During my bodybuilding heyday, I was known for a few bodyparts — my chest, my biceps, my back and even my calves. However, it was my abdominals to which I paid the most attention. I knew then, as I do now, that you could have the biggest arms, the broadest shoulders and the most cut thighs, but if you have poor abdominal development, you’ll look simply overgrown rather than Herculean.
Conversely, if you have a taut set of abs, you can get away with a less than spectacular physique. People’s eyes are naturally drawn to the midsection, and if yours is well developed, you will give the viewer the immediate impression of being in shape.
Oddly, I have found that the majority of bodybuilders do not pay nearly as much attention to their midsections as they should. Many perform ab exercises once — maybe twice — a week, while others don’t train their abs at all! Then, when the summer rolls around, they’ll be in the gym doubling up on ab training, trying to get some semblance of development before they have to reveal their torsos at the beach.
By training your abdominal region regularly, not only will you ensure that your midsection has the requisite ridges and valleys come summer, but you’ll also build yourself a strong core, which will help you to prevent future injuries — the kind that come from imbalanced strength.
When I think of great abdominal development, one of the fi rst men to come to mind is my friend Frank Zane. He had such a tiny waist and a midsection that was so well balanced — from serratus to obliques to intercostals to rectus abdominis — that he looked like the living, breathing incarnation of Michelangelo’s David. I remember it seemed like I saw Frank on a Roman chair every workout, both at the beginning and at the end. He would go for 500 reps each workout. I used to chide him about all that time he spent training his abs, but I couldn’t deny that it did the trick.
Now I’m not about to recommend that you do 500 reps of Roman-chair situps daily, but I will tell you that in order to get a trim, nicely developed abdominal region, you’re going to have to put in some effort. I’m talking about training your abs at least three times per week and aiming for no fewer than 100 reps per workout. It might not seem like much compared to Frank’s grueling routine, but the truth is, it’s still a good workload. If you think of those 100 reps in terms of another bodypart, say chest, that would be like doing 10 sets of 10 reps.
Like Frank, one of my favorite ab exercises is Romanchair situps. If your gym has a Roman chair, take advantage and make it a staple of your ab routine. I have also always liked rope crunches. Grab a rope attached to a high cable, get on your knees and crunch down, pulling your hands in to your chest. I especially like these for the upper abdominal area.
Hanging leg raises are an absolute must for lower ab development. With your knees slightly bent, raise your feet until they’re past parallel with the floor, then lower them back down in the same controlled motion with which you raised them. And when it comes to tightening the obliques, nothing beats broomstick twists — which can also be performed while sitting on a Roman chair — because they make the obliques especially hard.
I’ve outlined an ab routine for you to follow. It hits all the areas of the midsection without placing emphasis on one over the other. Perform it three or four times per week and within two months you’re sure to see great changes, not just to your abs, but to your whole physique.