mumbled with a sheepish grin. Oh, and I forgot to tell you the best part. Serge was 46 years old at the time! This is the same guy that pushed Arnold at the 1975 Mr.Olympia, coming in 2nd place. Had it not been for running into the Austrian Oak, Serge may have made the history books as the fourth Mr.Olympia.
Not everybody is going to achieve the wasp-like waistline like that of Serge Nubret. But there are things that you can do right now to improve your abdominals to the point that women will stare and your friends will be envious. Wouldn’t that be nice at the beach or by the pool this summer?
And for you gals who think six-packs are only for guys, you’re wrong. Practically all guys find a lightly muscled and toned six-pack on a female very sexy. For the two of you reading this article that don’t want to look more attractive in the midsection, you will benefit from developed abdominals as they are ultra important for sports performance and for preventing and alleviating low-back pain.
How to Get Six Pack Abs
Developing hard, defined abdominals is a function of both exercise and diet. You must build the abdominal muscles first with resistance exercise and then strip off the fat layer hiding them with a nutrient-dense, Calorie-sparse diet. The good news is that you can do both at the same time. Let’s look at the exercise component first.
Exercise for Six Pack Abs
The function of the abdominals is to bring the ribcage and the pelvis together. This is called trunk flexion.
In any given abdominal exercise, you are either bringing your ribcage to your pelvis (as in an abdominal crunch) or you are bringing your pelvis to your ribcage (as in leg raises). Because a muscle grows more around the point at which is flexing, it is important to do both types of abdominal exercises. That’s why I like to do both crunches and leg raises in every abdominal workout.
I have never been a slouch in the abdominal department. In fact, it’s always been one of my strong suits. Complete abdominal development comes from working the abdominals thoroughly and regularly.
In the crunch, the upper torso moves relative to the pelvis, which is fixed, and in leg raises, the pelvis moves upward relative to the upper torso which is fixed.
To perform crunches, lie down on the floor and throw your legs over a bench. Your back should be flat against the floor, and your buttocks forward towards the bench so that your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. When viewed from the side, you should look like you are in an inverted sitting position.
When performing crunches, make sure that your knees are pointing straight towards the ceiling (just in case you were thinking about bending them the other way…how do I know, maybe you are a contortionist!) This take the psoas muscles out of the movement.
The psoas muscles run from your thigh bones , pass through your trunk, and attach to your lower spine. Your calves should rest across a bench and you should not need to have your feet restrained; if you do, you are pulling with your psoas! This defeats the exercise and additionally can cause major strain to your back. Slowly curl your torso towards your pelvis, exhaling as you do.
The motion simulates that of rolling a carpet. Your shoulders will only come up off the floor a few inches. Perform as many repetitions as you can. Rest long enough to catch your breath and repeat. Perform 3-4 sets of crunches, doing as many reps as you can.
On to hanging leg raises…
Hanging leg raises are performed by grasping a chinning bar with a shoulder wide grip, hanging with your thighs parallel to the floor, then bringing your knees up to your chest. The hanging leg raise, or a variation such as a “chair” leg raise performed on a machine, is effective for developing the lower abs only as long as you curl the pelvis upwards as you raise your legs. If there is any arch in the back whatsoever, the psoas muscles will again come into play, defeating the purpose of the exercise. It is helpful to remember that your legs serve only as resistance; the abdominal muscles are the actual movers which contract to tilt the pelvis upwards . Perform 3-4 sets of as many reps as possible.
Ab Training Frequency
Now let’s look at how many times per week to do this ab routine. In the gyms, I’ve heard everything from ‘train abs every day’ to ‘train abs once per week’. Personally I think both are wrong and I’ll explain why.
Training abs everyday is definitely wrong due to the simple fact that muscles have to recuperate in order to grow.
Training causes micro trauma and inflammation to a muscle, but the muscle responds by laying down new muscle, which equals bigger and stronger muscles. Training the abs every day would not allow sufficient time for them to recuperate between workouts. I do, however, agree that the abdominals recuperate faster than most other muscles. Therefore, this abdominal routine should be performed 3 times weekly and should not last longer than 20 minutes. Train your abs on three nonconsecutive days per week, for example: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
How to Make the Abs Look Thicker
By the way, you do want your abdominal muscles to be bigger. That doesn’t mean that your gut will stick out. It simply means that each “brick” within the six-pack is thicker, making the grooves between the six-pack deeper. To accomplish that, forget doing sets of 50 crunches and don’t even think of doing those one-hour ab classes! Eight to twelve repetitions is optimal for building fast twitch muscle fibers. The rectus abdominus (abs) muscle is made up predominately of fast twitch muscle. Therefore, you should use enough resistance such that you can only perform eight to twelve repetitions before reaching failure.
If you’re a beginner, your bodyweight will likely be enough. On the other hand, experienced trainees will likely need to add resistance to make the exercise more difficult. If you’re doing regular crunches, the easiest way to do this is to hold a weight (plate or dumbbell) or medicine ball over your chest while performing crunches. You should be able to complete 12 reps in this manner before adding extra weight.
