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I did a story the other day about abdominal training, which a few people messaged me about. So I figured I’ll write about how to train your abdominals effectively.

As I explained in the story, which I’ll repeat here. Having abs you can visually see is the combination of

1. Having low enough body fat to remove the ‘fat blanket’ covering your ab muscles

2. Having a significant amount of ab muscle that when the fat blanket is removed, the ab muscles are exposed

If someone has very little ab muscle thickness, even when they’re lean, their abs may still look ‘soft’ because there isn’t enough muscle to be exposed.

In terms of training them, it’s the same as any other muscle group

1. You should pick exercises that are difficult enough to hit failure between the 6-20ish rep mark (not saying you should train to failure, more so the exercise should be challenging) – Eg, doing 50+ rep crunches are pointless. The amount of stimulus being placed on the muscles will be too low to trigger much muscle growth. So, pick challenging exercises OR ones which you can add load – Eg Ab roller, crunches whilst holding a weight, decline bench crunches.

If you’re going to do an isometric hold exercise (like a plank), if you can hold it for longer than 45 seconds, you’re probably wasting your time. Increase the difficulty by adding load or putting yourself in a position that makes the exercise harder.

2. You should progress by increasing the reps, time, load or sets as the weeks go on. If you’re not progressing, your ab muscle development will probably be limited or plateau.

3. I don’t know the optimal number of weekly sets for the abs as they would get used in a lot of exercises that require bracing like squats, deadlifts, etc. (although these exercises alone for most people will not be enough training stimulus to optimise abdominal growth). Likewise, what is ‘optimal’ differs between individuals.

If I had to guess, I’d say anything between 6-20 sets per week directed at the abs would be the range for most people. Doing more is not better. You’ll get most of the growth from the lower end/middle of the set range. Then the growth will diminish/get less return on your investment as you get to the higher end of the set range.

4. Don’t rotate exercises each week. Pick whatever exercises you want to do, keep them for a minimum of 4 weeks so you can progress on them, then change. If there are specific exercises you like and are progressing well on, keep them in your program for longer. You could even keep the same exercises but change the rep ranges – eg for a few weeks, you work within the 12-15 range, and later on, you do 6-10 reps. Changing exercises frequently won’t allow enough time for neural/technique adaptations to pass so you can start overloading the muscle enough to trigger growth.

Paul Attard
Paul Attard

Paul is the founder and head coach of SPC Performance Lab. Paul has been coaching since 2014 and has worked with all different types of people. From first timers learning the basics, all the way up to the experienced power-lifting competitors.

He tailors his approach depending on the needs, goals and experience of the individual. Paul has extensive theoretical and practical coaching experience.

- Masters of Sports & Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning)
- Bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Sports Science with First Class Honours
- Competed and won multiple natural body-building shows & power-lifting competitions.
- Held an Australian power-lifting record.

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SPC Performance Lab is a gym in Taren Point in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney NSW. It is a private gym that offers strength training, powerlifting and body building training. The gym is open 24 hours, 7 days a week with membership options that include casual or regular visits.

Paul also provides a choice of personal training one on one or the option of online coaching.

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