Workouts & Exercises

When Abs Aren’t Just Made in the Kitchen – Three Tips

My core stability and abs have improved dramatically in the last couple  months thanks to a couple new things I learned, and/or learned how to implement properly. With my new abs pics plastered all over FB, I felt compelled to share my “secretzzzz” with you. icon_razz-9

So, its frustrating when you hear the normal “abs are made in the kitchen” when you ask someone “how do you get your abs like that?”. Let me get this straight with you.

Visible abs are primarily a result of low enough body fat. And we all know that lowering your body fat is a combination of good diet and proper training. With diet being the bigger player.

That being said, there are definately things that can help out in making your abs pop along with taking care of diet.


So carry on with your good diet and heavy lifting and see if the tips below help give you that extra ab edge.

Side note: Aesthetics aside, a strong core is HUGE for good lifting. A couple ladies have asked for specific tips for those of us who are hypermobile (extra flexible), and below is a peek of what has helped me out immensely, especially in helping me “take the load” off my low back and increase my pelvic stability and muscular control of all those little muscles. This of course has had domino effects on all my lifts and positioning. 

1. Check your breathing patterns.

One of the biggest “discoveries” I made in my personal training, was being introduced to postural restoration techniques. The impact this has had on my awareness of my own body and how I move, and the effects on my form and fixing imbalances have been amazing. I touched on this briefly in a couple other posts regarding rib position and your diaphragm.

I was introduced to a simple breathing exercise to do as part of my warmup, and I REALLY encourage you to try it especially if you:

– Tend to hyperextend your lower back

– Are hypermobile

– Have anterior pelvic tilt

– Have low back pain normally, or after lifting

– Crappy lumbo-pelvic control

– Want better abs (duh)

You need a wall, and something to put between your legs like a med ball or foam roller.

The idea is to “tilt” your pelvis up with your hammies/glutes by pushing against the wall through your heels, and pull your ribs down by turning on your anterior abs and internal and external obliques as you breathe in big, and exhale slowly (when everything contracts).

Watch this vid. Trust me…WATCH IT.

90 90 Hip Lift

For more about breathing and posture:

Miguel Aragoncillo – Why Are We Breathing Inefficiently and What Are the Ramifications

Before you go and never do it because you don’t carry a balloon around in your gym bag, (DID YOU WATCH THE VIDEO??)  you can still DO IT WITHOUT ONE. Start simple and just do the exercise, minus the arm over head, and the balloon. It will still have merit.

After you get the idea of “ribs down, ham/glute activation” through this breathing exercise, pay attention to keeping your “ribs down” by turning your abs on in all lifts, and you will notice the difference, both in your abs, and in your positioning.

Good positioning = better muscle tension/activation = better muscles = look hotter, get stronger etc etc. icon_wink-1-7

2. Think like a bridge.



Gymnasts have amazing abs and incredible stability. Have you ever tried playing around on rings and looking graceful and stable while doing so? Yep. Part of that is due to training for a “hollow body” position. Without getting too in-depth, we can use the idea of this position for hitting our abs better in exercises like ab wheels, body saws, leg raises, planks, and even for chin ups and pull ups. It involves turning on those anterior abs to keep us straight and/or support the weight of our legs for exercises like chins and pullups (rather then letting our low back do it).

We are using the abs, glutes and quads to “hold us up” nice and tight and getting this bridge-like curve to the body that is a very stable and strong position. Nothing is wobbling around = incredible stability = what the abs do best.


When working our core specifically, we want it to “take the load” right? We don’t want our upper back or lower back to be doing the majority of work. Yet this is a common problem like in planks. Why?


Hunched over


Hips sagging (no glute/quad contraction)


Nice and straight

Real core training is hard, and we often screw it up because we hunch over too much or don’t properly squeeze our glutes/quads and keep our hips stable to require our core to do the job of keeping us straight. It all ties in together.

Let’s us an ab wheel as an example, since I love this exercise, but I see lots of people doing it wrong. Look at my lower back in the bottom portion of an ab wheel.


Keeping the bridge


Losing the bridge

For Chin/Pull ups, try keeping your legs in control more. Not only will this make it harder on your upper body, but if you tend to use your low back a lot through kipping style movement on the way up….well your chin up just might get stronger as well with this slight adjustment.


Legs behind, bit of a kip


Legs in front, harder on abs/arms

3. Stabilize more and think straight.

Core stability. We all need more of it. Use your abs more for the purpose they were intended. Stabilization. This means moving away from crazy styles of ab work (lots of crunches, flinging yourself in all directions on exercise balls, or cables, or whacking med balls around wildly) and focusing on how well you are actually making your abs work at stabilizing you. The problem I see for some “high intensity” ab work is that its not really intense, and they are not actually using their abs much. Defeats the purpose, and it also looks lame. If you watch some of the people with the best abs do core stuff, you see incredible CONTROL and STABILITY. Its really hard! And really good!

So until you know what that feels like (and you will know when you start doing it right), stick to stuff that you can feel your abs doing the stabilizing. My top two ones are:

Side Planks

Pallof Press

Why? Side planks are less distracting then front planks, because you are not allowed to hunch over as much, and figuring out how to get straight is simpler.

Pallof presses drive the point home easily again, and anyone can start doing them. They emphasize STRAIGHT, and make your core keep you straight. And its easy to feel them exactly where you should.

(See exercise descriptions below)

You gotta get that mind muscle connection we all go on about, but really what we mean is feeling the correct contraction/tension where we need it. Abs are not the exception. The breathing exercise I listed first was a HUGE component of that. Core stability and sexy abs are more than just the six in front, but to make those pop, we have to take the bigger picture in mind.

My top ab moves:

Pallof Press

For more about Pallof Presses and vids of how to do them:

Tony Gentilcore – Everything Pallof Press

Ab Wheels


For more about Ab Wheels and learning them (this site IS AWESOME for bodyweight stuff):

Beastskills – Ab Wheel Rollout

You can do a variation on a exercise ball too!


Tip: Go as far as you can holding the bridge/hollow body position. If you are a beginner this might mean only a couple inches of movement. THATS OK. Aim to go a little further every time. Keep your wrists/elbows/shoulders/hips aligned, and when you come back think of “pulling” yourself back with your abs, NOT your arms.

Planks and Side Planks 


Tip: Get your elbow DIRECTLY under your shoulder, and don’t rest into it. Shrug your shoulder up and away from that ear. Squeeze your butt hard, feet on top of eachother. Get your hips up and chest out! Think Straight.


What about reps and sets?


I stick to higher rep, no rest, low set. That quality over quantity. 10-30 reps (depending on your level), 2 exercises, 2-4 sets (more sets if I have less reps and vice versa.


If you ever have nothing to do, go creep Kane Sumabat and his crazy abs and ab workouts. I remember seeing this guy do windshield wipers in a Toronto gym years ago, and never forgot it!


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