The One Exercise for Dense Six-Pack Abs
We’ve all heard the line that “abs are made in the kitchen”. Well, it’s wrong. While diet is important in order to see your six-pack abs, like any other muscle group your abs need to be built using hypertrophy-based exercises and routines. If your abs lack density then no matter how hard you diet then you’ll not be unveiling a lot of muscle underneath that layer of body fat.
Abs are carved in the kitchen, but they’re made in the gym. If you were to pick just one exercise to cover all of your ab training needs then ab rollouts should take the top spot.
The Basic Ab Rollout
The humble ab wheel looks like something more suited to the shopping channel than any truly effective workout. While it started out as somewhat of a gimmick, right now some of the most respected trainers across the globe are using to great effect it with their clients and athletes. Don’t just take my word for it, though, or that of other top trainers, as research can back them up too.
Numerous studies have compared them to a host of other common abs and core exercises. And guess what? Ab rollouts consistently take the podium when looking at muscle activation across all areas of your abdominals. Sure, some exercises might activate one area a little more, but these usually perform very poorly in other areas of your abdominals to compensate. As an example, another great abs exercise in hanging leg raises can show high regional muscle activation in the lower rectus abdominis (lower six-pack region), and even external obliques, but at the same time do very little for your upper and “deep” abdominals.
Ab rollouts do a great job at activating all areas of your abdominals — your lower rectus abdominis fibers (lower abs), upper rectus abdominis fibers (upper abs), external obliques, as well as some of the deeper core muscles (transverse abdominis and internal obliques). Ab rollouts are commonly termed an “anti-extension” exercise, developing strength around your spine and your ability to resist spinal extension and an anterior tilt of your pelvis. So, on top of helping you grow your six-pack abs, they’re great for your back health and athleticism too!
How to Progress Your Ab Rollouts
Ab rollouts look like a simple movement, but if you do them correctly they can be deceptively difficult and a darn sight more effective. Here’s how to get better at them and master the basics.
More Hardcore Rollouts
You wouldn’t build your biceps using the same 10lb dumbbell for years on end, so why do your abs get treated the same way!? If you’ve mastered the basics already then you’ll want more of a challenge. Putting more mechanical tension through your abdominals is the only way to keep them growing. Here are two ways to make them harder.
Hamstring-activated rollouts work through a mechanism known as “reciprocal inhibition”. In short, by activating one muscle, your nervous system somewhat “switches off” the muscle that opposes it (the antagonist muscle). In the case of hamstring-activated rollouts, squeezing a ball using your hamstrings somewhat “switches off” your hip flexors. Research has shown hamstring activation to cause your abdominals to work up to 26% harder! This isn’t to say your hip flexors aren’t important, but in this case taking them out of the picture helps you get more out of your ab rollouts if they’ve previously been too easy.
For an even simpler way to upgrade your rollouts then you can try adding isometric holds (pauses). One of the best places to add a pause is right at the bottom of the rollout where your core is working hardest to resist your spine from collapsing. You can also add a pause about half way up, or even right at the top as you flex your spine as if to perform a crunch.
Sets and Reps
To build your abdominals like any other muscle group you need to subject them to a hypertrophy-focused training protocol. For more densely build six-pack abs then focus on getting stronger at ab rollouts in the 8-20 repetition range.
Follow Gareth Sapstead on YouTube.