Trying to flatten your tummy, get rid of love handles, or even get six pack abs in the convenience of your home? You’ve come to the right place!
Your foam roller isn’t just a tool for self-myofascial release, it can be used as a home training tool as well. In fact, when done correctly, each foam rolling pose to release trigger points should be engaging the core strongly as well.
Why Don’t I Have Abs?
I hate to start off telling you that the world is unfair, but it is. Only lean people have visible abdominal muscles. Not matter how strong your core is, those six packs will only start to show when you reach single-digit body fat percentage levels. Heck, even skinny people with weak cores have six packs. The only way to get abs is to shed fat, but targeted training sculpts your abs and makes them pop.
The Science of Fat Loss
Honestly, there is no secret trick to fat loss: you have to burn more calories than you take in. And no, eating less doesn’t help and will make things worse by reducing your basal metabolic rate. Instead you should eat cleanly and healthily.
The best exercises to shed fat are short, intense, maximal effort movements like heavyweight squats in the 5-8rep range, or things like 100m full-effort sprints. These have an advantage over cardio in that they increase your metabolic rate even after you finish your workout, helping you burn fat throughout the day.
A study done by Dr. Christopher Scott, University of Southern Maine, found that up to 95% of calories burnt by intense, maximal effort workouts occur AFTER the workout. This happens because:
- Anaerobic respiration kicks in during intense workouts as aerobic respiration cannot supply energy fast enough. This incurs oxygen debt, which means your body must keep up a higher respiration rate AFTER workouts to restore your body back to normal. This requires energy, so you will continue burning calories after your workout.
- Because your muscles accumulate microtears during intense workouts, they need to be repaired through synthesis of new sacromeres, which requires energy. They also help increase muscle mass, and more muscle cells means more energy used. Walla, fat loss!
However to achieve that tight, solid look for your abdominals or even pop those six packs, some amount of targeted conditioning is required to develop the muscles there, and that’s just what we are covering in this article.
The Function of Abdominal Muscles
To know how to train our abs, we must first know the function of the abdominal muscles. The chest muscles are used to bring your arms towards your chest, and hence we use a pressing motion like the push-up or bench press to train them.
The abdominals, however, are an unusual set of muscles, in that they serve to resist motion rather than initiate it. Their primary purpose is to stabilise your core to channel forces throughout your body and to protect your spine.
There are a few main muscles that make up your abs:
Responsible for curving your spine and bringing your pelvis up. Gives the 6-pack abs when toned.
Located at the sides of your rectus abdominis, they are involved in accelerating and decelerating the trunk and in breathing. They appear as finger-like bands when trained.
These are located at your sides from your hips to your pelvis. They are responsible for side-bending, torso rotation. They appear as the classic V-cut abs when toned.
While we describe them seperately, these muscles actually work in conjunction to bring about any sort of movement of your torso.
With the basic anatomy of your abs down, let’s get down to the exercises!
Foam Roller Abs Exercise Programme
If you are a graphical learner, and you hate detailed descriptions, we have come up with a simple infographic instructional that covers the complete foam roller ab workout. You may download this into your phone for easy reference!
If you like to learn the details, or are unclear about some of the subtler points of each exercise, continue scrolling for detailed explanations!
For the programme, I use a 60cm solid EVA foam roller – the gentlest sort of foam roller, durable enough to withstand such pressure, and just the right length. Because some exercises require you to rest your torso on the foam roller, using anything shorter will be impractical. As our aim is not myofascial release, using anything stronger is just causing unnecessary discomfort.
The programme will be broken down into 3 Phases:
- Static Planks
- Concentric Rectus Abdominis Series
- Concentric Oblique Series
Each Phase is done as a circuit. Finish all sets in each Phase before moving on to the next one.
Do not rest between exercises. Take a 1 min break between sets. Do not rest between Phases.
E.g Roll Crunch –> Leg Lifts –> Crunches –> 1 min rest
For all ab exercises, breath out deliberately as you contract your abs in order to engage the core.
NEVER use momentum. Training the abs is all about control. Pause momentarily both at the start and the end of each movement.
Phase 1: Static Planks
Planks are a great exercise to train core strength as it imitates the function of your abs – to stabilise and decelerate the core from movement. Doing planks on a foam roller is just so much more superior because you have to maintain balance on uneven support!
