Muscle soreness isn’t all bad. That deep, down-to-the-bone tenderness is worn like a badge of honor by gym rats who pride themselves on pushing their bodies to the limit. They know that this painful physical marker is laying the foundation for progress — muscle breakdown begets muscle repair, after all. But there may be no more satisfying muscle pain than the kind you experience after a grueling ab workout. All too often, people get into the routine of routine — doing the same workout over and over — and with any muscle group, you can rightly expect stagnation as well as the absence of that telling soreness. Use these approaches in the gym today and let tomorrow’s pain stand as a reminder that you are that much closer to a stronger, deeply defined set of abs.
1. Add Weight
Sets of 50 are great for building endurance but do little to build strength or shape in your abs. Because these muscles are engaged all day to keep you vertical, solely doing high-rep work is going to do very little to instigate change. Just like any other muscle group, you need to change up the resistance and the rep ranges. In some workouts, you can do 20 or more reps on your ab exercises. In others, drop to the 10- to 15-rep range or even below 10 by adding resistance, in the form of a medicine ball, weight plate, bands or even a cable with a rope attachment.
2. Stick Together
Straight sets, in which you do one set of an exercise, rest, do another set of the same exercise, rest and then, once you’re done with all your sets, eventually move on to another exercise, is the most basic way to train. Instead, try doing all your exercises in circuit fashion, i.e., by incorporating tri-sets (three exercises) or giant sets (more than three exercises). The benefits? You will burn more calories, get your ab workout over quicker and, most important, increase the intensity of your workout.
3. Try Tabatas
Tabata training is a type of interval training developed by a Japanese exercise scientist named, yes, Izumi Tabata. To do a Tabata ab workout, pick three exercises: one that targets upper abs, one that targets the lower abs and one that targets the obliques. For each exercise, do eight cycles of 20 seconds of work alternating with 10 seconds of rest, and rest a minute between exercises. Training this way not only exhausts your abs but also helps carve away body fat.
4. Down To The Core
The plank is important to the overall aesthetic of your abs because the muscle it targets — the deep transverse abdominis — is responsible for keeping the showcase muscles of your abs tight and drawn in. To infuse your next ab workout with an element of fire-inducing pain, finish your ab workout with three to five sets of planks held for one minute — or longer — each.
5. Speed It Up
A study conducted in Spain showed that when subjects did the positive (or upward) part of a crunch as quickly as possible, they used more muscle fibers in all areas of the abs, especially the obliques. This essentially turns the crunch into an exercise that targets not just the main abdominal muscle (rectus abdominis) but also the obliques. And because the goal of any exercise is to target as many muscle fibers as possible, going faster in this way makes the crunch more effective.