Expert Q&A: Six Pack Abs
Q: I'm a 36 year old female who is extremely dedicated to following a healthy diet and exercise routine. But no matter how many crunches I do, I just can't seem to get my abs to show. How do I get flat 'six pack' abs?
A: This is easily the number one question that I get asked by both men and women, and the answer probably won't be what you expect: use dynamic and challenging 'core training' exercises to condition your entire body. Yes, diet and cardio are a part of the equation, but for now we are going to focus on the core.
Your abdominals help to comprise your core the same way that the knee is a part of your leg. Many people falsely assume that if they do a thousand crunches a day, they'll be able to get the washboard abs of their dreams, but nothing could be further from the truth. Your core is comprised of many different muscles, including the rectus abdominus (the 'six pack' muscles), the transverse abdominus, and internal and external oblique muscles, amongst others. Essentially, in order for the whole core region to be strong, it should be worked in different planes of motion, with varying degrees of quickness, power, angles, strength, and balance. These core muscles help to stabilize you when you're off balance, turning to make a catch, reaching for that box of cookies on the top shelf, or pulling open a heavy door. Because muscles perform dynamically, they should be trained the same way in order to capitalize on their full potential of strength, power, and mobility.
So now that you know the 'why,' all you need is the 'how.' The simple answer is pull ups, dips, squats, lunges, planks, rows, presses and flys. But what if you already do all of these exercises and still can't do laundry on your stomach? Well, can you do a one legged squat on a Bosu ball with weights? That takes balance and strength. Can you do consecutive push ups or dumbbell rows? Those require stability, power, and balance. You do thirty pull ups a day and still aren't the envy of all your friends? Can you do them with your legs straight out in the air in an L-shaped fashion or hanging straight down? Can you curl your legs up to your hands, lower them while keeping them straight, and then do eight to ten pull ups? This might seem impossible, but I assure you that it's not as daunting as it seems. You don't have to be an acrobat or an elite athlete to achieve these goals, but you must stay true to the following three rules. One, use a professional to teach you the proper form and technique. This will help you to maximize strength and control. Two, constantly challenge your muscles to adjust and adapt by changing your routine and exercises; work on your weakness and not just your strengths. And most importantly, remember that when attempting to make an exercise more challenging, all you need to do is vary the angle, duration (slower, faster), and stability (balance).
One of the most effective ways to train your body is through periodization, or phases. Used by professional athletes, this method typically encompasses focusing on a specific goal, such as power, strength, speed, agility, endurance etc., for four to six weeks over time. You, however, are not a professional athlete. You're extremely busy. You might have kids to feed and paychecks to earn, so you should probably begin your journey to flat abs by focusing on strength training your entire body 3 times a week. Just don't forget to eschew the pizza, eat healthy (the majority of the time), and throw in some fat burning cardio workouts.
Akil Ross is a certified personal trainer (NASM-CPT) and a member of the International Sports Conditioning Association. He has trained over 350 clients specializing in ab/core workouts and natural body strength building (i.e. pushups, pullups, squats, lunges, dips, boxing, etc) and defining muscle. He is the creator and owner of Phaze Systems (located in Hoboken, New Jersey) and sees clients in both the New Jersey and Manhattan areas.
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