The most important factor in developing eye-catching abdominal muscles is having a low body fat percentage, plain and simple. If you want to show off your abs at the beach, you have to get lean. In fact, if you did nothing else but lower your body fat levels through nutrition and proper training, then you’d be 90% of the way to having ripped abs. Focusing on ab training workouts is just the icing on the cake. And that’s why we’re going to talk about nutrition and interval (cardio) training first, before we get into the sets and reps for the ab training program.
To have abs that are certified in ripped-ness, you need to get your body fat below 10% (in the teens if you are female). To assist you with this goal, it’s important to monitor your body fat on a consistent basis to make sure that you are heading in the right direction. So if you can, have your body fat tested every 3-4 weeks by a highly-skilled professional under the same conditions each time (i.e. before a workout, at the same time of day, on the same day of the week, and after eating the same meal each time).
You’d be surprised how small fluctuations in these simple variables can influence the outcome of body fat tests. Getting the body fat testing done will help you evaluate your progress, your program, and your potential, so that you can alter your training and nutrition as you make your way to the best beach body you’ve ever had.
How to Prepare Your Weekly Nutrition Plan
Nutrition is the most important factor in a fat loss program. That’s tough for me, a training expert, to admit. But you could be using the best workout in the world, and you won’t lose fat if you are eating according to the “Supersize Me” diet.
If your current nutritional plan is preventing you from losing fat, then it's time for you to start working on building better eating habits. This can be as simple as committing to one small nutritional improvement per day (such as replacing your lunchtime soda with water) and one large change per week (such as setting aside time on a Sunday to shop and prepare for your weekly meals). Once you have established good nutrition habits, you'll find yourself making better choices on a daily basis, but you have to work on consistent improvement. If you mess up, don’t worry about it, just get right back to eating right.
You need to have a plan to make your nutrition work, just like you need a plan to make your training work. You should outline a weekly eating schedule, including the contents of every meal, as well as your grocery and supplement list for the week. This will enable you to have meal alternatives for nights when you might be running from one event to the other with no time to prepare a perfect lean protein meal. It will also help you plan lean protein snacks for when you are on the road between meetings.
It's important that you make your plan something you can follow. If you are currently eating 7 meals per week at the Golden Arches, it isn't realistic to plan to replace each of those meals with carrot sticks and protein shakes. A better plan would be to substitute a couple of those meals with healthier, lean protein options and then work on improving your eating plan a little at a time over the following weeks.
So here's my three-step guideline for building a better nutrition plan:
1. Prepare a weekly menu. Outline each meal and snack for every day of the upcoming week. Take into account the possibilities that you might work late or get invited out to lunch. The more options you have and the more preparations you make, the better you will be able to stick to your fat loss plan.
2. From your menu plan, make your grocery list and stick to it. Grocery shopping is your first opportunity to break some bad nutritional habits. You can't eat chips, cookies, or cakes if you don't have them in the house – so don't buy them and you'll avoid any future temptation.
3. Prepare the meals or prepare the ingredients so that making the actual meal doesn't take a lot of time. Like shopping, it's best to do all of these preparations at one time (such as on a Sunday or another day off).
Here’s a secret that you’ll love…The more muscle you have, the better the odds you have of getting your abs to show through, even if your body fat is up at 15%. A male bodybuilder with loads of muscle might be able to get away with a “4-pack” at that level.
To get ripped abs, you have to build muscle and lose fat. Fortunately, the training methods for lowering your body fat are simple. The #1 principle is that you have to work hard at lifting and doing some type of cardio. For those that are just joining us in the world of training, I want to remind you that you can’t spot reduce. That should be something that everyone knows, but you still see experienced bodybuilders using high-rep ab training hoping that will help them get 6-pack abs. Unfortunately, high-rep ab training doesn’t work on its own. You need to do the real work (lifting, interval cardio, and proper nutrition) to get your body fat low enough in order for any ab work to be effective.
The best way to sculpt abs is not with endless sets of hundreds of abdominal curl-ups. There is no need to waste your precious time with that type of training. While most individuals in the gym believe that daily, high-volume ab training is best, there is nothing that shows the abs have to be trained that way.
And don’t try and get ripped abs by doing endless cardio if you only weigh 150 pounds and are 6 feet tall. That’s the worst thing you can do if you have that kind of body type. In fact, what you need most is to gain muscle through strength training and proper nutrition – that will make your physique a lot more impressive. Choose compound exercises (exercise using many of the body’s large muscle groups; i.e. the squat, bench press, pull-ups, deadlifts, etc) to get the most results in the least time.
For cardio, you don’t have to perform an hour each day in order to get lean. Instead, most people will get great results using interval training. When you perform compound exercises and interval training, your muscles work harder and boost your metabolism higher than high-volume ab training or slow and steady stairmaster sessions.
Interval training burns more calories and fat long after you have left the gym when compared to steady-state traditional cardio training. Therefore, intervals help you shed more fat while you are resting. While aerobic exercise (traditional cardio) is beneficial for individuals with a lot of fat to lose (i.e. if you test at greater than 15% body fat), if you only have that last bit of fat to lose before you have a 6-pack, then dietary manipulation and interval training should be your priorities.
Getting back to lifting, one the trademarks of my “turbulence training” strength-training programs is to use supersets as often as possible. Your training goal is to get in, work hard, get out, pound a post-workout shake, get home, eat and grow.
As for specific abdominal training recommendations, isolated abdominal training 1-3 times per week is sufficient. Abdominal training should be brief and to the point (i.e. 1-3 sets of 3-5 exercises). This will require passing on the basic ab crunch and switching to exercises that incorporate resistance. Like any other muscle group, the abdominals should be trained in a broad rep range of 6-20 per set.
Another way to increase the effectiveness of the training program is to focus on the tempo of the exercise. Tempo just means the speed of the exercise. For example, a 3-1-1 tempo means you’ll take 3 seconds to lower the weight, then you’ll pause for 1 second, and then you’ll lift the weight back up in 1 second.
You may have gone through a tempo phase in the past for a couple of weeks and then due to human nature you probably got lazy and forgot about using it. But for the next training phase, I want you to stick to the prescribed tempo for these ab exercises. We’ll use tempo in the ab training program to make the exercises safer and more effective. You’ll see and feel the benefits after the first workout.
Educate yourself, and to identify what works best for your body, be sure to log your workouts & nutrition and pay attention to the results.
The sample “turbulence training” abdominal workout below should be performed twice a week after your strength training. Be sure to change your workout program after 3 weeks.
The "Turbulence Training" Ab Workout
* A1 & A2, and B1 & B2 denote superset pairs
Stability Ball Jackknife