Everyone’s got abs. No matter how experienced you are with training or what weight class you compete in, you have a six pack. It just might not be visible yet — but if you’d like it to be, there are certain tweaks you can make to your training to help get after that goal.
This means training your core specifically. It’s true that squats and deadlifts strengthen your core, but it’s also true that the core requires more direct and diverse stimulation than the bracing involved in lifting. For your ab muscles to grow, you’ll need to progressively overload them similar to how you do with your other muscle groups.
This article will explain how to balance your focus between training and nutrition, teach you about the benefits of training your core specifically, and help you figure out how to choose supplements to help you reach your ab goals.
How to Train for Abs
Training your abs actually involves your whole body. You’ll want to lean heavily on your compound lifts and also dabble into a bit of cardiovascular conditioning as well.
The core requires more direct and diverse stimulation than the bracing involved in lifting. Especially if you want to train for visible abs, you’ll want to incorporate core-specific work into your program.
That doesn’t mean lying on a mat and performing endless crunches. To strengthen your whole core, you’ll want to include a diverse array of holds and weighted movements to your program. A combination of dedicated isometrics and standard movements can help to increase endurance, strength, and stability all at the same time.
Select core exercises that match your recovery and lifting needs in accordance with the rest of your training regimen. For example, before heavy deadlifts, try hollow holds or dead bug pullovers. These moves will help prime your body for heavy lower body pulls.
Try moves like Pallof presses and bear planks before overhead or bench pressing. These core variations will recruit your upper body muscles while focusing on anti-rotation and stability in your core. After squatting, kickstart your legs’ recovery and challenge your core at the same time by performing heavy suitcase carries.
In terms of sets and reps, aim for six to 10 reps with moderately heavy weight for loaded movements. Try to approach failure for isometric work so that you’re really challenging your body. Think about maintaining progressive overload, similar to how you train other muscle groups.
Keeping the same core routine that you’re vaguely bored by won’t help you grow. But increasing the weight you’re using or switching to a variation you haven’t tried since your last macrocycle can help keep your entire body engaged in your core training. And it’ll keep those gains coming.
Cardio For Abs
In training cycles where getting visible abs is one of your top goals, you can also incorporate core-specific days into your program. That said, make sure you’re not just doing core moves and expecting to see those abs shine through.
Programming compound lifts and cardio sessions can help you lose the body fat you need to help your abs become more visible. Some folks prefer high intensity interval training (HIIT), but
you might find low-intensity steady state cardio more sustainable. especially when combined with your lifting and recovery needs.
Bear in mind that cardio doesn’t create abs on its own. Since visibility of the abdominals is a byproduct of how lean you are, cardio can serve as an effective way to get some extra-credit calorie burn throughout the week.
How to Eat for Abs
It’s not necessary to make fat loss a goal in your fitness journey — many folks don’t prioritize it and are incredible athletes. If you do want to incorporate some body composition goals into your training, however, a benefit of fat loss is that it can help make your abs more visible.
For many athletes, feelings of body shame and dysmorphia can accompany lifting weights, losing weight, and chasing that six pack. Intuitive eating is a method that a lot of athletes use to reduce negative feelings that can come with body recomposition.
A lot of times, the gym is a place where you turn to the next person and wish your body could look like theirs. What follows is often bullying yourself about the body you’ve got. Instead of bringing that shame home into your kitchen, intuitive eating allows you to focus on your own body and its unique needs.
The logic is that you can learn to recognize when you’re actually full (versus eating because you’re bored or stressed) and eat foods that make you happy when you’re hungry. While not everyone loses weight while learning to eat intuitively, it can help you avoid the dramatic swings in body weight that sometimes accompany hopping on or falling off of diets.
Macros For Abs
If you want to actively think about your macronutrients, that’s another way to eat for abs. To help your core muscles grow (and thus be more visible) as you’re losing body fat, you might want to prioritize protein while still incorporating dietary fat and carbohydrates into your food plan.
Trying to get most of your nutrients from fresh and unprocessed foods can help speed up your visible-ab journey. Making sure you’re getting enough vitamin D and resistant starches — the ones that will keep you fuller longer, like beans, potatoes, and plantains — can also help you out. Focusing on timing your nutrient intake to maximize muscle recovery can enable you to lift heavier tomorrow — thus optimizing your gains.
To make sure you’re getting the right macronutrients in the right proportions, hop into our built-in calculator to make it all a breeze:
Benefits of Core Training
Whether or not you have a visible six-pack, having a strong core has a wide array of benefits, ranging from increasing your resilience against injury to making you a stronger athlete.
When you develop a powerful core, you can become a stronger and more explosive athlete. Your core is responsible for transmitting force throughout your body. The stronger it is, the more efficiently you can move and the heavier you can lift.
Think about the back squat. The barbell sits on your shoulders, while your legs are doing the actual work. To maintain a steady bar path and to avoid collapsing under the weight, your core must hold up under all that force and keep everything steady. Core training can help you get stronger between heavy sessions without placing such intense demands on your entire body.
Protect Your Back
Core training gives you the opportunity to strengthen your core under submaximal loads and from different angles. The more lifting stress your core can tolerate, the more it can support your lower back under the strain of a heavy squat or deadlift.
Your resilience against potential injury increases even more when you diversify your core training with holds, heavy loads, and anti-rotational moves. When you bump into the side of the rack during your squat walkout, a core that’s used to anti-rotational training can absorb that shock more easily, keeping you safe and getting you back to focusing on your set.
It’s not always your low back and glutes that give out first during your deadlift sessions. Your core might be the limiting factor in lifts like the deadlift and squat, especially if your low back feels like it’s taking too much strain. Increasing your core’s endurance will help you weather both high-intensity and high-volume training days.
The more endurance your core has, the less likely it is to be the limiting factor in your big lifts. Investing the time and energy in training your core specifically will have an overall positive impact on your athleticism and lifting.
Achieve Aesthetic Goals
While it’s not on everyone’s list of priorities, some athletes may want the same kind of definition on their abs that they desire for their shoulders. Combined with training or dieting for fat loss, targeting your core can help grow your abdominal muscles to help make them visible.
If your nutrition and training are already dialed in, you might want to turn to fat-burning supplements to help with competition prep or certain aesthetic goals you might have. When you’re choosing which supplements to take and when, make sure you know exactly what you’re taking.
Proprietary blends may sound fancy, well-researched, and helpful — but those blends mean that manufacturers aren’t obligated to tell you exactly what’s in the tub. Just like you take your time researching the best core workouts, it can help to spend the time you need on making sure you know what and how much of each ingredient is in your chosen supplement.
If you want to make sure that the supps you’re taking don’t come with high doses of caffeine or other stimulants that may interfere with your sleep schedule, there are non-stim fat-burning supplements on the market, too.
You don’t need a visible six pack to have a strong and powerful core that will keep you safe, healthy, and lifting heavy. But if getting that definition is on your list of gym goals, make sure you’re continuing to train hard and eat enough to fuel all that hard work.
You might focus more than you normally do on the cardio aspects and heavy core work — have fun with that extra boost of training variety, and don’t forget to enjoy the journey.
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