Alright, by now your abs should be rearing their exquisite heads if you’ve put into practice all we’ve covered thus far. Congrats! The first part of our mission is accomplished. You can be proud of yourself but don’t take your foot off the gas pedal just yet. We still got a long ways to go to build ourselves a six-pack worthy of figuring on the cover of the next Ultimate X-Men.
The Invincible Core Program
Fitness myths really are hard to die and they’re waiting our every moment of inattention to hurt us. We’ve already talked about the “spot reduction” as well as “fat burning zone” myths.
Another misconception that the media seem especially keen on perpetuating is that of the “hundreds of reps.”
1- The Reason Why Most Abs Programs Fail :
Diet and cardio considerations aside, why do you think most people fail at getting the 6-pack of their dreams? It’s not that they neglect that part… Unlike the legs or the back, that some people give as much attention to as the bum on the corner of the street, the abs do get love from most.
At the gym, the mats are seldom vacant, and you can find people killing themselves without getting as much as a second of rest. So, what gives?
No matter how many gurus would have you believe otherwise, abs really are no different than other muscle groups. It will do you little good to crank out hundreds of reps unless you’re training for the army or preparing a Guinness Book world record.
As we talked about at the beginning of this book, we’ll need to use variations on a couple of movements where the mechanical disadvantage will be going increasingly up. How can we expect to grow and become stronger if we keep repeating the exact same exercise over and over? The law of diminishing returns would soon kick in and we’d stop noticing any improvement.
Just like with high intensity cardio training, our core program will need to be short but fierce.
2- How We’ll Handle the Issue & Ensure Success:
In essence, there are 3 ways to train a muscle. You can focus your efforts on increasing its:
And how exactly will you choose what factor you wish to improve? By the number of repetitions you perform.
When you go with the hundreds of reps scheme we condemned a couple of paragraphs above, you’re really working on your endurance… That is, the exercises do not provide enough tension to break the muscular fibers and induce their hypertrophy; trying to build your abs this way would be like aiming to increase the size of your guns by lifting your pen until the ink inside has dried up.
To develop impressive and powerful abs, we’ll have to keep our repetitions in the 5-15 range. The lower you go, the more you’ll be working on your strength (most Olympic strength training programs are based around a 5, 3, 1 rep system.)
As for size, the general consensus is to bump that number to 6-15 reps.
Thus, we’ll be staying in that range to try and get the best of both worlds. The only exception to this rule will be, as we’ll discuss below, for isometric exercises; that is exercises where you’ll need to maintain a given position for a certain amount of time. In that case, the number of seconds will sometimes reach higher.
3– 3 Moves to Rise to Superhero Status :
Now that we’ve got our rep scheme down, let’s see exactly how we’ll train and why we’ll do it that way.
Tension in any muscle can be produced through 3 different means: by focusing on the concentric or eccentric part of a movement, or by holding a static (also called “isometric”) contraction.
In the first case, which also happens to be the most common, you’ll be bringing the muscle from its resting position to a fully contracted state. You’ll be squeezing and shortening its fibers to the max. That’s what happens to your pecs when you perform push-ups or to your biceps when you do chin-ups, for example.
When you work the eccentric part of a movement, you’ll be doing the opposite; you’ll be bringing the contracted muscle back to its elongated state. That’s how your lats and biceps work when you learn to do a pull-up and, with the help of a chair, you get your head over the bar and concentrate on slowing down your fall. The negative part is what interests us here.
As for isometric holds, as already mentioned, you’ll contract the muscle and keep it still for a given amount of time. To go back to our previous example with the pull-up, for it to be an isometric exercise, you’d have to get your head above the bar and flex your back and arms so as to keep your body in this position and not move.
To make sure our program doesn’t leave any weakness in our game and is as complete as can be, we’ll thus have to make use of those 3 manners but also be careful to target all the different muscles we’ve detailed that make up the abdominals.
And to achieve that goal, we will work towards mastering 3 difficult moves that are as complimentary as they’re fun and challenging.
On top of that, you’ll also get to kill two birds with one stone as those moves will make you look cooler than ever, and we both know you like to show off, don’t you? C’mon, admit it!
By the time you master every progression leading to these
3 moves, your midsection will have become so strong you could take a punch in the gut from the Juggernaut and laugh about it.
Three exercises are not much, I’ll give you that, but the truth is you won’t need anything else. When you’ll be struggling to finish your sets and wincing in pain, you’ll remember my words and be darn happy there are no more drills following!
And without further ado, here are the meanies you’ll get to know intimately in the weeks to come:
- The Dragon Flag: this move was one of Bruce Lee aka the Little Dragon’s favorite exercises, and that’s where it got its name from. The Dragon Flag can be in great part credited for Bruce’s legendary abs. Abdominals so hard and powerful they could take any blow. It was, without a doubt, one of the keys that made him one of the fastest and strongest pound-for-pound fighters to ever walk this planet. With your body in a straight line from head to toes, and your weight resting on the back of your neck, you will draw half a circular arc with your feet. Or, in other words, you’ll go from the vertical to the horizontal, back and forth. And as you do, you’ll work the abs in all different manners, which is why the Dragon Flag is such a complete exercise (concentric phase as your feet go up; eccentric phase as they go down; isometric throughout.) This is the move to aim for if you want a crazy strong 6- pack;
- The V-Sit: where the Dragon Flag worked your core in its elongated state, the V-Sit will look to develop its power in the contracted position. It has no equal for building compressive power and it represents the ultimate isometric exercise. In a sense, it’s what the plank dreams of becoming when it grows up; a badass move that’s as humbling as it is effective! We’ll go back to it in greater detail below but, for now, we’ll just say that it’s accomplished by pushing your hands down to lift your butt off the floor and bringing your legs straight up, gradually increasing the angle with the ground until those legs are near the vertical;
- The Human Flag: so far, our rectus ab dominis will have received more than its share of work. To balance things out and target the obliques, we will introduce our most flashy move yet, the kind to make people’s jaw drop in awe: the Human Flag! If your sides are a little too smooth to your taste and you wish to make them rougher and edgier, working towards achieving the Human Flag is the ideal solution. It will have them pop out like nothing! The mechanics of this move are a bit more complicated than the other two, so we’ll leave the explanation for later. Just picture this: you’ll be defying the laws of gravity, hanging sideways from a post like you’re the solid branch of an oak, proud and strong. Sounds like fun? Hell, yeah! Here’s one great exercise that will also give your arms and back a good workout.
See how useful and complimentary these 3 moves can be? If you dedicate enough time to mastering them, I can gua-ran-tee you’ll secure the 6-pack you’ve always been craving. But before we get to them, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.
The question we ought to answer first is not so much how to perform those figures as it is how to reach the point we’re actually strong enough to do them!
So, let’s roll up our sleeves and see how we’ll proceed!