When I get my body fat to low levels, my abdominal region is my “aesthetic strong point”. I get an “almost 8-pack” with deep separation between each segment.
This is the combination of two things:
1. Very low body fat levels in the abdomen area
2. A thick rectus abdominis (6-pack).
You need both to have abs that stand out. If you have the low body fat levels but thin abdominal muscles, you will not have the deep separation. This often leads to having a nice 6-pack when you flex, but not when you stand relaxed. It can get tiring to keep flexing when you walk down the beach for hours to get admired! If you have thick abdominal muscles but aren’t lean enough, you’ll still have a faint six pack but will look more like a barrel.
To look awesome, you need both.
My favorite tool to accomplish this is the “Abs Shredder” method. Something I started doing instinctively when I did bodybuilding shows (around 2005), without really understanding why it worked. And then perfected it when working with figure competitors and for my last 3 photoshoots.
The Origin Of The Abs Shredder
My abs were not always one of my best assets, quite the contrary. Even when I got really lean for the first time, my abdominal definition wasn’t that great. Mostly because I hated training abs and still believed that I would get all the stimulation I needed from doing the big basic lifts (note: there is a difference between having a strong “core” and having a thick “6-pack”, as the rectus abdominis is only a small part of the “core”).
That’s when I decided to add direct abdominal work for my next competition. What I would do, to save time and because I hated doing full abs sessions was to combine the abs work with my cardio. To make the cardio sessions more tolerable I would do a few sets of abs, then 5-10 minutes of cardio, a few sets of abs, 5-10 minutes of cardio and so on until I would reach my target cardio duration for the day (30 to 50 minutes).
From that my abdominal definition took a monster step forward. I didn’t understand exactly why that was. I thought that it was simply from finally doing direct abdominal work (it did play a big role) but I learned years later that there was a little more to it than that.
Why It Works
Obviously, simply doing direct abdominal work in the right training zone will make the rectus abdominis thicker. After all it is muscle tissue like any other so you can develop it with resistance training. But there is actually another facet to the story. Something revealed from a scientific study that actually flies in the face of what is commonly believed: you can spot reduce body fat… to an extent and with the proper strategy.
The study is: Stallknecht B, et al. Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2007 Feb;292(2):E394-9. And the conclusion was that: “ (…) blood flow and lipolysis are generally higher in subcutaneous adipose tissue (body fat) adjacent to contracting than adjacent to resting muscle irrespective of exercise intensity. Thus, specific exercises can induce “spot lipolysis” in adipose tissue.” In other words, when you train a certain muscle, more blood flow goes to that region and this facilitates fat mobilization from fat stores in that region.
Similar findings were found in other studies, including: Heinonen I, Bucci M, Kemppainen J, Knuuti J, Nuutila P, Boushel R, Kalliokoski KK. Regulation of subcutaneous adipose tissue blood flow during exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Mar;112(6):1059-63. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00732.2011. Epub 2012 Jan 5. PMID: 22223450.
Now, training a muscle with sufficient volume to increase blood flow to that region can help with fat mobilization in the region. But I want to be clear: this doesn’t mean that you will “cut” an area by doing a lifting movement for that region. Because resistance training doesn’t really rely on fat for fuel, and it doesn’t mobilize lots of fat.
So, yes, doing sets of abs will bring more blood in the abdomen region. And this increases the potential to mobilize fat from that region. BUT if you stick to only resistance training you will not mobilize a significant amount of fat even if you are more blood flow in the area. You need to include a mode of training that relies a bit more on fat for fuel. That’s why combining abs exercises with cardio, in an alternating fashion, works.
You use the abdominal exercises to increase blood flow to the abdomen region then you immediately do cardio to increase fat mobilization. Because you’ll still have more blood flow in the abdominal area, you will mobilize a bit more fat there.
I prefer to keep the cardio bouts shorter now (I used to go as high as 10 minutes, when I didn’t know how it worked) because after a few minutes of working with the he legs (or other muscles depending on the activity) your body will start diverting more blood flow away from the abdomen and toward the working muscles.
That’s also why I now like to use “cardio variants” that keep the abdominals working, to keep blood flow there.
This could be:
1. Battle ropes
2. Farmer walks
3. Zercher carries
4. Simply keeping your abs flexed hard when doing regular cardio (or doing pulse contractions as you do the cardio)
The Abs Shredder Parameters
I use several options depending on the training means that I want to use. We want to stay in the aerobic zone as much as possible, if the overall intensity of the “cardio” bouts is too high, you will not mobilize fat as efficiently (using more muscle glycogen).
If the intensity is high, we use rest periods (intervals) between short bouts of activity. YES, the short and intense bouts will use mostly glycogen, but the aerobic system is used during the rest periods to recover and restore ATP. So even though the bouts of activity are anaerobic or glycolytic, the overall effect is still a significant fat mobilization.
Let’s look at the options I like the most:
Option 1. Battle ropes
I like the battle ropes because the abdominals are solicited to a significant extent to keep the torso stable. But you should still focus on keep those abs firing: imagine that someone was about to punch you in the stomach.
I use fairly intense bouts of activity for 10-15 seconds followed by 15-20 seconds of rest, so that each bout plus its rest period amounts to 30 seconds. We do 10 such bouts in one “round” (which lasts 5 minutes). 3 to 5 rounds are done in a workout. You perform and abs exercise prior to each round.
