Abs-olute resolution

Latest gym vanity shot – mid-September. Looking sweaty and moody ;)
 

Anyone who’s in their early 30’s will be well aware of the feelings of “ohshitohshitiamgettingold” that occasionally regularly rear their ugly wrinkled head, and it was they that cemented my decision to aim for a, er, “bold” New Years resolution in January this year: “6 Weeks To Supplement-free Abs”. Actually, it was one of several crazy resolutions – perhaps I shall reveal the others over time (i.e. when I’ve done them ;)

This wasn’t really something I was planning to post about (it is, after all, monumentally vain and I expect to get crap from several people for it), but I get asked quite often about them – what I eat, what sort of training I do and so on, so I figured it’d make a worthwhile blog post. Also, let’s be honest – the contents of the internet suggest that I’m not the only one who wants a stomach that looks a certain way.

Firstly, this is something I honestly believe is achievable by anyone who wants it. I am not special and do not posses a set of genes that is in any way superior to anyone else’s. What I do posses is the drive and determination (ok – and a touch of insanity) to achieve my goals. If getting a damn fine stomach is something that you’ve always wanted to do, then start facing up to the fact that there’s nothing stopping you doing it apart from a bit more exercise and a bit less food.

Secondly, because I suspect a lot of people sniffed at that previous paragraph, rolled their eyes and are currently hovering their mouse over the “close tab” button… let me let you into a little secret – getting abs is not as difficult as the world would have you believe. Really. I know the internet is full of pages and pages of (mostly contradictory) information, but actually it’s quite a simple thing to achieve. You just need to ignore all the nonsense peddled by people who don’t realise that you don’t need to eat tuna and egg whites and do crunches all day.

This post will assume some knowledge of fitness and that you already follow a reasonably healthy diet, and aims to give you enough information to make a final push to get the size and definition you’re looking for. It applies to both men and women, but men can afford to be more extreme in both their training and weight loss, for reasons that I’ll mention below. Depending on your starting weight (to give you some idea, in the photo above my weight is 61kg) you might want to extend it beyond six weeks.
 
Note: What this doesn’t talk about are the issues surrounding our desire to be so lean and ripped in the first place, nor the health implications of throwing yourself headlong into a relatively strict diet. I actually lost my period in the process of doing this, and in retrospect (I’m adding this later on) am not sure that I fully endorse it as the best route to bringing about changes in your body, especially the short time scale. But hey – I’m not going to censor myself, but just be sure to work within your own limits and body.

Diet

The single most important factor in having your abs show is dropping body fat. Even if they’re super-strong, if they’re still covered with a layer of fat they will never be visible. I’d say diet is 65-75% of it (depending on your body type and existing strength).

 

The internet is full of websites boasting to “get a 6 pack in 4 weeks” and other such nonsense, but many of them won’t even mention the diet part. If you’re serious, you need to clean your diet right up. At the time, I followed a “slow carb“-style diet – eating vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, cottage cheese and pulses. I don’t follow it any more, but I do think it’s a good one.
 
Anyhow, I am not going to talk about the nutrition side here. If you want to read about the three diets I would consider best, then check out these pages:
 
 
Tips
Here are a few tips, however you choose to eat:

  • Tupperware is your friend – take meals into work or anywhere you will only be able to eat processed crap (if your friends invite you out to Pizza Hut, you probably shouldn’t take tupperware but may want to consider new friends).
  • Plan your snacks. If you work in an office, this is vital.
  • Eat protein at every meal, at least 25g, if not more, including breakfast (probably the most important meal for protein intake)
  • Start introducing savoury foods to your breakfast eg. eggs and vegetables – in the long term it’s a good move for weight-loss and maintenance
  • Drink at least 2l of water a day
  • The whole “no white food” thing is a good guideline – no wheat, bananas, potatoes, bread etc.
  • Sugar is Enemy No. 1. Ideally try not to eat too much fruit or dried fruit either
  • Yes – that also means keep off the booze.
  • No, you don’t have to do it all the time, but keep big nights to a minimum and stick to dry wine and spirits.
  • Frozen vegetables save time and money
  • Cooking stuff in big batches then eating the same meal for several days makes life easier 
Disclaimers:
It should be said that diet is personal – everyone responds to the different macronutrients in different ways. It’s up to you to experiment and find a diet that works for you. This information is what worked for me and it may not work for you.
 
Also, this applies particularly to ladies, but to men to a lesser extent too – do not be tempted to dramatically reduce your calorie intake (anything less than 1500 per day for women or 1700 for men), and especially to do it via a low carb and low fat diet. Fat is what metabolises oestrogen in the body, and cutting it out of your diet to any extreme degree will result in disruption to your hormone production. You can infer from the above the lesson that I learnt ;)

Training

Training is actually the easy bit of this – much easier and more fun than following a strict diet. If you don’t enjoy your training you’re doing something wrong in my opinion, and should find something else to do that actually brings you pleasure!
 
I did a LOT of research into the exercises to give the best value for the amount of effort they took (and pain they caused!), and these are what are below. I’m not going to give you in-depth tutorials on how to do them, but I will say this: good form beats number of reps every. single. time. So make sure you’re doing them properly and correctly executing each repetition. Don’t be lazy, do a shitty job and try to get them finished as fast as you can.
 
