At some point, you'll need to add resistance to your ab training to build an actual six-pack. And if you're like most (somewhat masochistic) lifters, you also probably like that burning feeling you get after a ton of reps. Ab exercises just aren't satisfying without a strong mind-muscle connection.
Drop sets for abs can help you achieve both. You'll start with a heavier weight or percentage of your own bodyweight, then drop to something a little easier and continue until you reach near-technical failure. Here are five cruel ideas to get the juices flowing.
1 – "Lower" Ab Blast
- A1. Decline Bench Garhammer Crunch x 8-15
- A2. Flat Garhammer Raise x AMGRAP
Do three rounds of these. What does AMGRAP mean? As many GOOD reps as possible. Don't keep cranking away with bad form.
Garhammer raise variations are great for hitting the function of the lower portion of your rectus abdominis, working it hard in its active range (through posterior pelvic tilt). They were invented by sports scientist John Garhammer, PhD, and popularized by the late Charles Poliquin.
Using them as a drop-set is a good way to combine a more challenging, higher load variation with an easier version. This means you'll hit the golden rep range for building those abs, achieve a longer time under tension, and fatigue more motor units.
If these are too easy, then straighten your knees more. You can also vary the incline of the bench (more incline = harder). Be sure to keep your toes pointed inwards and focus on working the active range at the top – think butt off floor.
2 – Athletic Obliques
- A1. Cable Chop (left): 8-12
- A2. Cable Tight Chop (left): AMGRAP
- Rest 30 seconds
- A3. Cable Chop (right): 8-12
- A4. Cable Tight Chop (right): AMGRAP
Only rest between A2 and A3. Go straight from one set to the next. Then rest as needed before you start the whole thing all over again. Do three rounds.
Cable chop variations are some of the most effective exercises for building an athletic midsection, making your abs as athletic and strong as they look. Chops help build an efficient power transfer between your lower and upper body, meaning they're great for athletes. Adding rotation to your training is a must if you want a good set of obliques.
Start with your standard cable chop setup. Keeping your elbows straight throughout, swipe the cable horizontally. Engage your core and hips in a powerful transfer of movement (think of the whip of a baseball swing).
Once you've completed your set on one side, continue the set by "dropping" to a stronger chop position. A "tight" chop simply means your elbows are going to come in tight to your ribs. By bending your elbows and bringing the cable in you'll be able to lift more weight, or in this case get in a few more reps. Complete a drop-set on one side before switching to the other.
3 – Leveled-Up Planks
- A1. Iso Row Plank (left): 10-30 seconds
- A2. 3-Point Plank (left): 10-30 seconds
- Rest 30 seconds
- A3. Iso Row Plank (right): 10-30 seconds
- A4. 3-Point Plank (right): 10-30 seconds
Rest for just 30 seconds between A2 and A3, but for everything else go straight from one set to the next. Then after A4, rest as needed before you start the whole thing all over again. Do three rounds.
Are you still busting out traditional planks like your life depends on it? Well, hovering a few inches off the floor on all four limbs probably isn't going to get you where you want to be.
Sure, the plank is one of the most basic of core exercises to develop muscular endurance. And while there's a lot of evidence this can help you with low-back pain and posture, most of life doesn't happen planted statically on your toes and elbows.
Try increasing the intensity of your planks by adding load and throwing in an anti-rotation component. Resisting extension and rotation will carry over far better to just about everything, from walking to landing a right hook.
It'll also hit those obliques and QL's (quadratus lumborum) harder too. With an iso plank row, using a wider stance will allow you to use more weight, but feel free to go narrower if you're chasing more instability.
Start with the weight, drop it, then keep holding. It's that simple.
4 – Ab Rollouts... But Harder
- A1. Banded Ab Rollout: 6-10
- A2. Ab Rollout: AMGRAP
Do three rounds and use a band you trust!
It's hard to beat an ab wheel rollout. It's crazy how something that looks like it belongs on a late-night shopping channel has now become a staple in many strength and conditioning programs.
Rollouts require a strong eccentric "braking" action on the way down to eliminate a face plant. Then it requires a co-contraction of your abs, obliques, transverse abs and lats to execute in full.
The only downside is the loss of tension and reduced difficulty at the top versus the bottom of a rollout. It's much harder at the bottom. And while you could technically do a drop-set starting with a weighted vest, or even starting on your toes, using a resistance band helps accommodate for the easier portion at the top.
To hit your rectus abdominis hard, try to get into some spinal flexion at the top. The band will make this more intense.
This drop-set will start with you using a band (attached to something) before continuing without the band. This drop-set is only for those that have nose-to-floor rollout technique already nailed.
5 – A New Crunch
- A1. Decline Eccentric Cable Crunch: 6-10
- A2. Decline Crunch: AMGRAP
Do three rounds.
Eccentric training is an excellent way to tap into those neglected fast-twitch fibers. Using any cable crunch as an example, take the cable further away from your shoulders (overhead) to increase the load via a longer lever arm. To reduce the load, bring your arms closer so your shoulders will shorten the lever arm.
By changing the cable position during a cable crunch (further from the torso on the way down) we can increase load in the eccentric or negative phase.
Some cable crunch variations are more geared towards this technique, though. That's where decline eccentric cable crunches come in. Start your drop-set with these first, then drop the rope and continue.
There should be a "peeling" of your spine as you come up and an unrolling as you come down (almost a crunch/sit-up hybrid). If you're not used to this type of training, your entire mid-section will feel these for days. You're welcome.
As much as you want to pummel the heck out of your abs and try every single one of these, you may want to reconsider. Drop sets can be more taxing than you think.
Consider the minimum effective dose and start out with just three sets of one of these at the start or end of your workout. Start your workout with them if you truly want to prioritize. A high frequency approach would work well too.
Here's an example. Something like this might spark some ideas for how to add it to YOUR training program:
- Week 1:
- Monday: Lower Ab Blast
- Wednesday: The New Crunch
- Friday: Athletic Obliques
- Week 2: Add an extra rep to each set
- Week 3: Add an extra rep to each set if possible
- Week 4: Change exercises