Bracing your core, proper posture, eating well and lifting weights... Yes, these all help strengthen abs, but the truth is... you ACTUALLY need to DO ab workouts too, or you're selling yourself short. Good posture and an engaged core can only do so much.
Abs need to actually be BUILT through training.
Now you might think, "Duh, this is obvious". BUT you would be surprised at HOW many people I have heard say, "Oh, yeah, I don't need to do abs because I engage my core in all my lifts." I've also heard a guy once say, "Well I don't want HUGE abs, so I just run and don't do any abs. Eventually my abs will shine through the fat, right?"
If you don't take time to work JUST your abs, you will most likely be left with a flat stomach, however no traceable abs. Apart from just the aesthetics, It's not wise to be avidly running and/or lifting without also tending to building out a strong core to stablize your body, especially your spine.
SQUAT & DEADLIFT = skip all abs? A Study.
There is a cross-fit trainer (Dave Dellanave @ The Movement MPLS) who actually did a study on this. He used one of his regular group classes as his lab rats. It was a group he had doing a few ab only activities with each cross-fit workout. During his "study" he had them STOP doing all ab workouts and focus on just the fundamental movements (heavily focused on squats and deadlifts) to "keep their core strong". Two weeks in, he began to have several clients complaining of back aches and pain. He even noticed a bit poorer performance when he tested their strength and movement.
This is when he stopped his study all together and added back in ab routines. He concluded it is essential to train your ABS.
WHY do AB routines? (sit-ups, planks etc)
- Reach peak performance
- Reach peak strength
- Prevent injury (protect back especially)
- Allow your body to age without pain (or reduce your current pain)
- DEVELOP the muscles and ab wall (Ab routines tear, build and strengthen the muscles, allowing them to grow and become more defined)
"HOW do people get bulky abs or a turtle shell? I don't want to do abs for fear of getting bulky."
Well, I will tell you... do not stop doing abs for fear of bulkiness.
Bulky abs can come from:
1) Poor diet + heavy weighted ab routines (i.e. decline with plates)
2) Frequent + heavy weighted oblique workouts make waists thicker. (Good look for guys, most girls don't aspire to have this look, thus girls can still do weighted obliques, but stick to light weight/high rep)
3) Intentionally bulking (eating clean, but high fat, high carbs) + training abs
4) Short torso + muscular build + poor diet
5) Some say steroid use + ab routines
When it comes to building abs it is essential to train ALL parts of the abdominals.
- Rectus abdominals
- Dynamic: exercises that generate movement through the core, primarily in flexion like crunches.
- Static: These exercises are mainly movements that resist motion such as planks and farmer's walk.
- Transverse abdominals
- Dynamic: exercises generating movement, working on posture and nerve/muscle connectivity such as bird dogs
- Static: exercises resisting movement, focused on connecting nerve and muscle such as abdominal bracing/hollowing and planks
- Oblique abdominals
- Dynamic: Movements that require a twisting or rotating movement of the spine i.e. Russian twists.
- Static: Exercise focused on preventing rotation through the spine and resisting movement. i.e. side planks or a palloff press (holding a weight with your arms fully extended out in front of you).
SO all in all.... Make sure to take time TRAIN just your abs. It doesn't need to be long or daily, but don't just lift weights and eat clean and expect to have your dream 6 pack.