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The Ultimate Abs Hypertrophy Guide for Men and Women

Upgrade your abs.

Everything you need to know about abs hypertrophy. This excellent information from Mike Isreatel will help you maximise your abs growth.

Scroll down for the full video, but firstly there are a few key concepts to understand.

Key Training Principles for Abs Hypertrophy

Learn more about abs hypertrophy.

MV = Maintenance Volume:

“For most, no ab training at all can maintain the abs. Unless you’re very advanced and train abs specifically on their own often and hard, just training all of the muscles of your body will leave your abs plenty big for physique purposes. In fact, you can even gain ab size without training them directly… check out the section on MEV!”

MEV = Minimum Effective Volume:

“Zero sets per week. Yep. You can pretty much do NO direct ab work and still grow abs for a very long time.”

“This is because the heavy loading of your compound heavy basics like squats and deadlifts provides a decent ab stimulus. But, if you want your abs to really GROW, and not at a snail’s pace, you’ll have to work them directly. Before we move on to more details about how to grow the abs purposefully, let’s first examine in what context this would be needed.”

“When choosing the needed context for direct ab growth (and conversely, the context in which such growth is NOT considered beneficial and is actually best avoided), we must remember that we are, with direct work, GROWING the abs. That is, your rectus abdominus muscles will actually be getting BIGGER. Which means that they pop out more and are more visible at any given bodyfat, but also means that they slightly expand the size of your waist, especially when viewed from the side.”

How to build a 6 pack abs prisoner squats Abs HypertrophySource: Ant Haynes

“So, if you actually want bigger abs, then direct training for them is a great idea. If you already have a very slim waistline, don’t ever plan on getting massive and competing in bodybuilding, but just want your abs to “pop out” more, then this training is right up your alley! Because let’s face it, some of us get quite lean but have such small abs that even VERY low levels of bodyfat leave our abs looking unimpressive or even barely there. Some folks might be VERY content with just a flat stomach, but if you want your abs to pop, you might consider them for direct training.”

“On the other hand, if you have aspirations to compete in physique sport, and especially if you’re either planning on getting very big eventually or you’re female and compete in Figure, then direct ab training might even be a net negative, as keeping your waist small must be a high priority for you. So before you start training your abs, consider your goals and then make an educated decision.”

“If you’ve never trained abs on purpose before, your MEV will actually be around 2 weekly sets. If you’re experience in training abs, your MEV might be around 6 weekly sets.”

MAV = Maximum Adaptive Volume:

“The maximum adaptive volume of a single session of any trained muscle group is still speculative, but research suggests it’s probably no lower than 4 working sets per session and no higher than 12 working sets per session in most intermediates.”

“When you design your program and progressions, having lots of sessions with much fewer than 4 working sets per muscle group per week for multiple weeks on end might not be very efficient, and you might benefit from combining a few of these lower volume sessions to get the same volume but in fewer weekly sessions. Also, not exceeding 12 sets per session per muscle group for more than a few weeks is probably a good idea.”

MRV = Maximum Recoverable Volume:

“Most people seem to encounter serious recovery problems above 25 sets per week, no matter how many sessions they split the work over. But some people can train far in excess of that amount and still be ok.”

“The abs often develop a great resistance to fatigue with long term exposure to training. One way in which ab MRV becomes apparent is indirect. Sore and weak abs from too much training can reduce your stability and thus strength on other compound moves like squats and deads, leading to a system-wide MRV reduction even if the abs themselves are still growing. Those interested in pushing their ab training to the limit should consider starting with 2x frequency and working up to their MRVs, then consider going up in frequency every several mesocycles until they are training abs 4-6x a week for best results.”

Abs Exercises

Add these abs exercises into your training.

  • Hanging Knee Raise
  • Hanging Straight Leg Raise
  • Machine Crunch
  • Modified Candlestick
  • Reaching Situp
  • Rope Crunch
  • Slant Board Situp
  • V-Up

Abs Hypertrophy – Variation

“Within a training session, we recommend including between 1 and 3 different ab exercises, but no more than that in most cases, as doing more than 3 ab movements in one session is likely just a needless burning of potential exercise variations you can save for later mesocycles. Within a single week (microcycle) of training, we recommend between 2 and 5 different ab exercises.”

“For example, if you train abs 3x a week, you can do a heavy machine crunch on one day, a lighter machine crunch on the next day, and a hanging knee raise on the last day for 2 total exercises in the week. On the other hand, if you train abs 6x per week, you might want to choose (though don’t have to choose) as many as 5 different exercises, with only one of them repeated in a heavier/lighter arrangement.”

“Because you want to keep exercises variations fresh for when you need to change exercises (through injury or staleness, for example), you should use as few exercises per week (and thus, per mesocycle, as we recommend keeping the same exercises in every week of each meso) as you can to get the job done. If you can just do a few more sets of slant board sit-ups and get a great workout, there’s no reason to switch to machine crunches, for example. If you’re doing an exercise, there should be a reason for it.”

Abs Hypertrophy – Loading

“In general, like all muscles, the abs benefit from weights in the 30%-85% 1RM range, which in many people roughly translates to a weight that results in between 5 and 30 reps on a first set taken to failure. We can split this range into heavy (5-10,) moderate (10-20), and light (20-30) categories, as there are tradeoffs to make between all of them.”

“The first point on loading is that the abs, like most muscles, seem to benefit from some training in all three of the rep ranges listed above.”

hanging knee raisesSource: Photos Courtesy of CrossFit Inc

“Because the moderate (10-20 rep) range often offers the best tradeoff between stimulus, fatigue, injury risk, slow/fast fiber specificity, and mind-muscle connection, an argument can be made that a first-time program design could have most weekly working sets for the abs in this range, perhaps up to about 50% of them. The other 50% can perhaps be split evenly between the heavy (5-10) and light (20-30) rep ranges, as loading range diversity has been shown to be a potential benefit in its own right.”

“Not all exercises are optimally suited to all of the 3 main rep ranges. Crunches and sit-ups, if unweighted, often naturally fall in the 20-30 rep range. As a side note, it’s important to know that if you can do an ab exercise for more than a set of 30 reps to failure, it’s either time to start loading that exercise or to replace it with an exercise that is more challenging.”

“Machine crunches fall in all of the ranges, and for most people, very challenging movements like the candlestick and V-Ups fall into the 5-10 range, though some moves might be very awkward in that heavy of a range and may be done lighter. When pairing the exercise to the rep range, just make sure you’re doing the exercise properly and not cutting any corners in technique or failure proximity to needlessly squeeze it into a range.”

Abs Hypertrophy – Video

Learn More

Add Nordic Curls and Reverse Hyperextensions into your training.

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