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Total Abs: Build a Rock-Hard Midsection in Four Weeks

Total Abs: Build a Rock-Hard Midsection in Four Weeks

by Muscle & Fitness

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Intended for anyone who wants rock-hard abs but needs help getting motivated, the editors of fitness authority Muscle & Fitness magazine have created a four-week plan that incorporates invaluable take-away strategies to get a firmer midsection. More than 50 exercises and full-color photos guide readers through the best ways to obtain a tight six-pack.


Intended for anyone who wants rock-hard abs but needs help getting motivated, the editors of fitness authority Muscle & Fitness magazine have created a four-week plan that incorporates invaluable take-away strategies to get a firmer midsection. More than 50 exercises and full-color photos guide readers through the best ways to obtain a tight six-pack. Throughout the exercises informative tips and fast facts  are included to ensure that each routine is executed in the safest and most effective manner possible.

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Triumph Books
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9.00(w) x 9.82(h) x 0.56(d)

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Total Abs

By Muscle & Fitness, Dylan Coulter, Michael Darter, Ian Logan, Robert Reiff, Marc Royce, Pavel Ythjall

Triumph Books

Copyright © 2013 American Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62368-542-3



Is your pursuit of great abdominals all over the map? Take the guesswork out of finding your own defined six-pack with these simple guidelines.

Pretend for a moment that your midsection is a map you're trying to navigate. You'd like to explore a number of different areas and regions, but you're not quite sure what's the best way to go about it. After all, when it comes to this terrain in particular, there are all sorts of conflicting opinions on how to navigate it most effectively and find the path to the ultimate six-pack. What you really need is the ab version of a high-tech GPS, something that will tell you how to arrive at your destination the quickest way possible. That's where M&F comes in. Think of this introductory chapter (and the rest of this book, for that matter) as your very own Abdominal Positioning System, telling you what areas to train, when to train them, and how — with no risk of making any wrong turns along the way.


The four muscles that make up the abdominals are the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, and the transverse abdominis. Without question, the best ab program is one that incorporates exercises that focus on all of these areas.

If you train abs more often than other body parts, you're not alone. Most people who give their abs the attention they deserve train them 3-5 times per week while working other major body parts (chest, back, legs, etc.) 1-3 times per week. Reason being, the abs are postural muscles that stay flexed for long periods to support the spine. As such, they have a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers than other body parts and require more regular training for adequate stimulation.

The rep range you choose to work within is critical to how your abs develop (and show) when your body fat is low. Using your own body weight as resistance and keeping your reps between 15 and 30, for example, will help you maintain a flat and lean midsection, allowing your waist to appear smaller. If you feel your abs need to grow so you can see them better, you'll need to include weighted exercises using a cable station or a lightweight plate or dumbbell to help build them up. Selecting exercises is easy — choose a total of four moves each time you train abs, one for each of the different areas.

With ab training, timing is crucial: Always hit abs last in your workout. You don't want them to be fatigued before training other body parts such as back or legs because you want your abs and core to be strong and fresh to help sustain the intra-abdominal pressure necessary to protect your spine.

So let's look at each region of the abs, dissecting the anatomy, location, and function, as well as review some of our favorite exercises to get the kind of washboard midsection you've always wanted.


Even though the six-pack looks like several individual muscles, the rectus abdominis is really only one. Running vertically from your sternum to your pelvis, the rectus is a thin sheath of muscle. While we'll discuss exercises for your upper and lower abs, note that they're all part of one muscle. That said, you can still emphasize the upper and lower portions of the rectus with specific movements.

The rectus abdominis is responsible for the standard crunching motion — moving your ribcage toward your pelvis. It also gets trained in the opposite direction, bringing your pelvis to your ribcage, which we refer to as a reverse crunching motion.

Basic Exercises: (Upper abs) crunch; (Lower abs) reverse crunch, hanging knee/leg raise

Exercises: (Upper abs) weighted crunch, machine crunch, decline bench cable crunch, kneeling cable crunch; (Lower abs) exercise-ball pull-in, dumbbell hip thrust, weighted hanging leg raise; (Upper and lower) double crunch


Set an adjustable bench to a moderate decline and place it in front of a low-pulley cable with a rope attachment. Sit squarely on it, feet secured under the ankle pads. Lie back on the bench and grasp the ends of the rope with your hands at the sides of your head. Contract your abs to curl your body up to a point just short of perpendicular to the floor; try to avoid pulling through your hip flexors. Round your back as you rise to increase the abdominal contraction, then lower yourself under control back to the start position.


Lie faceup on the floor with your hands extended at your sides. Lift your feet so your legs are roughly perpendicular to the floor and place a dumbbell between your feet. (Due to the weight's placement above your body, use extra caution during this move to avoid injury.) Contract your abs to raise your hips and glutes straight up off the floor to push your feet toward the ceiling. Hold this position for a count before lowering your glutes back to the floor.


