There you are, training your ass off in the gym.
Doing squats, deadlifts and heavy cable crunches. Feeling like a real badass. It’s summer and you’re putting in extra work on those abs. You are going to look damn great on the beach.
And it’s working – your core is getting stronger and more muscular. The problem is your waist is getting thicker, NOT slimmer. You’re starting to get one of those blocky, turtle shell looking, body-builder waists.
Where did you go wrong?
It’s Not What You Think
It has to be all those heavy squats and deadlifts, you think to yourself. All of those powerlifters have huge bellies and all they do is squat, deadlift and bench. This gota be it!
Not quite, my friend.
Yes, your core is very active when you do squats and deadlifts. These lifts are, in fact, some of the best core exercises you can do.
But it is where the core is being activated that makes the difference. During these lifts, the muscles that support your spine and ensure you do not extend too much are activated the most.
While you may experience a little muscle growth because of the load you are placing on your body, you simply aren’t activating the part of your abs that gives you that thick, barrel type stomach. The muscles that cause that are the obliques.
When the obliques thicken, they obscure that natural taper and “V” shape. And that’s NOT what you want – you want a powerful but slim waist, like the body-builders of the golden era.
These Ab Exercises Are Making You Look Fat
So keep doing those squats and deadlifts – they are not to blame. But what you’re doing for your ab routine probably is.
Many people train abs religiously 4-5 times a week with heavy loads. What they don’t realize is this is actually making them look worse, not better.
Sure, you may be feeling “the burn” and thinking you’re chiseling those abs to perfection. But it’s more likely that you are making your obliques bigger, which is making your waist wider and LESS sexy.
Here are the top 5 ab exercises that you should avoid doing altogether:
1. Cable crunches
2. Dumbbell or cable side bends
3. Barbell rollouts
4. Weighted crunches
5. Medicine ball jack knives
It’s not that the above lifts are bad – it’s just that they directly stimulate your obliques and the abdominal wall. And the bigger those muscles get, the more blocky your midsection will look like.
I mean if you really want to be a ninja turtle or a professional strongman, I’m not going to stop you. I always wanted to be Raphael too, you know.
But if aesthetics are your goal and you are looking for that sexy, lean and tapered look, then you need to switch up your ab routine.
So What Should You Do for a Lean Waist?
First, you should still include core stability work in your routine. Your core needs to be able to resist rotational forces and protect your spine from injury while doing heavy exercises.
Here are my favorite exercises for core strength and stability:
1. Planks. You can do normal planks, you can do push-up stance planks or you can do planks on your knees if you’re just starting out. In all cases, these are amazing for strengthening your stabilizing muscles.
2. Pallof Presses. You don’t see these done very often, but they are actually one of the best exercises you can do for your core. Here is a great post by Tony Gentilcore that explains how to do them right.
Next, keep doing heavy strength exercises like squats, deadlifts, chin-ups and military presses. These will engage your core enough to keep it strong, while minimizing hypertrophy.
Pro Tip: Make these exercises even more core-friendly by contracting your abs during the entire lift. Try to really flex your abs during a chin-up and tell me it’s not a core exercise.
And finally throw some sprints into your routine to help you keep your body fat percentage down and your abs looking sexy.
Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition
Beyond lifting weights, never forget about what you eat. No matter how many hours you spend sweating away in the gym, if you stuff your face with pizza and donuts, your abs will never show through.
Stop Doing What Everyone Else Is Doing
I know it’s hard to accept that the guys you see doing endless side bends are actually wasting their time. But it’s the truth.
Stop progressively overloading your abs – you simply don’t need to train them directly to achieve your goals. Your six-pack is there, trust me. It may be hidden away by some fat, but training it directly won’t do you much good.
Stick to core stability work, interval training and proper nutrition, and you’ll start seeing results in no time.