Ab-Solutions

Let's face it, ab training can be boring. The range of motion is short, many exercises are similar, and workouts frequently focus on high-rep, low-intensity sets. B-o-r-i-n-g. What’s more, if the area is sheathed with body fat (or clothes), no one is going to see the results, no matter how many crunches you do. For these reasons, abs are too often neglected—even by professional bodybuilders. We have a solution. In fact, we have 10. When at their peaks, each of the following physique legends—from those who first competed more than five decades ago to those who are still winning today—sported a superb set of rectus abs and obliques. This isn’t exactly an “all-time 10 best” list. A person or two here might surprise you. The following “middle men” were selected not only for their ab excellence but also for the diversity of their routines. Together, they provide 10 waist workout strategies. These range from marathons to sprints and encompass a wide spectrum of set and rep combinations, exercise choices, and workout frequencies. Get ready for some things old and some things new. These 10 legends prove there are many ab-solutions.

 FRANCO COLUMBU 

abs-1While his chest and back garnered most of the praise in the ’70s, two-time Mr. Olympia Columbu set off his superb torso with a thickly developed ab slab. The Sardinian strongman worked his middle with mostly bodyweight exercises, and he favored one such waist worker, Roman chair situps, which are rarely performed today. As was common in the ’70s, when body parts were hit more often than they are now, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite training partner found some time to stress abs on every training day.

STYLE

High frequency, moderate sets, moderate reps

Weekly Workouts: 6

Sets Per Exercise: 4

Reps Per Set: 15–25

Sets Per Workout: 12

Reps Per Workout: 180–300

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Roman chair situp, crunch, hanging leg raise

 

 Ahmad Haidar 

abs-3Though Lebanese-born Haidar never won a pro show during his 11-year career (1998–2009), he may have had the best abs in every contest he entered. In fact, he had arguably the greatest abdominals of all time. They were earned with 30-minute sessions that always began with four sets of 100 to 150 reps of body-weight crunches. Haidar didn’t reach the endurance test totals of another abman on our list, Serge Nubret. Nevertheless, his fondness for six-times-weekly, crank-up-the-volume middle management was an anachronism in an age when too many bodybuilders neglected abs.

STYLE

High frequency, moderate sets, high reps

Weekly Workouts: 6

Sets Per Exercise: 3–4

Reps Per Set: 25–100

Sets Per Workout: 14–16

Reps Per Workout: 650–780

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Crunch, hanging leg raise, lying leg raise, twisting cable crunch

 

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 David Henry 

abs-5Between 2008 and 2013, Henry won eight 202 or 212 pro titles, including the 2008 Olympia 202 Showdown. During that run, he was bodybuilding’s premier practitioner of Doggcrapp—the unfortunately titled system that focuses on strength increases with low volume and high intensity. The same approach was applied to abs. DC prescribes one working set (after one warmup) for each of two ab exercises, going to failure with 15 to 20 straight reps or 20 to 30 rest-pause reps. Utilizing this unique philosophy of maximum work in minimum time, Henry achieved results that were readily apparent as he collected wins.

STYLE

Low frequency, ultralow sets, moderate reps, few exercises, high intensity

Weekly Workouts: 1.5 (3 every 2 weeks)

Sets Per Exercise: 1 (plus 1 warmup)

Reps Per Set: 15–30

Sets Per Workout: 2 (plus 2 warmups)

Reps Per Workout: 30–60

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Machine crunch, hanging leg raise

 

 SERGE NUBRET 

abs-8If there’s a forefather to the men’s physique division, it could be this Caribbean-born Frenchman. The six-foot Nubret, who died in 2011, is still celebrated for the supremely sculpted upper body he sported in the ’70s. Equally legendary are his marathon workouts. He frequently trained for three hours, twice daily, six days per week, pumping out ludicrously large set and rep totals. And he stressed abs more than anything else. They were hit for an hour every workout day and sometimes even on so-called off days. He chose at most three exercises (and sometimes only one), and he plowed through one mega-high-rep set after another. Certainly, this training style can be supremely boring. Nevertheless, Nubret achieved a rare combination of a wispy waist with eye-catching ab density.

STYLE

High frequency, ultrahigh sets, ultrahigh reps

Weekly Workouts: 6-7 

Sets Per Exercise: 10-30

Reps Per Set: 50-200

Sets Per Workout: 20-30

Reps Per Workout: 2,000-2,500

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Situp, hanging knee raise, broomstick twist

 

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 THIERRY PASTEL 

abs-9The 5'2" Pastel was a protégé of fellow Frenchman Nubret. What Pastel gave up in height he made up with abdominal density. At his best in the early ’90s, when he was a pro posedown perennial, his eight-pack was the most pronounced rectus wall in bodybuilding. A strong case can be made for him and not Haidar as No. 1 on any list of best abs ever. Following Nubret’s lead, Pastel cranked up the volume. However, unlike his adviser, he used more exercise variety, and he didn’t make every day an ab day.

