Ask The Trainer #15 – Ripped, Strong Core


Hello Chad!

I love reading your comments. I have struggled with my abs all of my life. Do you have any ab/core tips for a guy who struggles against genetics to develop a strong ripped core? Thank you.



Hello, Kelly!

Thanks for the positive feedback! Pretty much everybody and anybody involved in any level of fitness wants a chiseled midsection. Ripped abs are the ultimate insignia of superior conditioning. Besides, no guy with a ‘dad bod’ is ever going end up on the cover of a fitness magazine!

What’s funny is that I even receive emails from college students who want to know how to get washboard abs prior to Spring Break. As a result, they hope it will earn them some extra female attention on the beach. However, they don’t give 2 flying flips about working out. (Sorry, but you gotta do the work!

So, without any further delay, let’s get to what you will need to do to get your 6 pack!

Chad ShawA) First of all, get lean: Regardless of how developed your abs are, they will forever remain invisible until you get rid of the fatty layer covering them. You will need to get yourself down to at least 8-10% body fat or your abs won’t show very much. In order to force the body to rely on stored body fat as a fuel source, you must create an energy deficit. This means it’s mandatory to consume fewer calories than your body requires for its energy and metabolic requirements. Hence, reduce your calorie intake by 500-700 calories per day to start. Also, make it a point to consume primarily whole foods. Avoid fast food, along with processed foods containing fat-promoting additives and sugars.

B) Condition your total core, not just your ab muscles: Sufficiently developing your full core gives the appearance that your abs actually wrap around your waist and sides. Otherwise, you’ll end up with moderately visible ab muscles in front, but no detail on the sides. Think Mike “The Situation” from Jersey Shore. Aside from performing specific, targeted abdominal exercises, you can also effectively condition your core muscles by incorporating variations of squats and deadlifts into your routine. Additionally, try performing as many exercises as you can standing up! This will allow you to utilize more of your core muscles. You can do this with curls, shoulder presses, lateral raises, calf raises, and cable flys on a pulley stack.

C) Abandon high-rep ab routines: You shouldn’t treat your abdominals any different than your other muscles. In fact, start incorporating progressive resistance with your ab exercises. This way your abs will inevitably get bigger and stronger. You may have heard some so-called ‘fitness experts’ claiming you must perform insanely high-rep sets to get small, chiseled abs. My question is… why would you want small abdominal muscles? Don’t you want your abs to be proportionate to the rest of your physique? I suggest a rep range of 8-12. If that’s too easy, slow down your reps, or add more resistance to increase the intensity of the exercises.

D) Do exercises that build your upper and lower abs, along with your oblique muscles: There are literally hundreds of possible exercises you could perform. However, I’ve listed 3 of my favorite exercises below that most people will generally do well with.

1. Cable Crunches

Cable crunches, or ab pulldowns, are a great way to torch your upper rectus abdominus, without stressing your lower back and central nervous system the way sit-ups and certain variations of crunches do. Attach a rope handle to the top pulley of a cable station and grasp one end of the rope in each hand. Next, kneel down facing the weight stack so your knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Allow your arms to stretch overhead. You should feel tension on the cable and a stretch in your abs. Pull the rope down by bending your elbows until your hands are positioned along the sides of your face. Using your abdominal muscles, crunch your chest down toward your hips until your head is somewhere between your knees, and your abs are in a fully contracted position. Repeat for 8-12 repetitions.

2. Hanging Knee Raises

This exercise trains mainly your lower rectus abdominus muscles. To perform hanging knee raises, attach your arms to a harness on a chin-up bar and allow your body to hang below. Now, if your gym doesn’t have a harness, and you have a strong grip, you can also simply hang from a chin-up bar. Keep your feet together. Using your abdominal muscles, lift your knees up as close to your chest as you can get them. Once you raise your knees as high as you can, hold in that position and squeeze your abdominals for 2-3 seconds. Then, lower your legs back to the starting position and repeat for 8-12 reps.

3. Cable Wood Chops

Use a cable pulley machine to perform the cable wood chop. Adjust the pulley to a high position above your head and choose your weight on the stack. Stand next to the pulley with your left arm and leg adjacent to the pulley. Reach up with your left arm and grab the handle with your palm facing forward. Reach across your body with your right arm, keeping your head and torso facing forward, grasping the handle with your right hand as well. Engage your abs and back as you pull the cable down and across your body to your right hip. Throughout the movement, keep your head, neck, and torso facing forward without rotating. This requires a strong engagement of the oblique muscles. Without moving your torso, reverse the movement, slowly returning the cable handle back to the starting position. Repeat for 8-12 repetitions.

Remember: NOBODY develops 6-pack abs overnight!

So, dedicate yourself to proper, consistent training and nutrition. If you commit to this long-term, it will only be a matter of time before you realize some very impressive, head-turning changes!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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