A flat, toned tummy is super sexy and implies its owner is super fit. It’s no wonder all of us want one. But so few of us get it right…
We asked Roland Mensikovas a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), superstar personal trainer, rehabilitation specialist and educator, for his top tips to get the abs everyone wants.
1. Lean is mean
“No matter how many crunches you do or how many leg raises you perform, if your body fat levels are not below a certain threshold you will not see any definition,” says Mensikovas. You have to lean up if you want to see more muscle definition in your abs. To do this, spend more time doing big, compound exercises that burn a lot of calories (e.g. squats).
“As your body fat levels are reduced your abs will appear, without the need to spend countless hours doing hundreds of crunches or planks,” says Mensikovas.
2. Get up and move!
To get more defined abdominals, you’ve got to get up and move your body, in a wide range (and across various planes) of motion. So vary your exercise regime, so that your body is engaging in various different movements.
A great way to work through a wider range of motion is to incorporate a Swiss ball into your tried and trusted ab exercises. Consider crunches: Performed on the floor, they work your abs a little. But perform them on the ball and you instantly engage more muscle tissue in the abs. Your core stabilisers have to work harder to keep you on ball, too.
3. Train short and hard, not long and easy
Anatomy 101: Your abdominal muscles are fast twitch muscles; they’re made up of shorter, thicker muscle fibres. This means they’re better suited to short bouts of hard, intense work (as opposed to the low resistance, high rep work suited to slow-twitch muscles). So train them hard, says Mensikovas. “With adequate rest they respond best to heavy resistance and low repetitions… If you are routinely performing more than 12-15 repetitions per set for your abdominal exercises, you are not getting the most “bang for your buck””.
The rule of thumb is that if you’re moving your upper torso, you’re targeting your upper abs; and if you’re moving your lower body, you’re targeting your lower abs. And there are many options available to you to develop your ab muscles, including hanging hip flexors, cables and elastic bands, as well as bodyweight exercises.
Yet while these tools are useful, the best results are won through what Mensikovas calls holistic abdominal development. “Doing big compound movements like deadlifts, squats, pull ups and overhead presses, amongst others, engages the abdominals due to the load placed on the body and the associated need for stabilisation. This will help you to develop a functional and strong core. Just try standing and performing a one handed shoulder press with a dumbbell. You will undoubtedly feel that your abdominals are working very hard just to keep you upright. The same goes for squatting and lunging; if your abdominals are weak you will have a very hard time maintaining an upright posture while recruiting the correct muscles. So if you incorporate these traditional compound moves into your regime, apply sound conditioning principles to your training and combine them with your targeted ab work you will definitely see a marked improvement in your mid-section,” he says.
5. Consider your hormones
You may have noticed that you carry fat (and build muscle) differently to your sibling, parent, best friend or spouse. Strength coach Charles Poliquin has researched this phenomenon, and coined the term “biosignature”, to refer to these unique differences. He also developed a system for evaluating specific body fat storage sites, correlating them and coming up with a personal ‘fat loss blueprint’. In many cases, the body’s hormones are responsible for the distribution and nature of the fat deposits.
While you may not be able to drop in and chat to Poliquin in person, you can always research his methods, and find out more about your own physique. Consider your hormonal profile, and the role that, say, stress hormones play in your life (too much of them will result in increased fat deposits around your belly button area, for example). Sometimes, this explains why you aren’t losing body fat over a certain area of your mid-section, in spite of a challenging workout programme and a strict diet.
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.