Ab Training for Athletes and Babehounds, 2K3

New exercises, new format, new pain!

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About this time last year I wrote an article called "Ab Training for Athletes and Babehounds" which proved to be one of my most popular pieces (at least if I look at the amount of positive feedback I received). For some reason, developing sculpted abs remains a priority in strength training and the well-respected sport of babehounding.

It's understandable, though. The complexity and pure aestheticism of a rock hard stomach is visually very appealing. In fact, super abs can propel an average physique into "elite" status. For example, take two guys with the same amount of muscle, same all-around definition, but one has defined abs and the other doesn't. Despite having the same amount of muscle and muscularity, our friend with abs will look a lot better and much more muscular.

Furthermore, abdominal muscles are important in most athletic actions and even in many of our everyday tasks. Having strong and conditioned abdominal muscles will make you a better athlete and reduce the risk of many injuries and pains, especially to the lower back region.

That's why I decided to write an update to my ab training article. Simply put, in the past few months I've experimented with a myriad of abdominal exercises to see what worked best and what gave the fastest results. The outcome? Rock hard abs, very good trunk stability, a healthy lower back, and most of all: a super effective training program!

Rock hard abdominal muscles can improve the quality of your physique like nothing else

Now, everybody wants abs, everybody does abdominal work and, often, tons of it, yet how many peoples actually sport a head turning abdomen? Very few indeed. Obviously one factor is the amount of body fat that one carries. Regardless of how good your abdominal muscles are, if you have one inch of blubber hiding them you wont look very solid.

However, the choice of exercises also greatly influences abdominal development and as a result, the way they look. The following program, a spin-off of its big brother, is one of the best ways to get there.

The new summer ab program

Last year's program had you complete a circuit composed of five different abdominal exercises. You basically performed one giant set (I called it a circuit) of those five drills. This obviously led to great results in aestheticism, abdominal strength, and especially strength-endurance. However, the program had a few problems, the most important being the difficulty of supersetting five exercises in a commercial gym.

For that reason I decided to modify the program design a bit. Instead of doing one giant set of five exercises, we're going to do three supersets of two exercises. This should take care of the inconvenience of doing the program in a commercial gym. Furthermore, this will allow us to work different capacities and develop them more thoroughly.

For that purpose:

Superset A will focus on trunk stability

Superset B will focus on trunk strength

Superset C will focus on trunk strength-endurance

Just like with the 2002 program, the 2003 program is to be done on a day dedicated to ab training. The workout should last you around 30 minutes. You can do it after a regular workout, but only if it was a relatively easy workout (e.g. biceps/triceps).

The program can be done 1, 2, or even 3 times per week by well conditioned athletes. Most people will be able to handle two sessions per week.


Superset A: Trunk stability

Intensity of work: low

Volume of work: moderate

Type of abdominal contraction: isometric

Exercise A1: Forward roll

This exercise is to be done on any one of the following three apparatus:

1. Ab wheel

2. Swiss ball

3. Barbell loaded with 25lbs plates (the plates become the "wheels")

The objective of this drill is simple: to extend your body forward until it's parallel to the ground. However, to make this drill effective you must:

a) Keep the abdominals contracted/flexed during the entire movement: Contract the ab muscles as hard as you can (maximum static action) and focus on keeping this maximum contraction during the execution of the entire movement.

b) When you roll yourself back up, you must do so with the abs, not the arms: Really focus on flexing your abs super hard to initiate the "roll-back." If your arms or back are tired after the set, you're not doing it properly.

c) Only go as low as you can while maintaining a flat back: Flexing your abs forcefully at the start of the movement will flatten your lordosis (lower back curve) somewhat. You must maintain that flattened position during the entire movement. When you feel that your lower back is "sinking/curving," it means that you've gone too low for your capacities.

Here are illustrations of the exercise using all three implements.

Ab wheel forward roll

Swiss ball forward roll

Barbell forward roll

Here are two advanced variants of the drill:

One knee forward roll

Standing forward roll

Exercise A2: Plank

This exercise is similar to the forward roll except that instead of rolling yourself back up when you're parallel to the ground, you maintain the position for a certain amount of time. The same rules apply as with the roll: you must keep your abs flexed at all time, and you must keep your lower back flat.

