Merlin, I have a question about abs. Even though I have gotten my body fat as low as about 4%, I fail to display “contest winning” abs. They look pretty good when I ex them but kind of disappear when relaxed. How does one go about creating abdominals that look like bricks? 


This is an issue I also faced early in my competitive career. While I never had a problem bringing my body fat down to the low single digits and also purging just about all my subcutaneous water, my abs never had any real “pop.” After hearing this from several judges (as part of their critiques of my physique), I knew it was time to reevaluate my abs training program. Following some serious thought, I realized I was not training my abdominals in the same manner as other muscle groups, and that had to change! Within a year my abs went through a major metamorphosis, and the following points are the reasons why:

  • I trained them twice weekly without fail. 
  • I began treating them like any other muscle group rather than as an afterthought.
  • I slowed the rep tempo and focused intensely on both the stretch and squeeze.
  • I added more resistance to every abdominal movement so that fewer reps could be performed.
  • I took every work set to failure.
  • I gave greater attention to the lower abdominals, as this section is often less developed than the upper region.
  • I found a core of abdominal exercises that were the most effective for me and rotated them in and out each week. 

In regard to that last point, here are the exercises that I found to be the most productive:

  • Weighted Floor Crunch
  • Cable Crunch
  • Seated Crunch Machine
  • Hanging Straight- and Bent-leg Raise 
  • Incline Straight- and Bent-leg Raise
  • Lying Side Crunch
  • Cable Side Crunch 

There really is no magic formula behind building “bricks” for abs. What it takes is the commitment to put as much intensity and thought into training them as you do for chest, arms, shoulders, or legs. 


  • Cable Crunch | SETS: 2 REPS: 10-12
  • Weighted Hanging Bent-Leg Hip Raise SETS: 4 REPS: 13-15
  • Lying Side Crunch SETS: 2 REPS: 16-20 per side


  • High Incline Straight-Leg Raise SETS: 4 REPS: 21-25
  • Seated Crunch Machine SETS: 2 REPS: 16-20
  • Side Cable Crunch SETS: 2 REPS: 13-15 per side