Nearly three decades since his iconic role, Jason Scott Lee is again in top shape.Read article
Humans are creatures of habit, doing certain things over and over again because they feel comfortable, such as eating regularly at a favorite restaurant, driving the same route to work or doing the same exercise, set and rep schemes for a particular bodypart. Unfortunately, that last habit may be a big problem. Getting into a rut with any muscle group isn’t ideal, but it may be especially troublesome for abs. You don’t need a PhD in exercise physiology to know that to make a muscle grow bigger and stronger you need to continually tax it with heavier loads or more repetitions, yet many of us often squeak by on a few sets of crunches tacked on to the end of a workout. Three sets, 20 reps each, rest and repeat.
This five-week program solves both problems, breaking you out of a rut and introducing progression to your middle-management plan in the form of the weights you use, reps you complete and your rest periods between sets. Building well-defined abdominals doesn’t happen by accident; it takes hard work and a carefully planned approach. Operating in a comfort zone may suffice in your personal and professional lives, but if you’re after a ripped sixer, complacency is your enemy. Break the pattern right now.
Our five-week plan requires you to train your midsection three times a week, resting at least 48 hours between sessions. If possible, do abs on days you’re not training a major bodypart.
Start by choosing one Group A exercise. This group includes one move for each of the major regions of the abdominals – upper abs, lower abs and obliques. Group A exercises add resistance to your bodyweight, meaning they’re the most challenging moves in the workout and should be done early when you’re fresh. Since resistance levels can be manipulated one plate at a time, even beginner-level bodybuilders can perform these moves using a lighter weight.
The key with this exercise is to choose a weight with which you can do only 10 reps to focus on building strength in your abs. If you can’t complete 10, the weight’s too heavy; conversely, if you can do more than 10, the weight’s too light. Selecting the right resistance is critical to manipulating intensity during the program.
Next, pick one move from Group B. These intermediate-level exercises are slightly easier than Group A moves. Some Group B movements use added resistance – again, manipulate loads to fit your needs if you’re a beginner.
Like Group A, this group has one exercise dedicated to lower abs, one for upper abs and one for obliques. Although you may want to alternate which area of the abs you focus on as you progress through a workout, it’s not required. In fact, one way to prevent the abdominals from becoming accustomed to a particular mode of training is to keep changing up the order of the moves.
The key with the second exercise is to choose a level of difficulty (via resistance or body position) that enables you to complete exactly 15 reps. The higher rep target works the abs in a slightly different way than that of the Group A move, building the ridges and valleys that make up a taut midsection. Hence, choosing the right resistance is an important factor in allowing you to achieve the target rep goal.
Last, select a Group C exercise. These are beginner-oriented bodyweight-only moves, but if you’ve been training hard thus far, they’ll still be challenging. Again, there’s one exercise for upper abs, one for lower abs and one for obliques, so the one you choose should be determined by which areas you’ve trained so far and what you want to focus on.
These moves turn up the fire even more by working in a higher rep zone. Aim for 20 reps per set; if that’s too easy, we list ways to make them more difficult under each exercise description. At the higher rep range, your abs will feel the burn much sooner as you train them in a slightly different manner to emphasize muscle endurance.
Rest periods for ab training vary by individual, but start with a timed 60-second interval to determine if that’s adequate. The abdominals are a fairly small muscle group that recovers quickly and doesn’t require the same amount of rest between sets as larger bodyparts. You don’t want them to recover fully before the next set.
At your next ab-training session that week, select an exercise from each group you did not perform in the previous training session(s). If you did the lower ab machine from Group A on Tuesday, pick one of the other two Group A moves on Thursday. On your last abdominal training day that week, perform the remaining exercise. This strategy ensures that all areas of your abs get worked first when your energy levels are highest and through all the training zones: heavy for 10 reps to focus on strength, moderate for 15 reps to build size, and with bodyweight only for 20 reps to make the abs burn and build muscle endurance.
Write it all down. Keep a training log of the weights you used and exercises you selected; this will help you manipulate your training over the next five weeks. Tear out the workout sheet at right so you can follow along with the program each week.
We promised an ab workout that accounts for progression over time – that is, as your abs become stronger, you want to keep challenging them for continued progress. Here’s how you’ll do that in Week 2 and beyond:
On all Group A moves, add one plate each week and still try to complete 10 reps per set. Increasing the resistance weekly makes the abs work harder. If you can’t do 10 reps, no problem – the key is to increase the weight and try to do as many reps as you can. This is why choosing the right weight in Week 1 is so important. Do this on all three sets for all Group A exercises.
On Group B moves, reduce the rest period between sets by five seconds each week. During Week 2, rest just 55 seconds between sets. The third week, reduce the rest interval by another five seconds. Continue with the resistance and rest intervals the same as in Week 1. In the second week, do 21 reps instead of 20, and increase that by one rep each week. By the fifth week, you’re doing 24 reps for all sets of each Group C exercise.
While the keys that drive our five-week program are variety and progression, it would be a mistake to think that’s all that’s required to build washboard abs. Pay particular attention to your diet – monitoring carb and fat intake, total calories and following a smart supplementation program – while including four 30-minute cardio sessions a week to strip off bodyfat. Only through a combination of these elements can you truly bring out a ripped six-pack.
At the end of five weeks, your abs will be much improved – and the proof will be in the mirror as well as in your advancing strength. You can return to this program at a future date, but it’s not intended to be followed indefinitely. Just make sure whatever plan you follow challenges you.
Select one exercise from each group, fine-tuning the resistance or your body position so you can just complete the targeted number of reps. For your next two workouts each week, choose an exercise not yet used. Follow this format throughout the five-week program.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week5|
|Double Crunch Machine||3||10||up to 10||up to 10||up to 10||up to 10|
|Lying Cable Crunch||3||10||up to 10||up to 10||up to 10||up to 10|
|Standing Oblique Cable Crunch*||3||10||up to 10||up to 10||up to 10||up to 10|
Week 1: Choose a resistance with which you can complete just 10 reps.
Week 2: Add one plate to the weight used the previous week, trying to get the same number of reps (do as many as possible).
Week 3: Add one more plate to what you used in Week 2.
Week 4: Add another plate.
Week 5: Add another plate.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5|
|Hanging Knee Raise||3||15||up to 15||up to 15||up to 15||up to 15|
|Decline-Bench Crunch||3||15||up to 15||up to 15||up to 15||up to 15|
|Cable Woodchop*||3||15||up to 15||up to 15||up to 15||up to 15|
Week 1: Choose a resistance or level of difficulty with which you can complete just 15 reps.
Week 2: Reduce your rest period between sets by five seconds, aiming to do the same number of reps as the week before for all sets.
Week 3: Reduce your between-sets rest period by another five seconds.
Week 4: Remove another five seconds from your rest period.
Week 5: Cut your rest period by five more seconds.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5|
|Oblique Crunch *||3||20||21||22||23||24|
Week 1: Choose a variation of this bodyweight move that allows you to perform just 20 reps.
Week 2: Do one additional rep on all sets using normal rest periods and the same resistance you used in Week 1.
Week 3: Add another rep to all sets.
Week 4: Do one more rep on all your sets.
Week 5: Add another rep to all sets.