It’s just about everyone’s dream to have a nice chiseled set of abs. Most people want the kind that you can use as a cheese grater. However, not everyone is able to get their abs to show, and even if they do, they just don’t pop out like they should.
First things first, to get your abs to show, you need to be at a low body fat percentage. This varies from person to person but as a general rule, it’s around 12-15% body fat for men and 15-20% body fat for women. Of course, the lower your body fat percentage, the more they will show.
You might have noticed that despite how many ab exercises you do day in and day out, your abs just don’t show, in fact, your stomach seems to be getting bigger! This is because your ab muscles ARE getting bigger and stronger, it’s just that they are hidden under a layer of fat. So, basically, your abs are growing, but since they are under a layer of fat, your abs push out and make you look even fatter! Crazy, right?
Lose the Fat
The first, and most important, thing you need to do to see your abs is lose the extra layer of fat. You need to bring down your body fat percentage by eating in a calorie deficit. Eat 250-500 calories below your daily maintenance calories and you will lose weight. Aim for a reduction of 1-2lbs per week if you are already somewhat lean or 2-4lbs if you are overweight.
The next thing you need to do to get your abs popping is to work them out. If you’re like most people, you probably just do a few crunches here and there or just work your abs for 5-10 minutes at the end of your workout. This needs to change. If you truly want to build thick and strong abs, you need to work them out separately, when you are fresh. Either have a separate day for abs or work them out at least 4-6 hours apart from your regular workout. Just like any other muscle group, the abs should be worked out for a good number of sets and reps and with different types of exercises, not the typical 100 crunches a day the old ‘health’ magazines will have you believe.
Probably one of the simplest ab exercises of all time, yet, they can be quite challenging. The plank works your entire core and as a bonus, it also strengthens your lower back. All you do is get into a pushup position but instead of resting your weight on your palms, you rest them on your forearms, your arm, from your elbows to your fingers should be firmly planted on the ground. Next, suck in your gut and hold this position for about a minute. Really concentrate on using your core to balance yourself and don’t worry if you can’t hold it for a minute, work your way up. Hold it for as long as you can and work your way up. Do this for at least 10 sets.
If your abs weren’t on fire from the plank, they will be now. The bicycle crunch works out your upper and lower abs as well as the obliques on the sides. To do the bicycle crunch, get in the normal crunch position, lying on the floor with your hands behind or on the side of your head and raise your legs up bent at the knee. Pretend that you’re riding an imaginary bicycle. Now bring your left leg down towards your right elbow and then repeat with the opposite side. This is one rep. Do this exercise in a slow and controlled motion to really concentrate on using your core muscles to perform the movement. Work your way up to 60 seconds of the exercise for 4 sets.
Hanging Leg Raises
These are a great exercise to work the lower abs. It’s simple, hang from a pull-up bar and just slowly raise your legs up until your knees are parallel to the floor. Slowly lower them back down for a count of 2. This is one rep. Do 12-15 reps for 4-6 sets. You can add a twist to each side at the top of the movement to work the obliques as well.
When you feel that your core strength has gone up and need something more challenge, you can start using weights. The cable crunch is a great exercise to implement weights into your ab workout program without any significant risk of injury. To perform, kneel down below the cable machine with a rope attachment, grab the rope with your hands at each side of your face and slowly crunch down, hold and squeeze your abs for a second and then slowly go back up. As with any exercise, start with a light weight and work your way up. Perform 10-12 reps for 4-6 sets.