Abs are the one muscle group that almost everyone wishes they had and that almost everyone wants to make more impressive.
The abs are often considered among the ‘sexiest’ muscle groups and are a sign that a person is slim, toned and athletic.
At the same time, building great abs gives you strength and performance benefits that can bleed into every other aspect of your physical ability. That’s because the abs provide your core and give you the strength to stabilize yourself during other movements.
But the problem is that many people have no idea how to go about building their abs. With that in mind then, read on and we’ll explore what makes the difference between a six pack and a beer belly.
The first thing to recognize is that you need to reduce your body fat percentage if you’re going to have visible abs. You can have the strongest muscles possible here but if you don’t lower your body fat percentage, then they still won’t be visible.
Note that you can’t target fat loss. This means that one of the most important keys to building visible muscle here is to make sure that you incorporate CV in order to burn fat as well.
Engaging the Abs
Another thing to recognize is that you need to actually engage your abs during exercise.
Many people will perform ab exercises but won’t actually be training their abs so much as their hips. The hip flexors can perform a very similar job to the abs by folding the body in half but of course, they don’t have quite the same visual appeal (if you ask most people).
In short, if you are performing sit-ups and leg raises so that your body folds at the waist, then it’s not training the abs. Instead, you need to actually roll the abs and curl your stomach round through the movements.
The Different Ab Muscles
Making life more confusing is the fact that you actually have multiple different muscles in the mid-section. The ‘abs’ as many of us think about them (the six-pack) are defined by your rectus abdominis – the muscle plate that sits on the front of your stomach and has the six indentations we all want to achieve.
Meanwhile, though, you also have the transverse abdominis. The purpose of this muscle is to provide support for the lower spine and also to ‘hold in’ the stomach. Training this muscle is not only important for performance, it also helps you to create flatter abs.
You can hit this muscle by using the myotatic crunch (a crunch performed over a bosu ball so that your back goes past flat) or by using the ‘cat vomit’ exercise that involves sucking your abs in while on all fours to create an ‘ab vacuum’.
Finally, you have the obliques. These sit on either side of the rectus abdominis and give you more definition here as well as the ability to torque. Train them using twisting sit-ups and similar movements.
Training the legs is something of a hot topic among bodybuilders and athletes. Gym goers who ‘skip leg day’ are often referred to unfavourably and for good reason; training the legs has knock-on benefits throughout the entire body whereas leaving them out tends to make you look disproportioned and odd.
The question then is why so many people leave legs out of their routine in the first place. And the answer is a) legs are boring and b) legs are hard to train.
The simple fact of the matter is that your legs don’t have hands attached to them. And this means it’s harder to pick up a weight, thus meaning you have to load yourself up some other way and involve the whole body. That instantly reduces the number of exercises available to you and means that leg exercises necessarily take up more space and leave you a lot more tired.
And it also makes it much harder to train your legs with bodyweight alone. But there are ways. Read on to discover some of the best of them…
One of the simplest ways to train your legs with your bodyweight alone is to use jumping squats. This simply means that you’re squatting down and then jumping at the apex. This is a simple exercise and you wouldn’t think that it would make a huge difference – but it is great for building up power and can quickly create a burn thanks to the amount of acceleration involved.
Speaking of which, box jumps require even more power to launch you high enough into the air – especially if you stack them high. This is in some ways just as challenging as a squat and a great way to build hamstrings, quads, calves and hips.
This is simply a lunge where you jump, switch legs in mid-air and then land with your legs in the opposite position. Doing this is a great way
to build strength in the hamstrings and again involves jumping to create more acceleration.
Simply walking by stepping from one lunge into the next. This is a surprisingly effective workout because you’re plunging so deep in between and spending the majority of your time under tension.
Single Leg Squat
Another way to make the squat more challenging with just body weight is of course to do it on just one leg. This then requires twice the strength and also forces you to balance a lot as well. A more advanced version is the ‘pistol squat’ which requires your foot to be flat on the ground while the other one is pointed straight out in front of you, toes facing up.
This is between a squat and a lunge and involves stepping out to one side, lunging deep and then stepping back to the middle before repeating on the other side.
Finally, a sissy squat is a squat you perform by leaning back and going up on your toes. Your knees point forward and you lean back like Neo. This is tough on the joints so more of a party trick to be used sparingly!
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