Get a Guaranteed Six-Pack With High/Low Abs Training
The best way to build a rock-hard midsection with deep abdominal cuts is to mix it up. Here are the 10 keys to chisel your middle and the high/low workout that delivers results.
Photos of Kelechi Opara by Robert Reiff
Every two-bit trainer who has a website or Facebook page touts a secret formula to building a rock-hard midsection, but I’ve got news for you folks: The principle of muscle confusion is just as critical to carving out your abs as it is to building other bodyparts. So anyone who contends that you should be doing just high reps to chisel your abs or, on the contrary, lower reps as the only way to go has completely missed the boat. The fact is you need to combine both approaches when it comes to abs, utilizing weighted moves that help thicken and build the grooves and valleys that create 3-D abs with bodyweight, and high-rep movements that keep your midsection lean and tight.
Some of the confusion comes from the physical makeup of the abdominals. Unlike some of the larger skeletal muscle groups, there’s a greater degree of slow-twitch muscle fibers in the various midsection muscles (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis). As you may recall, the explosive fast-twitch fibers are the ones capable of more growth, and they’re best trained with heavy movements in relatively lower-rep ranges. The slow-twitch fibers are more aerobic in nature and don’t grow to near the degree of the fast-twitch variety; they’re geared more for endurance (high-rep) activities.
It follows, then, that training only with heavy-weighted moves for low reps doesn’t do much for the slow-twitch fibers, and higher-rep movements don’t do jack for the fast-twitch fibers. Neither approach, it seems, would therefore offer an optimal solution in your pursuit of a rock-hard midsection.
But what if you trained both the fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers in the same workout for more complete development? You could start with weighted, low-rep moves to help build up the bricks of the six-pack, then follow up with high-rep bodyweight exercises to help keep your midsection lean and tight. That’s exactly what this workout does: You combine the best of both worlds in a single ab routine (or you can alternate high- and low-rep days). Ultimately, the abdominals get worked in a variety of ways rather than from just a single approach, which not only more optimally builds up the muscle but keeps your workouts — and your training — from becoming stale.
10 Critical Keys
Assembling a workout in which you achieve multiple rep targets requires you to understand a few important considerations.
- Choose exercises and weights that allow you to complete the target number of reps. On weighted and very demanding bodyweight movements, increase or decrease the resistance so that you fail at your target rep. If the weight’s too light, don’t just stop at the target rep; add weight on your next set. With the low-rep exercises, try and reach a target of 10 reps for three sets. It’s important that you reach as close to muscle failure as possible at the target rep.
- Do heavy/low-rep movements first. Because you fatigue over the course of your workout, you don’t want to save the heaviest moves for the end. Instead choose the most challenging exercises early in your workout when your strength levels are high.
- Progress to less-challenging exercises that you can do for more reps. Relatively easier movements are best left for the end of your routine so that you can make the abs burn with higher-rep sets. Research shows that the burn you feel with higher-rep training actually begins metabolic processes that help your body gobble up stores of body fat in the surrounding tissues. No question, higher-rep training has its place in abdominal training. Try and keep rest intervals on these high-rep sets shorter as well to increase the fat-burning effect.
- Remember to fine-tune difficulty so that you reach failure at close to the target rep range. That might entail increasing the weight, holding the peak-contracted position for a count longer, bringing your feet higher on leg raises or simply choosing more challenging movements. It’s important that you challenge yourself at each step of the program.
- Choose two moves from each exercise grouping. So you should be doing two low-rep moves and two high-rep moves each workout.
- Include exercises for the upper as well as lower abs and obliques, as well as the core. A well-rounded ab workout targets all these areas. (Each exercise here indicates which part(s) it focuses on; just remember that it’s impossible to completely isolate a particular portion of the abs. Rather, a certain area can be emphasized as it undergoes a greater degree of contraction than other areas.)
- Try this routine three times a week, allowing for at least 48 hours’ rest between workouts. As with any muscle group, the abdominals grow stronger during the time after your workout given rest and proper nutrition. Hit your training hard, rest and do it all over again no sooner than every other day.
- As you get stronger, increase the overload. Consciously try and add an extra plate each week to the weight stack to challenge your abdominals to become stronger, much like you do with bench presses and arm curls. On bodyweight movements, strive for an extra rep or two or cut your rest interval by a few seconds.
- Take about a minute rest between low-rep sets. While you can conceivably decrease your rest interval to boost the workout intensity, you sacrifice your recovery period and will likely fail faster. Take the full 60 seconds so that you can attack each set with full intensity. With bodyweight exercises, see if you can rest just 20 seconds between sets.
- Don’t forget that to get shredded you need to pay careful attention to your diet and cardio in order to fight the fat that covers your abs. Dialing in your midsection means watching calories — especially calories from carbs and unhealthy fats — and increasing the number of calories your body burns so that you run a daily calorie deficit. Even the best training systems are limited by what you do in your kitchen and your supplementation program, so for the best chances of success, make a commitment both in the gym and in your nutrition program.
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