This week, we continue our discussion of training the rectus abdominis (RA) for aesthetics. As you recall, last week I introduced the concept of “Striking like a Scorpion.” Again, when I train the RA, it gives me a very clear visual of how I want to curl my torso, one pair of segments of the RA at a time, just like a scorpion curls its tail. I want you to stick with that visual this week as we discuss training for ab muscle creation rather than core endurance.
One of the most influential factors that will directly impact your ab results is how you execute each and every rep. More specifically, the goal when training to build muscle in the RA (as with any group) is to reach muscular fatigue in order to break down the tissue. But, contrary to popular belief, the fatigue should result from concentrated force against resistance, not high volumes of reps. This is a simple misconception, considering the abdominals are highly regarded as endurance muscles. It is BECAUSE the RA has a high tolerance for endurance activity that we have to concentrate on HOW we contract the muscle, versus trying to contract as many times as we can.
Now, back to the Scorpion visual. Before it strikes, the scorpion curls its tail tightly and holds it there. If you want clear separation and definition, you need to do the same with your RA moves. In fact, at the mid-point of your movement, you should be contracting your abs as hard as you can, on every rep, and holding that squeeze for a second or two. Done properly, this will severely limit the number of reps you achieve in each set.
I know you’re asking, “When it comes to abs, isn’t ‘more’ better?” The answer is ‘yes’ if you’re training to be an endurance athlete. Ideally, to stimulate new muscle growth in the RA, you need to break down the muscle tissue, and do so with a rep range of 10-15 per set. If you’re able to do any more than that without struggling, you’re either not contracting hard enough or you need to increase the degree of difficulty of your resistance. Notice, however, that I said ‘Increase the difficulty,’ which doesn’t necessarily mean increase the weight.
One of the most underutilized techniques for increased difficulty is modifying your center of gravity. We all have a center of balance, around which we execute abdominal exercises. We also have the ability to trick our bodies into thinking the center has moved by extending our levers. This is typically done by executing movements with either one or both of the legs in an extended position, or with the arms locked over the head. For added difficulty, we can actually hold a medicine ball or moderate weight plate in that extended position, simulating how it would feel if your head was repositioned 12-18 inches farther out from between your shoulders.
This ‘shift’ in your center not only requires the RA to fire in an unfamiliar fashion (muscle confusion), but also stimulates quicker hypertrophic fatigue. What’s more, this technique isn’t limited to crunch and curl movements. It is effective in executing each of the primary target movements we’ve discussed thus far in this series: 1) Lower RA, 2) obliques, 3) rotation/transverse abdominis, and 4) the full RA.
If you’re anything like me, a solid core with ripped abs is among the list of goals you’ve set for yourself in 2013. Now that we have covered the foundation of core training, we’ll pull it all together into a program that will bring you your best abs yet.
CPT NCSF, IFBB Physique Pro