STYLE

High frequency, high sets, high reps

Weekly Workouts: 4

Sets Per Exercise: 5–6

Reps Per Set: 50-100

Sets Per Workout: 20-24

Reps Per Workout: 1,000–1,800

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Crunch, twisting situp, knee-up, side bend

 

 SHAWN RAY 

abs-6At 5'6" and 210 pounds, California’s Ray made 12 straight Olympia posedowns from 1990–2001 by fending off taller opponents, some of whom outweighed him by more than 40 pounds. He accomplished that by presenting a perfectly proportioned physique that brought out the details others neglected. One key component to his success was Sugar Shawn’s deeply etched midsection, which combined ice cube rectus blocks with splintered oblique sheaths. He did two different ab workouts, alternating three exercises one session with a different trio the next time.

STYLE

Moderate frequency, moderate sets, high reps, exercise variety

Weekly Workouts: 3

Sets Per Exercise: 3

Reps Per Set: 30

Sets Per Workout: 9

Reps Per Workout: 270

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Hanging knee/leg raise, bench leg raise, broomstick twist, twisting crunch, decline situp

 

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 Dexter Jackson 

abs-10As evidenced by his record-setting fifth Arnold Classic victory in March, even at 45 the Blade has abs capable of cutting through the competition. However, to see him at his peak, Google photos of him from a decade ago. In 2005, when he won his first Arnold title, Jackson’s middle was among the best ever, notable for its perfectly aligned rectus rectangles and its piano-key obliques. The 2008 Mr. Olympia hits abs every other day with minimal volume but relatively high reps.

STYLE

Moderate frequency, low sets, high reps

Weekly Workouts: 3

Sets Per Exercise: 3

Reps Per Set: 30-50

Sets Per Workout: 9

Reps Per Workout: 270-450

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Crunch, knee-up, cable crunch

 

 MOHAMED MAKKAWY 

abs-12With his superb proportions and masterful posing, the Magic Egyptian cast a spell that made observers forget that he stood only 5'2" and weighed no more than 160. Despite his diminutive stature, Makkawy won six pro shows in the early ’80s and finished second in the Mr. Olympia twice (1983-84). A key component of his enchanting aura was his carefully sculpted abdomen. His midsection was so superb it drew attention even when he locked in his front double biceps or twisting side triceps. He earned those abs with frequent six-exercise, 30-set routines, which included three leg- or knee-raise exercises (targeting lower abs). Let his success stand as a testament to the importance of waist management. Abs were the slingshot that allowed this David to slay entire lineups of Goliaths.

STYLE

Moderate frequency, high sets, moderate reps, many exercises

Weekly Workouts: 4-5

Sets Per Exercise: 5

Reps Per Set: 15-25

Sets Per Workout: 30

Reps Per Workout: 350-600

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Lying leg raise, hanging knee/leg raise, situp, twisting situp, crunch

 

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 MILOS SARCEV 

abs-13Yugoslavian-born Sarcev won only one contest in his prolific pro career. Nevertheless, even when he was overwhelmed by mass monsters in the ’90s or when his conditioning was less than high-def, the classically shaped Sarcev often flexed the best abs in the lineup. He typically worked his midsection with trisets and giant sets, going from one exercise to the next without halting. Sarcev hit abs twice weekly in the off-season, but cranked the frequency up to every workout day pre- contest.

STYLE

Low frequency (high frequency pre-contest), moderate sets, moderate reps, trisets, giant sets

Weekly Workouts: 2 (6 pre-contest)

Sets Per Exercise: 3

Reps Per Set: 15-25

Sets Per Workout: 12

Reps Per Workout: 240

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Hanging leg raise, cable crunch, bench knee raise, twisting crunch

 

 DORIAN YATES 

abs-11You probably didn’t expect to see this six-time Mr. O in an ab article. Abs are perceived as adornment for paradigms of aesthetics like the much-smaller Shawn Ray, not 260-pound mass monsters like Yates. Admittedly, Yates’ middle got muddled in his final years. But during his first few Olympia wins, this Englishman flexed abs that could not be overshadowed. You might anticipate that the ultimate HIT man did only one or two high-intensity working sets of eight to 10 reps. Instead, acknowledging that abs responded differently from other body parts, he employed higher sets and reps and focused less on reaching failure. Nevertheless, he worked waist with as little as 10% the weekly rep volume of his nemesis Ray, proving there’s more than one way to build great abdominals.

STYLE

Low frequency, low sets, moderate reps, few exercises

Weekly Workouts: 1 (2 pre-contest)

Sets Per Exercise: 3

Reps Per Set: 12-20

Sets Per Workout: 6

Reps Per Workout: 81-105

TYPICAL EXERCISES

Crunch, reverse crunch