Firstly, let me just dispell one myth – you do not need to do crunches to get abs. Actually, crunches are a stupid pointless waste of time. Anyone who advises you to do them either doesn’t know what they’re doing or doesn’t care about getting results for you. The reason for this is that they only utilise a very small number of muscles – just the abdominals. You may think that sounds ok, but the body is far more complicated than that, and if you can do exercises that not only work the abs but also the back, shoulders, arms etc. then why wouldn’t you?
  1. Hanging leg raises –  (start with hanging knee raises)

    By doing these hanging from a bar you use all your core muscles to stabilise yourself, rather than just isolating the abs. They offer a good amount of progression, from starting with hanging knee raises to being able to bring your feet slowly all the way up to the bar, and lower them back down agan. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever feel “oh, I can do these, easy – next!” with these!

  2. Rollouts using an ab wheel

    These create a very long time under tension – one of the most important factors in building muscle. As well as your core, you will also be using the upper back and shoulders to stabilise yourself. Again there is good progression, from starting on your knees to moving up to doing them standing up, plus the strength you’ll build will carry over to other things, like the plank and eventually front and back levers.

     
  3. Swiss ball pike rollouts

    These are excellent – during my little mission they were by far my favourite exercise because they always felt challenging but fun to do, and could really be controlled and slowed down. They not only work the abs but also strengthen the lower back, which is important to maintain balance within the body. For an extra workout, push back with your hands at the end of the rep to extend your arms – you’ll really feel it in your shoulders.

    Here is a video tutorial I made for them:

     
  4. Yes, I am contradicting my “no crunches” thing here (and my disdain for stupid bits of equipment), but these are much more intense then your normal crunch, in no small part due to he “negative” aspect when you bend back over the bosu. They also engage the lower back in this part of the exercise. When you find them too easy you can use a medicine ball or a dumbell to add weight, which will also work the shoulders. Just make sure that dumbell isn’t pink, or I will hunt you down and kill you whilst you sleep.

  5. Side plank

    To make this harder you can make circles with your leg as you hold it up. Start with 20s each side and increase it as much as you can. This will be hard – push yourself. Always strive to beat your best time, and aim to increase the time by at least 5s per week.

Frequency & timing

I hit abs about 3 times a week. Never consecutive days as rest is important (it’s when your muscles will recover and grow). I usually did 3 or 4 sets of 10 reps of the above, depending on time and how I felt.  I went running two or three times a week, and did a boxing or kickboxing class once or twice a week. Of course you will probably want to do some strength training too – whatever you are currently doing is fine (and I would recommend bar calisthenics if you’re not currently doing any!). 

Do not be tempted to spend hours doing cardio in order to burn off that chocolate digestive you accidentally ate during the afternoon. Or in fact to burn off anything. Long bouts of cardio are not only incredibly boring, but also very stressful to the body. Aim for things that are fun and variable  – in a gym this might be boxing or circuit training, or if you train by yourself it could be sprints or tabata intervals.

Tracking your progress

 

Every week (twice a week, max) take a photo of yourself. The best time to do this is immediately after training when the blood flow to your muscles has pumped them up. All those pictures of ripped guys and gals that you see on the internet – that’s when they do it – they don’t always look like that. I’m not a photography expert, but lighting makes a difference too – I found from the side or above usually gets the best results as it highlights the shadows more.

It is hugely motivating to see your progress, and once your abs start showing it’s kind of a buzz. Plus you will end up with a nice little souvenir like this which will make your ego fuzzy and warm and brush against doorways and other overhead objects as you pass underneath them.

Maintenance

Once you’ve got a stomach that could double up as a xylophone, you will probably want to keep it. I have actually found this, along with not wanting to pull any extra weight up over the bar, quite a good motivating factor in keeping my weight down. As in everything in life, though, you will have to find your own motivation – it could be the look, could be the strength, could be how you feel rocking that new bikini, could be how all the guys stare at you when you’re down the beach (although if this is your prime motivation I will be very disappointed) – just find something that works and bare it in mind when you feel yourself drifting off-track.

Six weeks is a decent amount of time to follow a new diet and by this point you will have likely discovered some things that work for you and some that don’t (diet-tweakage is something that takes most people (by which I mean “health, nutrition and exercise nuts”) many years, so don’t expect to have it down pat at such an early stage). Even how I eat now compared to how I ate at the start of the year is quite different. Don’t be afraid to make changes, and don’t freak out if they set you back – all lessons learnt are valuable ones.

The most important part of any exercise regime is that you enjoy it, so if you’ve hated slogging down to the gym to hang off a bar and try and touch your toes to it, then don’t. Find something you love, that’s a pleasure to be spending your time doing, and as long as you are training hard you will continue to reap the rewards.
Anyhow, this has turned out to be a bit of an epic post. Hopefully this is enough information for anyone looking to achieve something similar. 
 
Keep it simple, keep it clean and keep it positive and there’s nothing to stop you!
 
Any questions then feel free to leave them in the comments.

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