Perform this exercise either hanging from a high bar (using straps is an option) or on a vertical bench that supports your forearms. Hang at arm's length using an overhand grip, bending your knees 90 degrees and locking them in this position for the entire set. Hold a medicine ball between your knees or ankles. Without swinging your body, contract your abs to bring your knees toward your chest (at least above parallel to the floor) and lower under control, coming to a complete stop at the bottom so as not to generate momentum as you go into the next rep.


The obliques are off to either side of the rectus abdominis and run diagonally from your lower ribs to near your hipbone. The external obliques are the ones you can see, as they're superficial to the internal obliques, which are hidden underneath. The internal and external fibers run in opposite directions. Both the internal and external obliques are responsible for torso rotation and lateral flexion of the torso.

Basic Exercises: Lying crossover crunch, oblique crunch, jackknife

Advanced Exercises: Oblique crunch on back-extension bench, standing oblique cable crunch, decline cable Russian twist


Place a decline bench in front of a cable stack with a D-handle attached to the low-pulley cable.

Sit on the bench in a half situp position (your lower back shouldn't touch down) and hold the D-handle with both hands straight above you. With your arms locked in that position, rotate your torso to the right until your right arm is about parallel to the floor. Pause for a moment, return to the start, then repeat to the left side. That's one rep.


The transverse abdominis lies beneath the rectus abdominis, and whereas the rectus fibers run vertically, the transverse fibers run horizontally. The main function of the transverse abdominis is initiating abdominal compression during an intense exhale. You'll find this function very useful during core exercises such as the plank, where you need to keep your navel drawn in tight, as well as in moves such as the woodchop and Russian twist.

Basic Exercises: Woodchop, lying leg raise

Advanced Exercises: Exercise ball roll-out, weighted plank


Lie facedown on the floor with your body straight and arms extended in front of you. Have someone place a 25- to 45-pound plate on your lower back. Slowly lift your body off the floor onto your elbows and toes. Keep your abs pulled in tight and your back flat while holding this position for 30 seconds to begin with, then work toward longer periods.


FREQUENCY: Abs can be trained from two to six days per week, depending on the load you place on them from one workout to the next. A session with weighted ab moves might require more days of rest than one using strictly body-weight exercises.

VOLUME: Depending on how many times per week you train abs, do two to four sets per exercise. If you train abs, say, twice a week, do four sets per exercise; if you do abs four to five times a week, do just two sets per exercise.

TIMING: Begin your ab training with your weakest link. For most of us, this means the lower abs. If this is your weakest area, do exercises such as reverse crunches before moving on to your stronger areas. If obliques are your weakness, do oblique crunches first.

LOAD/REPS: Use varying degrees of resistance. Do weighted exercises to make your abs literally bigger and more pronounced, while also doing higher-rep/ lighter-weight exercises that stress endurance. Unweighted sets should typically consist of 15-30 reps, while weighted exercises can be performed in the 8-12 range, which is standard for muscle growth.

WHEN: Train abs after your weight session. Because the abs are so important for stability and spinal safety, it's critical not to get them fatigued before a rigorous workout, especially on back or leg days.



A harder, more shredded midsection can be yours in just over a month with this training plan.

Humans are creatures of habit, doing certain things over and over again because they feel comfortable, such as eating regularly at a favorite restaurant, driving the same route to work, or doing the same exercise, set, and rep schemes for a particular body part. Unfortunately, that last habit is a big problem. Getting into a rut with any muscle group isn't good, but it may be especially troublesome for abs. You don't need a Ph.D. in exercise physiology to know that making a muscle grow bigger and stronger requires continually taxing it with heavier loads or more repetitions; yet many of us often squeak by on a few sets of crunches tacked on to the end of a workout. Three sets, 20 reps each, rest, and repeat.

This five-week program solves both problems, breaking you out of a rut and introducing progression to your middle-management plan in the form of the weights you use, reps you complete, and your rest periods between sets. Building well-defined abdominals doesn't happen by accident; it takes hard work and a carefully planned approach. Operating in a comfort zone may suffice in your personal and professional lives, but if you're after a ripped sixer, complacency is your enemy. Break the pattern right now.

Slam-Dunk Guidelines

Our five-week plan requires you to train your midsection three times a week, resting at least 48 hours between sessions. If possible, do abs on days you're not training a major body part.

Choose one Group A exercise. This group includes one move for each of the major regions of the abdominals — upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. Group A exercises add resistance to your body weight, meaning they're the most challenging moves in the workout and should be done early when you're fresh. Since resistance levels can be manipulated one plate at a time, even beginner-level bodybuilders can perform these moves using a lighter weight.

The key to this exercise is to choose a weight with which you can do only 10 reps, to focus on building strength in your abs. If you can't complete 10, the weight's too heavy; conversely, if you can do more than 10, the weight's too light. Selecting the right resistance is critical to manipulating intensity during the program.

