Abs…we either never train them or we train them every day. Those that don’t train them will tell you squats and deadlifts give your abs all the work they need. Those that train them everyday will most likely say something like “they can handle lots of work” or “they require constant work to grow because they are used to working everyday through secondary movements”.
Both people are unfortunately wrong. Abs do get stimulated from doing deadlifts, but so do your biceps. I don’t see anyone skipping arm day. Abs also get a lot of work from bent over rows. This exercise also stimulates your quads and hamstrings. You better not be skipping leg day!
I’m fan of training abs like any other body part. Twice per week. I don’t like to just hit one exercise for 5 sets and be done with it though. I also never do crunches. Studies have shown time and time again they are not as effective as we once thought. They can still be included in your routine but we just need to make sure we do them correctly. This can be tough and the hip flexors can unfortunately do the bulk of the work when done incorrectly.
Abs also need to be trained with weight. A lot of people don’t want to “bulk up” their abs so they do high reps and no added weight. When I want to add size to my arms, I will often do 20-50 reps per set because higher reps have shown to increase muscle size faster than low reps. So, for those that only do high rep and bodyweight exercises, you might want to rethink how you train your abs. Now for some, doing leg raises with no added weight is hard enough and they don’t actually need added weight. If you can push out 30 no worries then try adding resistance.
This isn’t to say your abs will add a lot of size and get bulky from high reps. The design of the abdominal muscles is different to that off your bicep or quadriceps. They don’t shorten and lengthen the same way other muscles do. They often respond better to isometric movements whereas your biceps won’t.
Sadly, if most trainers had a basic understanding of muscle biomechanics and movements, they would realize that 90% of the exercises they prescribe are useless and don’t actually work the abs.
The chart below shows the results of an EMG Machine. What this machine does is measures the muscles response or electrical activity in response to nerve’s stimulation of the muscle.
As you can see here, they measured the activation of the upper rectus abdominals, lower rectus abdominals, and the external and internal obliques. The 5 exercises they chose to test are ones that are quite popular. Looking at the chart, you can see a clear difference between the wheel roll out, hanging leg raise and reverse crunch in comparison to the popular flat crunch and bent knee sit-up.
The first 3 exercises gave a response of 50-100% more than those that are your traditional exercises. No wonder all those people doing sit ups don’t have a chiseled core!
Here is a great circuit you can try next time you are at the gym. This circuit can be done 3-4 times at the end of your workout. Twice per week.