There's a strange thing about abs. Schizophrenically, they’re either overemphasized or ignored, and sometimes both, intermittently, by the same bodybuilder. Ab definition is widely regarded as the best visual indicator of leanness. Yet, unless you’re shirtless, your abs can’t convey anything to anyone; and, if you’re not buff, they still remain unseen even when you’re in the buff. For the latter reason, even many pro bodybuilders skip ab training until the final weeks before a contest.

Another key cause of ab workout avoidance is boredom. Trainees slog away at the same low-intensity one or two exercises, predictably never  see much change and eventually decide it makes little difference whether they work abs or not. In their case, this is true, but it doesn’t have to be.

FLEX comes to the rescue, as we present five strategies for revitalizing your abdominal workouts. To make noticeable improvements, neither overtrain nor ignore abs, but instead give them the same variety, intensity and focus you apply to any other bodypart. Our five routines could be your absolution.


Many people get burnt out on ab training because they tend to do only one type of movement targeting one area of their midsection. Just as you shouldn’t do only leg curls for your thighs, don’t get trapped focusing on a limited area and range of motion for your abs. Our all-around midsection routine hits your lower abs (lower rectus abdominis) with leg raises, upper abs (upper rectus abdominis) with crunches, side abs (obliques) with cable side bends, inner abs (transverse abdominis) with vacuums and your lower back (spinal erectors) with back extensions. Most people train lower back and upper back together, which is perfectly acceptable, but working your rear midsection with your front and side midsections hits all of your central trunk stabilizers in the same session. 

The other thing that makes this routine unique is the inclusion of the vacuum. Your internal abs aid in your breathing and posture, and strengthening them can help prevent or relieve lower back pain, assist stabilization during lifts like squats and deadlifts and even slim your waistline. You’ve probably noticed that even some ripped bodybuilders have trouble holding their bellies in. This is, in part, because of structural weakness in their transverse abs. The best way to strengthen this area is the vacuum — an isometric exercise you can perform anywhere. Exhale and simultaneously suck your midsection in as far as possible, and hold for as long as you can (up to one minute) while you continue breathing. If this starts to feel easy, pull your waist in harder. Each hold is one set.


The four exercises in our giant sets routine were selected because they each target a different ab area and each can be done with the same equipment. In this case, we should say lack  of equipment, because all you need is a flat bench, exercise ball or even just the floor. One circuit comprises the four exercises, with no rest between them. After one time through, rest for one minute and then begin the circuit again.


If you’re like most people, you probably do sets of 12 reps or more for your abs. The shock of heavy ab training may be just what you need to muscle up your middle. Our sample low-rep routine includes hanging leg or knee raises. Do knee raises if you’re not yet strong enough to get six reps of  leg raises, and if you can do more than 10 reps of leg raises, wear ankle weights or hold a dumbbell between your feet. Use the maximum resistance for six- to 10-rep sets.


In generations past, virtually everyone did high reps for abdominals. How high? Renowned for his ice-cube abs, Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski pumped out 500 continuous reps of situps and 500 continuous reps of leg raises before every  workout. Serge Nubret followed a similar program. Most bodybuilders didn’t do 1,000-rep supersets, but low intensity, high reps (20 or more per set) and daily training were the norm. Partly this was done to remove or deflect fat. In recent decades the mantra has been “you can’t spot reduce,” and thus triple-digit reps have gone the way of vinyl record albums. However, new research indicates that the targeted loss of fat via high reps may indeed be a reality. Furthermore, Koszewski, Nubret and some other ab-endurance trainees sported abs that could hold their own against anyone today. On occasion, choose two exercises (unweighted) with which you can get at least 50 reps per set and pump out the volume.


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As we stated, most people tend to focus on the same few ab movements workout after workout. The abdominals have a short range of motion, but there is a wide variety of effective exercises for targeting them. Because the following aren’t typical bodybuilding lifts, it’s unlikely that you have tried most, if any, of them. Work one or two into your current routine, or try our regimen of all four in the same session.


Exercise balls have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, but because of their “softcore” rep, the typical FLEX reader wants only to hear them pop. The fact is, they’re just another training tool, and they’re especially effective for crunches. If you do a crunch while lying face-up on a ball and keeping your knees bent and feet on the floor, you can make the movement harder by positioning your back/hips lower on the ball, or easier by positioning your back higher on the ball. Such change in resistance can even be done quickly during a set.


As with ball crunches, this exercise isn’t unique to women trying to “tone up,” but it is to most male bodybuilders. You should only care that it works. Lie flat on the floor with your legs raised at approximately 45 degrees and your hands behind your head. Bend your left knee and bring it toward your chest while simultaneously crunching and twisting to touch your right elbow to your left knee. Return to the starting position and reverse to the other side. Don’t try to go fast. Instead, focus on maximizing the tension in your abs. This works  the upper and lower rectus abdominis, and the obliques.


This one also works your upper and lower abs. Lie on your back and simultaneously raise your knees and torso, crunching your abdominals. To add difficulty, keep your legs straight and/or use ankle weights or a dumbbell between your feet.


Standing with your left side facing a weight stack, hold a D-handle attached to an overhead cable with your left hand and pull it down to ear-level. This is the starting position. Then, while keeping your left arm steady throughout each rep, bend to the left in a short crunch movement, feeling just your left internal and external obliques working. After doing the desired number of reps, repeat on your right side.

Ab training may never be your idea of fun, but it doesn’t have to be tedious. Utilize these five strategies to reinvigorate your midsection workouts. Train your abs with the same attention, variety and intensity you give your arms, and your abs will garner so much attention on stages or beaches you’ll never ignore them again. That is, as long as they’re still not shrouded when you’re shirtless — but that’s another article. – FLEX