Training & Nutrition: This is how the dream of a six-pack becomes reality!

Abs are in great demand! A strong and muscular centre of the body improves everyday performance. For many people, however, an attractive belly remains wishful thinking that, despite all efforts, is not achievable. Here are all relevant facts to consider in order to show off that sculpted stomach this summer.

How are the abdominal muscles structured?

Most athletes are not aware that the abdominal muscles are a combination of several muscle groups. Basically, the abdominal muscles are divided into superficial and deep muscles. When talking about the superficial abdominal muscles, a distinction is made between the anterior and lateral abdominal muscles.

 

 

Abdominal Muscles Anatomy

The anterior abdominals are made up of the following muscles:

Straight abdominal muscle (musculus rectus abdominis)
Pyramidal muscle (musculus pyramidalis)
The lateral abdominal muscles are controlled by these muscles:

External oblique muscle (Musculus obliquus externus abdominis)
Internal oblique muscle (Musculus obliquus internus abdominis)
Transverse abdominal muscle (musculus transversus abdominis)

All abdominal muscles ensure a stable centre of the body, which enables a healthy posture (e.g. avoiding a hollow back) and an upright walk. In addition, of course, the very variable mobility in this area is made possible by the abdominal muscles (especially flexion of the trunk and pelvis). The abdominal muscles also act as protection for the organs in the abdomen and the spine.

For good reason, this guide deals with the topic of nutrition first, because a cardinal mistake of many six-pack aspirants is to focus purely on training and neglect nutrition. Basically, even the best abs will lead to hidden existence as long as a stubborn layer of fat is up to mischief above them. It is not for nothing that the motto "Abs are made in the kitchen" applies, which translates as "abdominal muscles are made in the kitchen".

That abdominal training itself burns fat locally and thus makes the stomach flat and slim is a widespread myth that many people still fall for today. (1) If you are aiming for a defined six-pack, you not only have to train your abdominal muscles regularly and intensively, you also have to keep your body fat percentage (BFA) under control or reduce it.

The body fat percentage at which the abdominal muscles become visible is different for men and women and very individual. In men, the six-pack can usually be seen between 10 - 15% KFA, while the range in women is in the regions between 15 - 22%. However, due to the individuality addressed, such information should always be understood as rough orientation values.

The calorie balance is decisive for weight management and the development of body fat percentage. Insofar as a diet with a calorie surplus is pursued in the long term, which is referred to as hypercaloric in technical jargon, weight gain occurs. On the other hand, if you are in a calorie deficit for a certain period of time, which is referred to as a hypocaloric nutritional state, you lose body mass. The increase or decrease in body mass depends on how much the own energy requirement is exceeded or not reached. In order to lose weight in a way that is as easy on the muscles as possible, it is advisable not to make any radical calorie reductions.

In addition, the optimal diet for the six-pack should contain sufficient protein-rich foods, since athletes can have higher requirements and proteins contribute to building and maintaining muscle mass. In general, a balanced and healthy sports diet is recommended, which is calorically adapted to your own goals and needs.

 

 

What should you consider for an effective ab workout?

In order for the abdominal muscles to grow, abdominal training must exceed a certain intensity threshold. In principle, muscle growth only occurs when an above-threshold training stimulus is set, which signals the body's need for more muscle mass. To put it in a nutshell: The training must challenge you and push you to the limit! This general principle of training theory also applies to the six-pack workout. In general, the training load should also be progressive, since the abdominal muscles become more powerful the longer the training session lasts. Some exercises (e.g. crunches) can be intensified with weight plates, for example.

Especially in the past, it was recommended to only train the abs with high repetition numbers. Most of the time, such advice was based on the belief that the abs would respond better with muscle growth to higher rep training. Studies now show that rep range is far less important to muscle building in general than previously thought. It is much more important to train with sufficient intensity (keyword muscle failure). (2) In general, however, a repetition range between 10 - 30 repetitions is recommended for abdominal training.

For maximum training results, it is also recommended to perform the exercises over the full range of motion. In addition, an appropriate exercise pace also plays an important role. Those who gain momentum and do only half movements will stimulate their abdominal muscles far less effective than the person who uses the full range of motion and demonstrates conscious exercise execution.

In general, it should be avoided to only train the abdominal muscles. Rather, it makes sense to do a balanced strength training session that also trains the abdominal muscles. If you only train one muscle group, you risk muscular imbalances, which can have negative consequences. Excessively strong abdominal muscles, which are contrasted with weakly developed muscles in the erector spinae, can promote back problems, for example. In terms of a healthy posture, training the lower back should not be neglected.

In principle, it also applies to the abdominal muscles that a balanced relationship between training and regeneration should be maintained in order to build muscle mass. Normally, abdominal muscles are therefore trained 1-2 times a week as part of a split training session. In this context, it should also be considered that not only the actual training of the abdominal muscles stimulates the abdominal muscles. The abdominal muscles also work as a stabilizer in many other exercises, which is the case with pull-ups, for example. It is therefore not surprising if the following day a severe soreness in the stomach reminds you of the pull-up workout.

Most of the six-pack exercises can be performed without training equipment and/or additional equipment. This circumstance enables an effective six-pack workout in your own four walls. Various abdominal machines are available in the fitness studio, on which the weight load can be varied using plug-in weights. This is particularly useful for beginners whose physical fitness is not yet sufficient for "free abdominal exercises".

Crunches and sit-ups are undoubtedly among the most well-known six-pack exercises. If you want to further increase the effectiveness of crunches, you can switch to the exercise ball to perform this exercise. A study found that crunches on the exercise ball resulted in greater muscle activity. (3)

In addition to crunches and sit-ups, there are numerous other exercises that can be used to effectively train the abdominal muscles. This also includes leg raises, which are not included in many six-pack training plans for nothing. While the exercises mentioned so far are dynamic exercises, there are also exercises that are performed statically. The plank is one such exercise that helps build powerful core muscles.

Here is a list of some effective abdominal exercises:

crunches
sit-ups
Hanging leg raises
Leg raises while lying down
plank
folding knife

 

 

What role does cardio training play in getting a six-pack?

As previously mentioned, calorie balance plays a crucial role in whether abs are visible or hidden by a layer of fat. Basically, it can be said that cardio training is not absolutely necessary to work out the six-pack.

However, in addition to reducing the intake of calories, cardio training is another way of influencing the calorie balance in favour of visible abdominal muscles. If you increase your performance through cardio, you will reach the calorie deficit required to lose body weight and body fat more quickly. HIIT cardio (high-intensity interval cardio) in particular is an effective and time-saving way to boost calorie burning.

In addition to the calorie consumption during training, the very intensive HIIT cardio can also provide an afterburn effect, which ensures increased calorie consumption even after the end of the training session.

 

 

Sources:

(1) Vispute SS, Smith JD, LeCheminant JD, Hurley KS, NCBI, "The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat.", at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21804427 (last accessed on 08/13/2019)

(2) Schoenfeld BJ, Peterson MD, Ogborn D, Contreras B, Sonmez GT., NCBI, "Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men.", at: https: //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25853914 (accessed on 08/13/2019)

(3) Duncan M NCBI, "Muscle activity of the upper and lower rectus abdominis during exercises performed on and off a Swiss ball." at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19761961 (last accessed on 08/10/2019)

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