Don’t forget, you can always make the set harder by pausing in the contracted position, then lowering yourself very slowly to the starting position. Count two seconds on the way up, and three seconds on the way down.
Crunches primarily stress the upper abdominal muscles, while leg raises primarily stress the lower abdominals. Some old school experts will say that you cannot stress upper vs. lower abs and that the whole rectus abdominus functions as one muscle. Wrong! This debate has been settled years ago with a slew of studies showing that the upper and lower abs each respond differently to different exercises.
Oblique Ab Training
The last area of the abdominal area that you really need to train is the oblique muscles, which lie on the sides of your abdominal area. Obliques respond to twisting and side bending movements. Let me give you a word of caution here: DO NOT train the oblique muscles with low reps, only with high reps. Remember, eight – twelve reps builds muscle which is what you want to do in the abs themselves. However, you don’t want thick oblique muscles! You want fairly thin but defined obliques. Overly developed obliques can give the false appearance of having “love handles” on the sides. Remember thick abdominals, thin obliques.
TVA Ab Training
Did you know that you can train a part of your abs right now, no matter where you are? The transverse abdominus (TVA) muscle is the only muscle of the abdominal area that doesn’t cause movement of the spine. Its job is basically that of a girdle: to keep the abdomen pulled in nice and tight, giving the midsection a smaller and tighter appearance. I’m sure you’ve seen people who are quite lean, and they may even have a six-pack, but sport a belly that seems to stick out quite a bit.
This is made possible by a weak TVA muscle. Think about this: in clothes, people can’t actually see your abdominal development; but what they can see is whether or not your TVA is doing its’ job. Training the TVA is very easy. Simply exhale all of your air out of your lungs, then suck your abdomen in as far as you can, bringing your navel closer to your spine. You can also train the muscle throughout the day by simply ‘sucking your stomach in.’ That may seem rather goofy, but it’s very good for developing the TVA. Because you’re training the TVA for neurological development rather than muscular development, you can (and should) train it everyday.
Lee Labrada’s Ab Routine
Crunches (with knees bent at 90-degree angle and feet on top of a bench)
3-4 sets of as many reps as possible *
Hanging Leg Raises (performed curling the pelvis upwards as you raise your legs)
3-4 sets of as many reps as possible *
Bicycle Crunches 3-4 sets of as many reps as possible
- Perform this routine three times a week on non-consecutive days. For example: Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
- If you want thicker looking abs, perform the crunches and the leg raises for 8-12 reps only using resistance. You can also control the tempo of the repetitions by counting two seconds on the way up and 3 seconds on the way down.
- Do not train the obliques with weights as otherwise they become big. Always perform high reps for oblique muscles. The bicycle crunch is an excellent way to not only train the obliques, but the whole abdominal wall as well.
- Train your TVA by “sucking in” your stomach. The TVA can be trained every day at any time.
Dieting for Abs
Now that you are on your way to developing your abs, let’s look your diet. Your diet must enable you to access and burn off the bodyfat stored over your abdominals. In order to do this, you must be burn more calories each day than you consume.
Bring Consumption of Bad Dietary Fats Down
One of the easiest ways to get your Calories down without an appreciable drop in the perceived quantity of food you are consuming is to minimize high-fat foods in your diet. Avoid fried foods, oils, mayonnaise, whole eggs, butter and margarine, cream, whole milk, and for heaven’s sake, read the label of anything you eat. Be sure that you select foods that are low in fat by Calories not by grams! Cut small amount of fats out of your diet. Let’s face it, the fat Calories can add up over time. Eliminating that extra pat of butter at breakfast alone can save you over 3000 Calories, or the equivalent of nearly ONE POUND OF BODYFAT per month! Or you might replace your whole milk with skim milk, to eliminate the fat. The idea is to reduce fats or substitute leaner foods for high-fat foods when possible. This practice alone can drop many pounds of fat off your midsection in a short amount of time.
Eating 5-6 small meals per day in lieu of the normal “three square” is also helpful and minimizes the accumulation of extra Calories as fat. Small frequent meals also help to keep your stomach smaller, mitigating the potential for gut distension.
Check out the diet plans here: Diet Plans Page
Remember, developing a hard, defined midsection is a function of both exercise and diet. Work hard on building your abdominal muscles first with resistance exercise while stripping off the fat layer hiding them with a nutrient-dense, calorie-sparse diet. The results will pay off big time dividends in the way you look and feel. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll sport abs that Serge Nubret would be proud of!
About the Authors:
Lee Labrada is a former IFBB Mr. Universe and IFFB Pro World Cup winner. Lee made history by placing in the top four in the Mr. Olympia seven consecutive times, and was inducted into the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. Lee is founder and CEO of Labrada Nutrition. Sign up for Lee’s informative bi-monthly e-newsletter at www.labrada.com.
Dr. Clay Hyght is a sports nutritionist and trainer, as well as a Doctor of Chiropractic. He designs nutrition and training programs for some of the top athletes in bodybuilding, fitness, and figure and is a regular contributor to various publications. Contact Dr. Hyght at www.DrClay.com Get a FREE Copy of Clay’s new book: Set Your Metabolism on Fire!
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