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Besides being born with good genetics, what was your secret to keeping such a small waist and great abs?
The No. 1 thing was making sure that I stayed on top of my nutritional program with clean protein, the right caloric intake, and smart supplementation. I wanted to see my abs year-round. If I could gain five pounds and see my abs, great. If I could gain 10 pounds and see my abs, all the better. So I would always eat in such a way as to give me good-quality muscle but at the same time keep my body fat low year-round. I was a fan of clean protein like chicken, fish, and eggs. Beef wasn’t my favorite choice when I was trying to get lean.
As far as exercises, I watch a lot of bodybuilders use weight when training abs—weighted side bends, weighted crunches, etc.—which stimulates growth in that area. What it also has the tendency to do is to make the abs, and particularly the obliques, too thick. When I was a young bodybuilder, I was training my abs, getting ready to do some side crunches, and Robby Robinson said to me, “Never hit your obliques with resistance directly because it’ll stimulate growth to the side.” That advice was right on target. That’s huge, and I see a lot of bodybuilders doing it. It’s OK if you don’t need a nice tapering waist. For athletes in boxing, baseball, and football, it’s all about functionality, but in bodybuilding it’s all about aesthetics. You want to have that nice, sharp look without stimulating oblique development. So no weights, period.
I would do incline situps with a twist, then at an angle that hits the serratus and intercostal area mainly but also the obliques secondarily. I would do no more than 20 situps total per set. I’d do 10 to the front, then five to each side. Another exercise was seated leg raises, or jackknives. I love this exercise because it takes a lot of pressure off the lower back and that allows you to isolate muscles in the lower abs. I’d do 10 to the front, then twist slightly and do five to the front, five to the left. I’d also do vertical knee raises. Same idea—I’d take my legs down, hyperextend them behind me a bit, then bring up the knees in front of me and do 10 to the front, five to the right, five to the left. Sometimes I’d do 10 to the left and 10 to the right but never more than 20 reps total. Then I’d do cable crunches, and I’d sometimes do four sets of those instead of doing inclines.
Lying crunches were not one of my favorites for developing abs leading into competition. They were not even in my training vocabulary! It always felt like a more aerobic-type movement.
The bottom line is that I would never recommend doing direct oblique work unless you’re training as an athlete for a sport.
HANEY’S ABS WORKOUT
NOTE: For each exercise, Lee implements some twists on these movements in order to indirectly work his obliques.