Just about every exerciser wants a firm, flat, toned abdomen. Many want to go a step further and develop that fitness trademark; a six pack while others are content with maintaining a small waist size. Whatever your ab-conditioning goal, there is a lot of information and misinformation about training this particular area – especially on the internet.
Firstly, it’s important to realize that a lean and well-defined six-pack is as much a product of nutrition as it is exercise. Being able to SEE your abs means you need to be lean; for men, this normally means body fat levels of 10% or less and 16% or less for women. There is an old expression in bodybuilding that states “six-packs are made in the kitchen” so make sure that, along with your ab training routine, your diet is in order too.
You also need to consider your choice of exercises. Crunches, sit ups and other spinal flexion exercises are fine but as your spine moves in a variety of directions, you need to select a variety of exercises if you want to maximise your abdominal development. If you can do 20 or more reps of an ab exercise, chances are it is too easy. No self-respecting fitness buff would do sets of 50 squats or triceps pushdowns to sculpt and hone their muscles and yet that’s exactly what many people do for their ab training. When selecting ab training exercises, think multi-planar and train using demanding exercises that keep your repetitions below 20 per set.
Finally, and the title of this article, when is the best time to train your abs? Opinions vary because there is no simple answer. Like so many fitness-related questions; the answer is: it depends!
Here are a few options to consider:
• Ab training at the end of your strength or cardio workout – the main advantage of performing your ab exercises last is that, in terms of energy expenditure, ab exercises are easier than compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. This means that despite having worked hard, you should still have sufficient energy left to finish your workout with some effective ab exercises
• Ab training during your strength or cardio workout – a great way to get plenty of ab work done in a very time efficient way is to perform your ab exercises during your breaks from your main exercises; for example by doing a set of planks between sets of pat pull downs. This makes your workout much more time efficient and also ensures your heart rate stays elevated throughout your workout. As well as being time efficient, this is also a great way to burn more calories
• Ab training at the beginning of your strength or cardio workout – ab exercises generally involve movement of your spine and your spine is a large and complex joint consisting of 33 individual bones called vertebrae. By doing some ab work near the beginning of your workout, you loosen up and mobilize your spine which can help make sure your back is thoroughly warmed up before you begin your main workout. On the downside, overusing your abs early in your workout can reduce spinal stability for safe performance of key exercises such as squats and deadlifts so although this is a viable option for some exercisers.
• Ab training on a separate day to your main workouts – this is a great option if you are serious about your ab work. Squeezing in ab work before or after your main session is okay but time and energy can be limiting factors. Dedicating a couple of mini-training sessions per week to your abs can a) leave you with more time for your main workouts and b) allow you to concentrate 100% on developing your abs. If you choose to do this, make sure you spend a couple of minutes warming up before your ab workout to ensure that you minimize your risk of injury.
In summary – there is more than one “best time” for ab training – it very much depends on what you need and what your personal trainer thinks is best for you.