For the abs exercise you’ll need enough volume to bring more blood to the region. You could either do one set of around 30 -50 reps (avoid yanking the movements to get the reps in, you need to focus on flexing the abs on each repetition) or, my favorite option, doing 3 sets of 12-15 reps with very short rest intervals (30 seconds or less). I prefer the second option as it allows me to use loaded abs movements which are better to thicken the muscle bellies up.
You can use any direct abdominal exercise you like. Pick the one you feel the most. You can use a different movement with every round too, it doesn’t matter, you just want to bring blood to that region.
Option 2. Rowing ergometer or Assault bike trainer
Because the intensity is equally as high, we will use similar parameters to the battle ropes:
10-15 seconds of work followed by 15-20 seconds of rest. A “bout” and it’s rest period lasts 30 seconds and 10 such bouts are included in a “round” for a total of 5 minutes.
3-5 of those rounds are done in a workout.
Abdominal work is done prior to every round.
Option 3. Farmer’s walk or Zercher carries
You will use 30 seconds of work on the carries with 30 seconds of active rest. The active rest is simply keeping walking (with no load, of course). One “bout” plus its rest period lasts 1 minute and you do 5 bouts per “round” (total of 5 minutes).
You do abs prior to every round and a total of 3-5 rounds are performed.
Just like with the battle ropes, focus on keep the abs hard during the loaded carries to make sure that blood is still being sent to that region.
Even during the active rest period, you can also keep the abs tight or do pulse contractions.
The same rules apply for the abs work as with the previous options.
Option 4. HIIT
This is the first option using more traditional energy systems work.
You can use a stationary bike, freemotion treadmill, elliptical trainer, stepper or just regular running and walking.
We want to use 15 seconds of intense work (not necessarily all-out, and RPE of around 8) with 45 seconds of active rest (walking intensity level). A “bout” and its recovery period last 1 minute and you do 5 bouts per “round”.
3-5 rounds are done in a workout.
I’ll give the same recommendation as I made earlier: focus on keeping your abs tensed during the intense period and try to get pulse contractions in during the active rest period.
As with the other options, abdominal work is done prior to every round.
Option 5. Low Intensity Steady State cardio (LISS)
This is the original option. And while it obviously works, I feel like it might be the less effective of all the options. I personally keep it for when I’m drained, and higher intensity work would be problematic both from a mental and physiological perspective. But it can be a good option if you conditioning level is low.
On each round you simply perform 5 minutes on any cardio equipment (or light job). You want to shoot for a heart rate of around 110-115 beats per minute or a “short conversation” intensity (you could answer someone with a few words, but not hold a full conversation).
With this option it is all the more important to keep tensing your abs (imagine that you were about to get punched in the stomach) during the 5 minutes or do pulse contractions throughout.
You do 3-5 rounds and precede each round with the abdominal work.
How Often Can I do It and When?
I personally recommend doing the abs shredder twice per week. If you want to do it more often, any added session (after the recommended 2/week) should be of option 5 to avoid excessive cortisol production and recovery issues. Ideally it should be done as its own session. I often do it in the morning and have an afternoon workout. Or it could be all that you do on a non-lifting day. The last option is doing it after a workout. While it can work, I suggest keeping the rounds to 3 if you decide to go that route.
Trick To Make It More Effective
Here are a few things that will help you get the most from the Abs Shredder workouts.
1. Do the workout in a “low insulin state”. Elevated insulin significantly diminishes fat mobilization. This means either doing these workouts fasted, a few hours after your previous meal or at least after meals that were exclusively fats and protein (no carbs).
2. Take some caffeine about 30 minutes prior. I’m not telling you to go the hardcore pre-workout stimulant route but 50-100mg of caffeine will increase fat mobilization, thus making this workout more effective.
3. Keep the abdominal area warm. It will sound very 1980s, but neoprene waist trimmer belt can be an interesting add-on. I personally use the one by MPA. Now, these only give the illusion of losing waist size by dehydrating the area. HOWEVER, one benefit that is helpful for the Abs Shredder is that it heats up the abdominal region. And keeping an area warmer than others will divert blood flow to that region. More blood flow, while you are doing the Abs Shredder means more fat mobilization from the abdomen region.
4. Use Vasoburn. I’m not sponsored by them and have to buy it like everybody else. But I always use it prior to Abs Shredder workouts. It works both by heating up the region where you apply it (which increases blood flow) and has topical Yohimbe in it. It is an antagonist of the alpha-adrenergic receptors. AAR inhibit fat mobilization (among other things) in fat cells. Yohimbe blocks those receptors and thus increases fat mobilization. The topical cream is better than pills. Pills will have a systemic effect and can actually be dangerous for the heart. The topical cream will affect mostly the fat cells in the region applied. Still, do not use an agonist of the beta-adrenergic receptor (ephedrine, clenbuteral, synephrine, albuterol) at the same time: using both a beta-adrenergic agonist and an alpha-adrenergic antagonist at the same time is like cutting the breaks then slamming on the gas pedal.
One word of warning with Vasoburn: it will create water retention, especially the first few times you use it and can actually make you look fatter. Don’t worry, that’s just water, it will go away,
I’m not gonna lie. The Abs Shredder is not magic. If you carry 20% of body fat on your stomach it will not suddenly give you a 6-pack. But it will allow you to use a bit more fat from the abdominal region. If you are fairly lean and aspire to get shredded with a nasty mid-section, it is definitely worth adding. Not to mention that it makes cardio (and abs work) loss boring.