In 8 Easy Lessons… Plus My Favorite “Killer” ab routines (part 1 of 2)
by Tom Venuto
I have a confession to make. This might shock you. Are you ready? Don’t hate me. Okay, here it is:
I don’t train my abs very much. Once a week for about 15 – 20 minutes. That’s it. Seriously – no kidding. I work my abs like any other small body part, maybe even less.
Now, you’re probably wondering, how can I possibly get “Killer Abs” with only one ab workout a week?
Well, if you already own my BFFM fat burning system, or even if you’ve simply followed my articles and newsletters closely for a while, you already know the answer…
Lesson #1 in old-school style killer abs is: Get rid of the fat or you’ll never see your abs, no matter how often you train, no matter how many reps you do or no matter what exercises you do
LISTEN TO ME: AB TRAINING DOES NOT BURN FAT OFF YOUR STOMACH!
This is probably the biggest misconception that people have about exercise today and I don’t think the general public is EVER going to get it. The myth that ab training burns fat off your abs is so pervasive that I suspect it will never die and simply continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
The truth is, getting six-pack “killer” abs has almost nothing to do with training. It has everything to do with low body fat.
Ironically, I believe the abdominal muscles are quite easy to develop; much, much easier than building an 18 or 19 inch arm, a 315 pound bench, a 400 pound squat, or a wide, V-shaped back, for example.
Some people might argue that I was just blessed with good genetics in the ab department, which may be true, but based on my experience with others who have less favorable genetics, I still believe that developing the abdominal muscles is easy,. The hardest part is getting your body fat low enough for your abs to show.
Most people grossly over train their abs. Training your abs daily or even every other day for hundreds or thousands of reps is totally unnecessary and a complete waste of time.
AB EXERCISES DON’T BURN FAT!!!!!!
You lose fat with nutrition and cardio. If you want to see your abs, tighten up your diet and do more cardio! The bottom line is, if your abs are covered with a layer of fat, you won’t be able to see them, no matter how much ab exercise you do! If you need help with fat loss, check out my BFFM fat burning system here: http://www.tomvenuto.com/resudoc.cfm?doc=fatburn
Lesson #2 in old-school style killer abs is: The same old basic ab exercises that have been around for years, STILL work – and that means CRUNCHES!
“Core training” and “functional training” are the “IN” things today. Devices and modalities such a stability balls, medicine balls, core balls, ab wheels, kettlebells, functional exercises, and so on, are all valuable tools, but for the most part they simply represent what is trendy and fashionable in fitness training today.
“Core” and “functional training” come largely from the sports world, and if you’re a competitive athlete, martial artist, golfer, tennis player, or you play any sport recreationally, this type of training is worth looking into.
However, for pure “cosmetic” ab development, there is nothing new under the sun. The “old school” methods are as valid as ever. And that starts with crunching exercises. Why? Because the prime function of the abs is to flex the spine and shorten the distance between the sternum and pelvis – which is exactly what crunching exercises do.
Very recently, a well-known ab training “guru” wrote in one of his books that “Crunches are worthless.” Funny how things change. It wasn’t so long ago that powerlifter and exercise physiologist Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield wrote, and I quote, “Crunches are the Cadillac of abdominal exercises.”
So what’s the deal? Should you crunch or should you ditch this “old” exercise in favor of all the “new stuff?” The truth is, there’s a happy medium! Crunches are not “worthless” by any means, but they’re also not the only way to train abs. You can and should incorporate a wide variety of crunch variations into your program and also include some functional work and stability ball work which will help develop your core musculature and allow you to work your abs through a larger range of motion.
Despite all the new and trendy ab workouts and equipment being promoted these days, the good old crunch is the oldie but goodie I always come back to time and time again. I’ve used crunches and their many variations in almost all my training routines for years.
The best Crunch variations (upper abs)
1. Feet on floor reach through crunch
2. Feet on floor, hands crossed over chest crunch
3. Feet on floor hands behind head crunch
4. Feet on bench hands behind head crunch
5. Feet in air hands behind head crunch
6. Feet in air, hands behind head, pull in knees, touch elbows
7. Weight on chest crunch
8. Weight behind head crunch
9. Weight held at arms length above chest crunch
10. Stability ball crunch, bodyweight
11. Stability ball crunch, with resistance
12. Weighted supine crunch machine (such as Icarian Ab Bench)
Lesson #3 in old-school style killer abs is: Crunch with cables too.
Bodyweight crunches performed off the floor are good. Cable crunches might be even better. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve seen more than one out of fifty people perform the exercise properly.
Cable crunches can be performed seated, standing or kneeling. My favorite is kneeling cable crunch. Performed properly, this is an AB-solutely KILLER exercise!
