Every lifter wants and NEEDS to develop strong abs, and most of us know that we need to keep bodyfat levels in check and work our abs hard in order to reveal our six packs. But does exercise order matter for building ripped abs?
While there is some debate over whether or not you can isolate upper and lower abs, most experts agree that you can at least emphasize one area over the other in your training.
So does the exercise order matter if you train lower or upper abs first? Let’s find out.
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What Are Abs?
Understanding how to train abs involves first understanding what they are.
What we usually refer to as “abs” are really just one muscle, the rectus abdominis, crisscrossed with bands of connective tissue that gives it that distinctive six-pack look. That ALSO segments the muscle and allows you to flex your spine in increments.
While the abs are just one muscle, there are some studies that show you may be able to activate muscle fibers in the upper or lower portion preferentially depending on your exercise selection.
In particular, working the upper abs generally involves moving your shoulders toward your pelvis, while targeting lower abs requires the opposite: moving your hips toward your shoulders.
It’s a subtle difference that can help you determine proper exercise order.
From the Bottom Up
For most bodyparts, hardcore lifters target major, multi-joint movements first, when we are the freshest. This allows us to use maximum weights and provide as much overall stimulation as possible before isolating specific muscle groups. Reversing that order is called pre-exhaustion, and it can compromise the loads you use.
We can apply this idea to ab training, too.
There are plenty of quality near-isolation exercises for the upper abs, from cable crunches to floor crunches to trunk curls, but getting that lower-ab V usually requires some help. In particular, the most productive lower-ab exercises all involve movement around the hips — leg raises, reverse crunches, leg scissors.
While all of those exercises provide strong stimulation for the lower abs, the prime movers in each case are the powerful muscles of the hip complex.
What’s more, many trainees have weak lower abs relative to their upper abs, so it’s important to prioritize that region to maintain balance and structural integrity.
For most lifters, then, the optimal order of an ab workout is to train lower abs first with compound exercises, move on to a lower isolation exercise like hip tips if necessary and desired, and then finish off your six-pack workout with upper abs.
Feel Free to Experiment
Of course, this is just a general template and is not a hard-and-fast rule of ab training. Feel free to vary your exercise order to find what feels right for you, and what brings you the best results. Also be sure to talk to your doctor before you start any routine to make sure you don’t have underlying health issues that will cause you trouble.
In general, though, training abs from the bottom up will work well for healthy trainees trying to build their best possible six pack.