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Abs-olute control
05February/2018

Abs-olute control

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WRITTEN AND DEMONSTRATED BY LIAM BURNHAM | IMAGES MICHAEL NEVEUX

They’re the ‘eye candy’ of the body, and when you have an established, chiselled set of rock-hard abs, it’s hard not to feel your best. However, the abdominals are one of the most difficult muscles to obtain and you must maintain a healthy diet as well as follow a continuous, structured ab workout to reveal them. Personally, I change my abdominal routines every few months to isolate and obtain new muscle and increase the power of my core.

This workout will take you through the main four abdominal exercises I use in my daily training — I’ve also added some advanced options for a couple of them. Placing focus on contracting the abdominals and obliques while executing these exercises and concentrating on controlling the movement and forming a mind-to-muscle connection is paramount.

Hanging leg raises

3 SETS

12-15 REPS

Target muscles: Iliopsoas/hip flexor, abdominals, and obliques

Stabilisers: Rectus abdoninis, obliques, and quadriceps

Set-up: Begin by hanging from a high bar (chin-up bar) with an overhand grip, with your hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders, both legs together and your abdominals and lower core engaged.

Action: Slowly raise both legs in a controlled movement only using your core and abdominal muscles to lift your legs. Continue this movement and pause and hold at 90 degrees, then slowly return your legs to starting position to complete one rep.

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Tip: Controlling the momentum of the repetition is so important with hanging leg raises. If you swing your legs, you’re using momentum and your abs will not benefit from this exercise. Do not allow your body to swing; keep your body and torso as still as possible.

Progression: Advanced lifters can add weight, and once the exercise gets easier and the body becomes comfortable with it, try alternative/advanced movements and hanging exercises. To target different sections of the abdominals, core and obliques try:

Hanging raised-leg bicycles

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Side oblique leg-raise

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Windscreen wipers

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Side-bench balanced bicycle crunches

3 SETS

10-12 REPS

Target muscles: Rectus abdominis, obliques, iliopsoas, tensor fasciae, and core

Set-up: Begin by sitting sideways on a flat bench. Using your core to balance, straighten and hold both of your legs out in front of you, then place both hands softly behind the ears, both elbows out, maintaining good spinal posture. Slowly lean back, engaging your core to hold you balanced.

Action: Contract your abs, obliques, and core, and then slowly retract your left leg bringing your knee up toward your chest, stopping once your left shoe is in-line with your opposite straight right knee, at the same time meeting your left knee with your right elbow. Make sure you are slightly twisting the torso and, at this point, crunching your abs and obliques. Repeat this to the opposite side to complete a rep.

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Tip: Focus on timing and making sure your foot lines up with the opposite knee and that opposite knee lines up with the opposite elbow; this will allow you to keep a good balance as well as a good flow of movement. Don’t push your head forward with your hands. Keep your core muscles activated by balancing. Speed is not the name of the game here; go slow and concentrate on your form and breathing.

Side-bench balanced V-sits

3 SETS

10-12 REPS

Target muscles: Rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal oblique, and hip flexor, all while improving your trunk and core balance

Set-up: Begin by first sitting on the side of the bench, then contract your abdominals and use your core to balance and lie back flat, placing both hands beside you. Grip the bench only to help with maintaining balance, and place both legs together throughout the exercise — only your bum and hand touch the bench at all times.

Action: Slowly lift your straight legs and good-postured back both to roughly 45degrees, hold for a few seconds, then return to starting position to complete a rep, keeping your abdominals contracted and tight.

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Tip: It’s important to maintain a strong spine structure throughout the movement. Don’t hold your breath; continue to breathe deeply throughout the whole set. Personally, I choose the bench to execute this exercise because it works the core, obliques, and abdominals way more than any other form of this exercise; it also allows me to complete a deeper range and good stretch of the abdominal.   

Kneeling cable crunches

4 SETS

25 REPS

Target muscles: Rectus abdominis

Set-up: Kneel below a high pulley, grasp the cable ropes with both hands, and place your wrists against the head. Flex your hips slightly and allow the weight to hyperextend your lower back.

Action: Begin by locking your hips so they are stationary, flex the waist as you contract the abs so the elbows travel toward the middle of the thighs. Exhale while performing this and hold for a second, then slowly return to the starting position as you inhale to complete the rep.

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Tip: Start at a medium/comfortable weight. Perfecting your form is important, as this exercise can put a dangerous strain on your body if not completed with proper form and control — taking away the purpose of the exercise. Keep your abs constantly engaged throughout the whole set, focusing on your breathing.

Progression: Once this becomes comfortable and sets are completed with ease, try extending your hand above your head, bicep beside your ears, to allow for stretch of abdominal muscles within the workout and fuller motion.

Arnold crunches

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