KNEELING CABLE CRUNCH
Most people perform the cable crunch like they were bowing. They bend only at the hips brining the elbows straight down to the floor, while the entire spinal column stays in a straight line. This does not cause the abs to contract through their full range of motion, it only gives you an isometric contraction of the abs, while brining the hip flexors strongly into play.
Proper form on the kneeling cable crunch is a curling motion, almost like a carpet being rolled up. Another way I like teach this exercise is to have a trainee visualize that a log is in front of them about a foot off the floor, and ask them to imagine they are wrapping their torso around the log, rounding the back over and curling the spine in a circular range of motion, curling the elbows over and around the log and back in towards the knees.
Also, some people perform this facing away from the weight stack, which is one acceptable variation. I prefer facing towards the weight stack and holding a rope with my hands pressed against my forehead.
Master the proper form on this exercise and you’ll see your abs start coming into focus at an alarming rate.
Lesson #4: After you’ve developed a substantial level of ab strength, learn how to do this advanced killer ab exercise: Hanging leg raises from the chin up bar
If there’s any “secret weapon” in my ab training arsenal- the one exercise I’ve ALWAYS turned to when I wanted major results is the hanging leg raise, and its “younger brother,” the hanging knee up. These can be performed hanging by your hands from a chin up bar, although it’s much easier with “ab slings” because grip strength is no longer the limiting factor.
Bill Phillips once made fun of this exercise in his magazine. He showed a picture of his Brother Shawn dangling precariously from the ab slings in a mocking fashion. I’m not sure why he blasted this movement, and Shawn certainly has a six-pack rack with the best of them. But personally, I think the hanging leg raise and knee up are two of the best ab exercises in existence.
I think the problem is that this exercise is so difficult that most people can’t do them properly. Usually the first time you attempt a hanging leg raise from the chin up bar (with no back support behind you), you swing uncontrollably from front to back. So most people try these once or twice and then give up. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Hanging leg raises are a very advanced and very difficult movement. Don’t expect to do them like a pro on your first try – and don’t even try them if you’re a beginner.
If you’re a beginner, the best way to develop the strength necessary to do these properly is to start on the support leg raise. That’s the piece of equipment found in almost every gym that has the pad for your forearms and elbows to support your body weight and a back support behind you. Start with support knee ups, then progress into support leg raises with the legs nearly straight. It’s important to use a full range of motion on this exercise and get your knees high up in front of the chest because the lower portion of the range of motion is largely initiated by the hip flexors.
Once you’ve mastered the support leg raise, then you can move on to the hanging knee up and ultimately to the hanging straight leg raise. When you master the hanging leg raise, there’s an even higher level: You can begin to superset from the hanging leg raise (until fatigue) into the hanging knee up. Once you’ve reached the point where you can perform three supersets of 15 to 25 reps of hanging leg raises to hanging knee ups with STRICT form, I guarantee you will have amazing abdominal development (provided of course, that your body fat is low enough).
Lesson #5: Yes, you can train your lower abs
One of the biggest controversies in ab training is the question of whether you can “isolate” your upper and lower abs. There are experts who swear you can, and experts who swear you can’t. If someone wants to get technical and split hairs, then it’s true – you CAN’T isolate lower and upper abs. The word “isolation” is somewhat of a misnomer because muscles work in conjunction with other muscles at all times.
For example, a bench press is often called a “compound” exercise because the pecs are heavily assisted by the triceps and deltoids, while a dumbbell flye is usually referred to as an “isolation exercise” because it “isolates” the pecs more. However, the pectorals do not and cannot work in complete isolation from the triceps and deltoids; there is simply a smaller degree of involvement from the assisting muscles in the flye exercise. Therefore, the flye is an “isolation” exercise, relatively speaking, but not literally speaking.
The same is true of the abs. You can’t completely isolate the lower from the upper abs or the abs from the obliques, but you CAN put greater emphasis on the lower or upper abs depending on the exercise you select.
The abdominals are a unique muscle. They are not a single long muscle belly like the biceps, which has continuous fibers running the entire length from origin to insertion. The ab muscles have a tendinous band in between each section. This is what gives the abs their segmented, “six pack” appearance.
Each segment of the abs flexes a portion of the lumbar spine and or pelvis. The lower abs are the part responsible for the flexion of the lower lumbar vertebrae and backward rotation of the pelvis. The upper abs are responsible for the flexion of the upper part of the lumbar spine.
The practical application of this information is simple: Exercises that draw the lower body towards the upper body, such as reverse crunches, hip lifts, and leg raises, emphasize the lower abs. Exercises that draw the upper body towards the lower body, such as crunches, emphasize the upper abs (but neither completely isolates one or the other).
One last tip: Because most lower ab exercises require more coordination and stability (they’re harder), do your lower abs first most of the time.