Though there has been an apparent increase in women across the world learning to accept their curves and the rest of us trying to build them up (a.k.a. squatting for days!), the one fitness aesthetic we are all still chasing is having those tight and toned abs.
With the many fitness models and #fitspo accounts all over social media, it is easy to assume that it’s an easy task. However, the large number of us sitting at home and struggling to get even a bit of definition is proof that it is much harder we’ve been made to believe.
There are 4 important muscles that make up what we call the abs:
- Transverse Abdominis: The deepest muscle layer that works to stabilise the trunk and maintain internal abdominal pressure
- Rectus Abdominis: Found between the ribs and pubic bone at the front of the pelvis. When contracted this muscle forms the “six-pack” and its main function is to move the body between the ribcage and the pelvis and is also usually divided into the upper and lower abs.
- External Oblique Muscles: These are on each side of the rectus abdominis and allow the trunk to twist from side to side.
- Internal Oblique Muscles: These are located just inside the hipbones and operate in the opposite way to the external oblique muscles.
When working your abs, you need to make sure that you incorporate exercises that target each and every one of these muscles for a full workout.
Now, while it may seem easy to look at the picture of your favorite fitness model and decide that you want abs exactly like theirs, you have to understand that just like your entire body, the shape of your midsection is hereditary. Exercise cannot fix your DNA and this is quite important to remember. So even though you can tone your abs to the flat state you want them in or build them up to be muscular and have a visible full ‘six-pack’ you cannot change from a straight to an hourglass body shape.
Remember when I said that working abs is hard? Well, that is because like most body parts, you cannot spot-reduce your midsection to reveal the abs you want. This means that in order to start losing the fat around your midsection, you have to lose weight all over your body. Women have it even harder since our bodies tend to hold on to more fat around the tummy than men as they are preparing for pregnancy.
Now to sing the song that has been repeated from various fitness coaches: Abs are made in the Kitchen! This is ultimately because, as stated, losing fat around your midsection is only possible if you lose fat everywhere else. And the key to weight-loss has always been eating well. So you can pull out all the crunches you want in a one-hour session, but if the rest of the 23 hours of the day are filled with junk, then you will never see the change you want. This is the number one reason why most fitness athletes do not work abs as holistically as us regular folk- all the toning they need comes from all those intense workouts they get in at the gym and those healthy #healthyfoodporn meals you see them posting.
This doesn’t mean there is no place for abs in your workout plan though. Strengthening your abs through various exercises is essential for strengthening your core (which keeps the rest of your body stable) and can also help you tone up those problem areas (like that little pooch).
Here’s how to work your abs to help strengthen and tone it:
Firstly, remember, your abs are also muscles. This means that you need to exercise them the same way you exercise your other muscles: At most, you should only exercise your abs 2-3 times a week with rest days in between.
So your workout split for abs could be:
It can be whatever you want as long as you give your abs some rest in between the days.
Secondly, make sure that you incorporate exercises that target all the ab muscles during each workout.
Make sure that you add an exercise for each muscle group in your workout. The four groups to target are:
Lower abs (Best lower ab exercises)
Upper abs (Best upper ab exercises)
Obliques (Best oblique exercises)
Inner core (Best inner core exercises)
Thirdly, work for your ab goals.
If your goal is to build your muscles to form that amazing visible ‘six-pack’, then your exercises need to involve weights (as you would with any other muscle). This means adding dumbbells, barbells or even the cable machine to build up the abs and keeping your rep range between 10 – 12.
NB! Do not add weights to oblique exercises as this can cause the obliques to bulk up and make your midsection look wider than it actually is.
If you just want that tone and tight figure then avoid using weights or use really light weights and keep your rep range between 15 – 20.
Check out this amazing ab workout using a medicine ball:
And if you are looking for an ab workout program, I’ve got just the one for you!