As a trainer, it’s quite often pretty hard watching people do useless exercises day in, day out, but it’s a fact of gym life, especially when pretty often, most gym-goers are less than receptive to unsolicited advice. It’s hard a hard topic to broach in the best of circumstances! So unless someone is doing something that will cause injury, I just leave it well enough alone.
But YOU know better, and if you didn’t before, you will after reading this article!
The first exercise on my list is the weighted side bend… and for people with a goal of slimming or spot reducing the waistline, any direct oblique training at all! Don’t do it. Targeting the obliques is counter-intuitive to most people’s goals.
So, side bends. These are probably my #1 exercise that I consider to be the biggest waste of time! Multiply that by 100 if you do these with a weight in both hands. With a weight in both hands, what is the side you are targeting resisting? You’re just balancing out the resistance for a sum total effect of -1 out of 10. With one dumb bell in hand, the training effect is like .5 out of 10, just so you know!
What you should do instead: tricky question. This depends on your goal. If you have any abdominal fat to lose at all, regardless of your goal, you need to clean up your diet. Read my previous article about the rules of transforming your physique, specifically the stuff about spot reduction. Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym, my friend. Diet, diet, diet. There is no other way, no magic exercise. Just solid, consistent dieting and good nutrition. You have to lose the fat on your belly to reveal any definition.
Now, if you have low enough body fat to see your obliques, the next question is do you want to achieve a slim, tapered waistline, or a muscular, athletic waistline which can sometimes look quite thick with little to no taper? The degree to which your waist is inclined towards this “thickness” is largely dependent on your genetics. Targeting your obliques specifically will create hypertrophy in those muscles (i.e: growth). This will thicken the waistline to some degree, so unless one of my clients specifically tells me they want big, well-developed abdominals, I never prescribe any targeted oblique exercises whatsoever and no heavily weighted ab exercises. A light medicine ball is OK.
What can help the appearance of your midsection, regardless of your body fat levels and your goals are all variations of leg lifts, planks, push ups, sit ups (with or without additional resistance, dependent on your goals). Why? All these exercises strengthen and heavily utilise the transverse abdominus – a fundamental internal stabiliser. When this muscle is strong, it works like an internal girdle and sucks everything in. The fibers in this muscle run horizontally and support your spine, wrapping around your internal organs for protection and support. In my experience, incorporating these exercises across the board produces a dramatic aesthetic effect including improved posture, flatter tummies and improved performance.
If you specifically want to develop muscular abs and achieve hypertrophy in your obliques and rectus abdominus, the best exercise you can incorporate into your routine is the kneeling cable ab crunch. In conjunction with a heavy lifting routine that includes squats and deadlifts and maybe some knees-to-elbows and windshield wipers (don’t forget the diet!), you will beef up your abs in no time!
What has given you the best results in your ab training? Was it just diet, or did you do something specific in your training routine? Let me know in the comments!