I’d like to know a good way to work my abs. The only ab exercises I know are crunches and twisting my waist with a weight in my hands. Are squats or power cleans good for building up the abs?
Although squats and power cleans work the overall body and are excellent multi-joint exercises, they really don’t target your abs as the primary muscle group when performing them. The squat and power clean are two exercises that are considered mass building compound exercises that are great when your overall goal is to gain muscle mass and increase your strength levels. Although they do work the core as a stabilizer and secondary muscle group, these are not ideal when you want to really target your abs with precise movements.
There are many abdominal specific exercises which will target your abs and we will cover a few of them below. The first ab exercise is the hanging leg raises. Basically, you want to hang onto an overhead bar and raise your knees to your chest while crunching your abs on the way up. This is a great exercise for lower and middle abdominals. You can review an exercise demonstration of hanging leg raises here:
The second ab exercise is knee raises using the parallel bar. This is very similar to the hanging leg raise but it’s a little easier since you are in a fixed position with your upper body which will help stabilize yourself much better and allow you to target just your abs. A lot of people tend to swing too much when they are doing hanging leg raises from the bar since it’s easy for your own bodyweight to move when you raise your legs. The key when doing this is to go super slow on the way up and also when you lower your legs in order to control your body and avoid any swaying or swinging. To view the instructional guide for this exercise, click on the link below:
The third ab exercise that you might want to implement into your abdominal routine is lying leg raises using the bench. This is another excellent lower and middle abs exercise that really hits the abdominals using just your own bodyweight. Simply lay on a fixed bench and position your butt at the end of the bench to allow your legs to hang off of it. Keep your legs straight and slowly raise them up to the top. Once you get to about a 90 degree angle at the top, lower your legs back down to the starting position. For added intensity, you can raise your legs to the top and then lift your butt up slightly off the bench and really contract your abs at the peak position. Click below to see the instructional photos for this ab exercise:
The reason why it’s so important to include these types of ab exercises where you bring your legs up towards your body is because this type of movement targets the lower abs very well. Most of our daily life involves sitting in a prone position such as when you sit in a chair at work or when driving your car. This causes your back and shoulders to hunch forward and you place more emphasis on your upper abs. When you bring your legs up and towards your chest, this is such a different stimulus than your daily routine of sitting and it’s very important when your overall goal is creating strength in your abs and core area. So many people make the mistake of only doing crunches for their abs which is basically just mimicking their daily activities (like sitting in your office chair or sitting in your car seat while driving).
Always make sure to allow your abs to fully recover from each workout and provide at least 24 hours of rest between workouts. If you feel sore, always provide additional time to fully recover before hitting your abs again. A good routine is to work your abs 3 days per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and do anywhere between 6-8 sets of 20-30 reps per set for optimal stimulation. If you’re an advanced athlete, you can also add additional weight resistance to these ab exercises listed above for added stimulus. A great and super intense ab workout is to grab a 5-10 pound medicine ball and clench it with your feet before you begin the exercise. For example, if you’re doing the hanging leg raises you will grab the bar and position the medicine ball directly beneath you in between your feet. Firmly grasp the ball with both feet before you begin the exercise and while you start raising your legs to the top position, keep the ball clenched and make sure to really go slow until you reach the top and I guarantee you will feel some extreme tension on your abs. Adding this additional resistance is one of the best ways to really develop your abs.
Although adding additional resistance is one way to really stimulate your abdominals, you need to always remember that your diet is the absolute key when it comes to getting a ripped set of six pack abs. Nutrition accounts for probably 75% of your overall physique gains whether your goal is to pack on serious muscle mass or lose body fat and get ripped. We have created a Nutrition 101 article that provides you with a great roadmap to follow so you can create a solid dietary plan to eat the right foods and consume adequate protein, carbs and fat to reach your ultimate physique potential.