Why Most Ab Routines Fail
Bringing out your abdominals is far more difficult than the approach you use to train other muscle groups. Varied approaches and non-traditional training methods can boost your chances of success.
By Mark Dugdale, IFBB Pro; Photography by Robert Reiff; Model: IFBB Pro Mark Dugdale
[Q] Mark, are there really bodybuilders out there who never train their abs? How do they get that contest-ready look?
[A] I cannot speak for other pros, but I typically focus less on abdominals in the offseason. I begin my competition diet about 15 weeks out, which is also when I begin training my abs a couple of times a week. The “contest-ready look” has more to do with body composition than anything else and that’s largely dependent on diet. You can have the best abs in the world, but if they’re covered by a thick layer of bodyfat nobody will ever know!
[Q] Like a lot of guys, I’ve a tough time getting my lower abdominal region dialed in. Why is that exactly, and how should I address it?
[A] If you don’t like the look of your abs, it could be because of a couple of problems: Either your midsection is holding a layer of fat, or your abs are underdeveloped (or a tragic combination of both). To achieve development, you need to use exercises that target that region, specifically various forms of leg raises (such as the hanging leg or knee raise, reverse crunches, and moves in which your upper torso is stabilized). If your lower abs are a problem area, I’d suggest doing lower-ab moves first in your routine so you can focus on bringing that area up.
[Q] Mark, is it a good idea to use added resistance when training abs? Or is it better to just take bodyweight moves to failure?
[A] Right or wrong, I break down the abdominals into core muscles and the visible abdominals you see if you’re lean enough. Contrary to what most people know or practice when it comes to this area, the best exercises for the core are in fact squats and deadlifts. I also like plank-position holds for 60 seconds and ab-wheel rollouts from the knees using an exercise ball or barbell. Aside from diet and cardio, the visible abdominal muscles (a combination of fast- and slow-twitch fibers) respond well to weighted exercises for lower reps. Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid of challenging them with resistance every session.
[Q] How many times per week should I train abs?
[A] I’d try and do one core-focused abdominal workout (doing core moves rather than simply ab exercises) and one outer/visible abdominal workout per week (targeting upper and lower abs).
Heat up your midsection with Mark Dugdale’s high-paced abs routine. “The idea is to perform the circuit here without rest between exercises. Focus on keeping constant tension on the abdominals through each exercise and don’t use momentum. I’d do the circuit through 4–6 times total, and in-between circuits I’d go at a slow pace on an elliptical for about two minutes to catch my breath. I did this twice per week when dieting for the Olympia, counting it as a cardio session.”
BOSU Ball Alternating Step-Off – 1 Set x 10-15 Reps (each leg)
From a plank position, alternate taking your feet off for reps.
Dumbbell Pull-In – 1 Set x 10-12 Reps (each side)
Perform dumbbell rows from the top of a push-up position.
Kettlebell Swing – 1 Set x 10-15 Reps
Hold a kettlebell with two hands, descend into a partial squat and explode upward to swing the weight out in a wide arc, arms fully extended.
Seated Bicycle Crunch – 1 Set x 15-30 seconds
Lie on your back and alternate touching your knee to your opposite side elbow.
Barbell Rollout – 1 Set x 8-15 Reps
From a kneeling position, hold a barbell (or ab wheel) and roll forward until you get a full stretch on your abs, then contract your abs to return to the start.