This Phase has 1 set.
Target Muscle: Rectus Abdominis
Duration: 1 min
Place your toes with your feet close together on the foam roller and assume a plank position. Make sure your elbows are directly below your shoulder. Lift your forearms off the floor slightly so that only your elbows are in contact. Throughout the plank, pull your elbows down using your lats, such that the skin on your elbows is pulled forward (toward your forearm). This helps to engage your core more. Remember to breathe. NEVER arch your back as you will not be working your core and may damage your spine.
If you feel stress on your shoulder, you are doing it wrong.
Target Muscle: Obliques
Duration: 1 min
Description: Place your feet on the foam roller and assume a side plank position. Make sure your elbow is directly below your shoulder with your arm pointed at a 45 degree angle. Throughout the plank, pull your elbows down and back using your lats and push down on the foam roller with the leg that is below. These help to engage the core more. Remember to breathe.
Phase 2: Concentric Rectus Abdominis Series
Concentric/eccentric movements are the ones that build muscle and cause your abs to pop! This is because the eccentric (lengthening) phase of the movement induces muscle microtears, which leads to muscle growth when repaired.
As such it is VERY IMPORTANT to have complete control of the movement. Take care to contract only your abs during the movement (to place maximum stress on them), and to release them in a slow and controlled manner.
This Phase has 3 sets.
Target Muscle: Lower Rectus Abdominis
Description: Place your arms on the floor and the roller just below your knees. Keep your abs tight and taut. From this position, use your abs to tilt your hip forward, rolling the foam roller forward as well until it reaches your ankles. Slowly roll the foam roller back to your knees again.
Leg lifts on a foam roller is superior because you have to contract both sides of your abs evenly or you will fall to one side! This means that you are training them evenly!
Target Muscle: Lower Rectus Abdominis
Description: Lie on the foam roller with your hip just over the edge. Place your arms on the side for support. Start with your legs straightened and inline with your body. Using your lower abs, tilt your hip upwards, bringing your legs with it. End and pause at the 45 degree angle, then release slowly to the start position. Moving your hip BEFORE the legs is VERY important or you will be targeting your hip flexors instead. At no point should your feet contact the ground.
Target muscle: Upper Rectus Abdominis
Description: With the foam roller just above your hip, lean back until your body is parallel to the floor. Extend your legs just enough to balance. You should feel a tremendous amount of stress on your abs at this position. Against this stress, bring your chest up by curving your upper torso until your upper abs are fully contracted. This is a very small movement. Your body SHOULD NOT become vertical as the range of motion of your upper abs is just not that large – you are risking injury to your spine by using your hamstrings to pivot your spine at the hip. At no point should you arch your back and you should never touch the floor with your shoulder blades or head. If the foam roller moves from the position from your hip, you are doing it wrong.
Phase 3: Concentric Oblique Series
As above in Phase 2, only explosive and isolated contraction coupled with slow and controlled release will stimulate maximum muscle growth.
This Phase has 3 sets.
Target muscle: External Obliques
Reps: 8 per side
Description: Lie on the floor with you hip on the foam roller. Straighten your legs perpendicular to the floor. Allow your legs to fall slowly to your left by twisting your hip.When your legs are parallel to the floor, use your right oblique to twist your hips back to the start position. Do 8 reps to the left, followed by 8 to the right.
If this is too hard, you may bend your knees to reduce the resistance.
Target muscle: Internal Obliques
Reps: 8 per side
Description: With your butt on the floor, place the roller just behind yourself and lean back onto it. Using your right internal oblique, pull your right torso toward your knee. This should be a simultaneous twist and curl by your internal oblique. Repeat 8 reps on your right, followed by 8 reps on the left. You should feel minimal stress on your upper abs.
Popping those six packs
Do this workout once a week. Be consistent. Don’t expect your abs to be toned immediately. However, keep it up and you will see results in no time!
If you can, try to have another session whereby you do intensive, maximal effort training such as squats, deadlifts, or full-out sprints. These are SERIOUS fat burners.
For me, it started with a general shape with no division in the middle. As I got leaner, the cuts of the abs started to show. Look where I am now – even at 10% body fat (I haven’t been keeping up with my diet)!
Have you started on this programme? Check back with us in a month, we’d love to hear about your results!