You can do this drill four ways:

1) Forearms on the floor

2) On a swiss ball

3) On an ab wheel

4) On a barbell

You can also add some spice to your training by trying to hold the plank while supporting yourself with one leg:

Superset A: Trunk stability

A1. Forward roll

5-15 reps according to capacity

312 tempo (roll down in 3 seconds, 1 second pause, and roll back in 2 seconds)

A2. Plank

30-60 seconds according to capacity

The weekly periodization is:

Week 1: Repeat superset 3 times

Week 2: Repeat superset 4 times

Week 3: Repeat superset 3 times

Week 4: Repeat superset 6 times


Superset B: Trunk strength

Intensity of work: high

Volume of work: low

Type of abdominal contraction: concentric and eccentric

Exercise B1: Cable crunches

I like this exercise because if you do it properly you can really work the abs harder than with any other exercise. That's because the action of the hip flexors (psoas, rectus femoris) is somewhat limited. Furthermore, you're performing this exercise on your two feet which makes this drill very specific to many movements. Lastly, you can easily load up some big weights in this exercise, making it a perfect choice to work on your abdominal strength.

To really feel this drill we need to respect the following guidelines:

a) Keep the abdominals contracted/flexed during the entire movement: Contract the ab muscles as hard as you can (maximum static action) and focus on keeping this maximum contraction during the entire execution of the movement.

b) Initiate the downward movement with a trunk flexion: Concentrate on pulling with your trunk, not your arms (which are holding the cable). You have to see your arms merely as hooks connecting your trunk to the resistance.

c) Resist the upward movement by keeping your abdominal flexed: When you go back up (eccentric portion), you must flex your abs all the more. Focus on keeping a tight stomach and a flat lower back.

Exercise B2: Twisted cable crunches

This exercise is very similar to the preceding one, except that we're going start the movement with the trunk turned one way and then twisting the other way while going down. This way, we can really focus on the development of the obliques.

Superset B: Trunk strength

B1. Cable crunches

6-8 reps

312 tempo (down in 2 seconds, 1 second pause, and back up in 3 seconds)

B2. Twisted cable crunches

6-8 reps per side

312 tempo (down in 2 seconds, 1 second pause, and back up in 3 seconds)

The weekly periodization is the same as for Superset A:

Week 1: Repeat superset 3 times

Week 2: Repeat superset 4 times

Week 3: Repeat superset 3 times

Week 4: Repeat superset 6 times

Superset C: Trunk strength-endurance

Intensity of work: low to moderate

Volume of work: high

Type of abdominal contraction: concentric and accentuated eccentric

Exercise C1: Accentuated negative Swiss ball sit-ups

This is a regular sit-up performed on a swiss ball. The difference is that you're going to lower your trunk back to the starting position (eccentric portion) by moving at a rhythm of approximately 1 inch per second, or a 15 second tempo on the way down! During those 15 seconds you must focus only on one thing: keeping your abs flexed as hard as humanly possible!

Exercise C2: Accentuated negative leg raises (Marties)

This is the best way to perform hanging-leg raises without having to buy special equipment. You simply use the hack squat machine to hold your self up. Another positive thing about using this apparatus is that instead of hanging freely, it supports your back, thus making the exercise much safer and more effective.

We're once again going to accentuate the negative. To do so we're simply going to change the lever arm during the movement: for the concentric portion of the movement you bring your legs up with the knees flexed/tucked; during the eccentric portion of the movement you bring your legs down while fully extended.

Superset C: Trunk strength-endurance

C1. Accentuated negative swiss ball sit-ups

Max reps in good form

15-1-1 tempo (down in 15 seconds, 1 second pause and back up in 1 second)

C2. Accentuated negative leg raises (Marties)

Max reps in good form

312 tempo (down in 3 seconds, 1 second pause and back up in 2 seconds)

The weekly periodization is the same as for Supersets A and B:

Week 1: Repeat superset 3 times

Week 2: Repeat superset 4 times

Week 3: Repeat superset 3 times

Week 4: Repeat superset 6 times

Concluding remark

Abdominal work is different from other forms of training because only you can make the exercises effective; if you don't focus on fully flexing the abdominal muscles on every inch of every rep of every movement, you're selling yourself short! For an ab training regimen to produce optimal results you absolutely must flex your muscles at all times, there's no way around it.

Now get outta' here and don't come back before you're babehound material!

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.