There are two reasons your abs aren’t as sharp as you’d like them to be. One is that you eat too much (you’ll never see your abs till you diet the fat off them, period, so start cutting some calories).
The other is that you leave your ab work to the end of your workout when you’re tired, so you never train your core with maximum focus or energy, and probably skip the routine outright more often than you’d like to admit.
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The solution isn’t to do more core exercises, or even to make them the focus of your workouts. Rather, you can incorporate more core activation into exercises you’re already doing so you build your abs while you build the rest of your body, with no—okay, some—extra effort. This strategy comes courtesy of Men’s Health fitness editor Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., creator of the New Rules of Muscle program (available on DVD and the new streaming All Out platform).
New Rule: Make Every Exercise Also An Ab Exercise
There are so many better, safer, and more fun ways than crunches and situps to train your core. Samuel recommends unilateral training—simply working one limb at a time. So if you usually do dumbbell bench presses or squats with both arms or legs moving at the same time, try pressing just one dumbbell and squatting with one foot supported on a bench behind you.
“The New Rules workouts use unilateral positions to emphasize the core,” says Samuel. So while your main focus is working chest or legs, your abs will be firing hard to help you keep your balance and avoid twisting your body in different directions. “Building core work into your other exercises is so challenging,” says Samuel, “I end up not wanting to train abs directly at the end of my workouts, and I find that I don’t need to anyway.”
Samuel offers a template for your body part workouts that will allow you to train abs at the same time, so that you don’t have to squeeze them in at the end of your sessions, or set aside extra time for them elsewhere in your week. He calls it training with “core responsibility,” meaning that your core will be highly active and responsible for you keeping form on each lift.
Start with three to four sets of a simple, standard exercise for the main muscle group you want to train, so you can isolate it and work it hard when you’re fresh. Then let your remaining exercises be unilateral moves that require more stability from your core. Below is an example of how Samuel trains chest some days.
Dumbbell Bench Press – 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Mixed-Style Incline Dumbbell Press
Set an adjustable bench to a 30-degree angle and prepare to do an incline dumbbell press, holding the weights in the lockout position over your chest. Do 2 reps with the right arm first, and then hold the weight at lockout while you do 2 reps with the left arm. Now do 2 reps with both arms at the same time. That’s one “cluster.” Without putting the weights down, repeat for 3 to 4 clusters—that’s one set. Do 4 sets like this. Keep your core locked down and your butt on the bench, avoiding any twisting to either side.
Half-Bench Single-Arm Press
Lie on a flat bench but position yourself to the left side of it so that the left half of your torso is not supported by the bench. You’ll have to brace your core to steady you and prevent your body from rolling off the bench. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and perform 8 to 10 reps of presses. Now shift your position to the opposite side, so that the left side of your torso is supported and the right side is not. Repeat the presses on the right arm. That’s one set. Do 4 sets.
For more tips and tricks to explode your muscle gains, pick up the New Rules of Muscle program, available on DVD or the new All Out Studio streaming platform, alongside other super-effective Men’s Health fitness programs.
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