Choose one Group B exercise. These intermediate-level exercises are slightly easier than Group A moves. Some Group B movements use added resistance — again, manipulate loads to fit your needs if you're a beginner.

Like Group A, this group has one exercise dedicated to lower abs, one for upper abs, and one for obliques. Although you may want to alternate which area of the abs you focus on as you progress through a workout, it's not required. In fact, one way to prevent the abdominals from becoming accustomed to a particular mode of training is to keep changing up the order of the moves.

The key with the second exercise is to choose a level of difficulty (via resistance or body position) that enables you to complete exactly 15 reps. The higher rep target works the abs in a slightly different way than that of the Group A move, building the ridges and valleys that make up a taut midsection. Hence, choosing the right resistance is an important factor in allowing you to achieve the target rep goal.

Choose a Group C exercise. These are beginner-oriented body-weight-only moves, but if you've been training hard thus far, they'll still be challenging. Again, there's one exercise for upper abs, one for lower abs, and one for obliques, so the one you choose should be determined by which areas you've trained so far and what you want to focus on.

These moves turn up the fire even more by working in a higher rep zone. Aim for 20 reps per set; if that's too easy, we list ways to make them more difficult under each exercise description. At the higher rep range, your abs will feel the burn much sooner, as you train them in a slightly different manner to emphasize muscle endurance.

Rest periods for ab training vary by individual, but start with a timed 60-second interval to determine if that's adequate. The abdominals are a fairly small muscle group that recovers quickly and doesn't require the same amount of rest between sets as larger body parts do. You don't want them to recover fully before the next set.

At your next ab-training session that week, select an exercise from each group you did not perform in the previous training session(s). If you did the lower ab machine from Group A on Tuesday, pick one of the other two Group A moves on Thursday. On your last abdominal training day that week, perform the remaining exercise. This strategy ensures that all areas of your abs get worked first when your energy levels are highest and through all the training zones: heavy for 10 reps to focus on strength, moderate for 15 reps to build size, and with body-weight only for 20 reps to make the abs burn and build muscle endurance.

The Next Level

We promised an ab workout that accounts for progression over time — that is, as your abs become stronger, you want to keep challenging them for continued progress. Here's how you'll do that in Week 2 and beyond:

On all Group A moves, add one plate each week and still try to complete 10 reps per set. Increasing the resistance weekly makes the abs work harder. If you can't do 10 reps, no problem — the key is to increase the weight and try to do as many reps as you can. This is why choosing the right weight in Week 1 is so important. Do this on all three sets for all Group A exercises.

On Group B moves, reduce the rest period between sets by five seconds each week. During Week 2, rest just 55 seconds between sets. The third week, reduce the rest interval by another five seconds. Continue in this manner until you're resting only 40 seconds by the fifth week. Progressively limiting your rest period is another way to increase the intensity of your workout and make your abs stronger and more efficient. You're still trying to reach the 15-rep target on every set for Group B exercises.

On Group C moves, perform one additional rep each week, keeping the resistance and rest intervals the same as in Week 1. In the second week, do 21 reps instead of 20, and increase that by one rep each week. By the fifth week, you're doing 24 reps for all sets of each Group C exercise.

Dial It In

While the keys that drive our five-week program are variety and progression, it would be a mistake to think that's all that's required to build washboard abs. Pay particular attention to your diet — monitoring carb and fat intake and total calories, and following a smart supplementation program — while including four 30-minute cardio sessions a week to strip off body fat. Only through a combination of these elements can you truly bring out a ripped six-pack.

At the end of five weeks, your abs will be much improved — and the proof will be in the mirror as well as in your advancing strength. You can return to this program at a future date, but it's not intended to be followed indefinitely. Just make sure whatever plan you follow challenges you.


Target | Upper Abs

Set an adjustable bench to a moderate decline and sit squarely on it with your feet secured under the ankle pads. Cup your hands lightly behind your head and lean backward. Contract your abs to curl up to a point just short of perpendicular to the floor; try to avoid pulling through your hip flexors. Round your back as you rise to increase the abdominal contraction, then lower under control.


1) Hold the peak contraction. By consciously squeezing and momentarily holding at the top of each rep, you'll work your abdominals harder and be less inclined to race through your repetitions.

2) Move at a smooth, deliberate pace. Use a slow, strict motion that increases the intensity of the contraction and minimizes momentum. Momentum is created using fast, explosive motions, which reduce the quality of your workout and invite injury.


Excerpted from Total Abs by Muscle & Fitness, Dylan Coulter, Michael Darter, Ian Logan, Robert Reiff, Marc Royce, Pavel Ythjall. Copyright © 2013 American Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Muscle & Fitness is a bodybuilding magazine first launched in 1936 and that offers professional exercise and nutritional tips. They are based in New York City.

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