One of the most common questions among bodybuilders when it comes to bulking, is whether they should continue to train their abs during this stage of their weight lifting journey. One of the main reasons for this is because as you progress through a bulk, your body fat percent increases, and as a result, your abs become less obvious.
If your goal is getting abs while bulking, the key is to increase your calorie intake gradually. During this phase, it’s recommended to eat 300-500 calories more than you’d eat for maintaining your muscle mass. By doing that, you can gain lean muscle without putting on unnecessary layers of fat that you’ll rush to shed come springtime.
- Should You Train Abs While Bulking?
- How Often Should You Train Abs?
- Can You Bulk Without Losing Your Six-Pack Abs?
- What’s the Ideal Body Fat Percentage?
- How Long Does It Take to Bulk Up Abs?
- What’s Your Ab Goal?
- Choose the Proper Core Exercises
Should You Train Abs While Bulking?
Absolutely! Your abs grow like any other muscle group in your body, which is why you should train them with the same consistency and intensity as you do the rest of your body. The bulking phase is the ideal period to train your abs as during this time, you’ll have the extra calories that can help fuel and speed up the recovery and growth of your abs.
Males, particularly, naturally store excess fat in their lower back and abdomen area, which is why usually abs are the first ones to lose visibility when bulking. Once their abs are no longer visible, many people think there is no need to train that muscle group because they can no longer see it.
When cutting though, most people train their abs more frequently, and some bodybuilders even train abs everyday to try and make them more defined while they have a lower body fat level.
How Often Should You Train Abs?
The quest for the much-wanted six-pack often tricks men into thinking training their midsection hard after each workout will help them get abs faster. The truth of the matter is, your ab muscles are just like any other muscle group in your body. To be able to grow, they need to rest and recover in-between exercise sessions.
By training your abs after every workout, you leave your midsection in a never-ending overworked state, not leaving enough time for your muscles to recover and consequently preventing ab gains.
To prevent overtraining your abs and get the wanted results, your best bet is to train your abs 2-3 times a week after working out. During those workout sessions, try to include various ab exercises.
Cable woodchops, planks and abdominal rollouts are all excellent variations. Also, make sure a greater part of your training program consists of total-body exercises that include your abs, such as deadlifts, front squats, and standing shoulder presses.
When deciding on reps and sets, mimic your current training program. If the rest of your training sessions are tailored to help you increase total body strength and power, then your ab workout should focus on that too. Just like when training other muscle groups, mix up the ab exercises and train at different intensities to avoid overtraining and see results.
Can You Bulk Without Losing Your Six-Pack Abs?
If you’re bulking with the goal of gaining maximum muscle growth, chances are, you won’t be able to keep your six-pack abs visible by the time you’re finished with your bulking cycle. However, if you’re on a lean bulk, you can still maintain a visible six-pack much longer.
You can still build the foundation of six-pack abs while bulking as it’s still a muscle group like any other in your body. However, your abs won’t be visible until you have a low body fat percent.
What’s the Ideal Body Fat Percentage?
For your six-pack to be visible, you should have a low body fat percentage. 12% is great but 10% is your safest bet. Most men genetically store more body fat around the hips, lower back and abdominal area, which is why it’s harder for them to lose belly fat, and it’s also why their abs are the last body part to stand out when they start dieting.
How Long Does It Take to Bulk Up Abs?
How long it will take you to bulk up a six-pack will depend on your body fat percentage when you start this journey. Your safest bet is to aim to lose 1-2% of body fat per month.
This means that unveiling your six-pack abs might take somewhere from 3 months to 2 years. The results can greatly vary from one person to another. You might also want to consult with a registered dietitian and a certified personal trainer before starting with any nutrition and fitness plan.
There’s a lot of misinformation circling around in the nutrition and exercise world, which is why it’s important to make sure you’re following the best plan for your fitness goals.
For women, the ideal body fat percentage for visible abs is 14-19%. For men, it’s 6-13%. While yes, getting and maintaining a body fat percent under 10 definitely looks aesthetically divine, bear in mind that it requires quite a lot of dedication and discipline.
It’s also important to bear in mind that your body won’t like that fat percentage and will trick you into eating more just because it will think you’re in starvation mode. And the truth of the matter is, unless you’re an elite athlete or a professional bodybuilder, you don’t really need to be below 10% body fat. Having some body fat is actually good.
Naturally, women need more fat than men. Research and science show that this is mainly due to the hormone estrogen, as well as to support fertility. On the other hand, men require less body fat and have more lean muscle tissue naturally thanks to testosterone which helps them lose weight faster and easier.
What’s Your Ab Goal?
Before you start bulking, consider your overall body image and abs goal. What you’re hoping to achieve during this year’s bulk will significantly affect how you should approach your entire body and core training for the next couple of months.
Goal: Core Training with Strength Bulking
Are you looking to boost your strength and crush your personal record while staying in a calorie surplus? If yes, you should focus on executing the big movements (deadlifts, squats, and similar), which will also target your abs indirectly.
Besides training the big move exercises, you’ll add in some core stabilization exercises as sporadic movements to train your trunk to entirely stabilize your spine while executing these big movements.
Goal: Core Training with Lean Mass Bulking
If your aim is muscle growth and lean bulking, your whole training agenda should be much different than the one of someone whose goal revolves around building maximum strength. Chances are, you will still need to train your abs through compound exercises, but you’ll also need to do some isolation movements that take your core out of the equation.
Since your goal is building lean muscle mass, you’ll want to add in some extra core exercises to your split. These should include a balanced mix of stability exercises as well as some flexion based exercises. To better work on your ab muscles, it’s recommended to isolate various parts of your core as part of your complete split, particularly while using a hypertrophy rep range.
Goal: Core Training with Ripped Bulking
Is your fitness goal being ripped enough to be able to see your abs? If you could see your abs at the start of your bulk, by the end of this period, you may or may not be able to see them – it all depends on your starting and ending body fat percentage.
But that’s ok! When bulking, your goal is to increase strength or build more muscle mass. It’s almost impossible to do all 3 things at once – build visible abs, gain muscle and boost strength. Choose one goal while bulking and stick to it.
Choose the Proper Core Exercises
For the ultimate progress, depending on your core goals, it’s essential to choose the right exercises. If you want to commit to a bulk, your best bet is to have a logical bulking goal. During this period, you’ll be eating in a calorie surplus, so don’t freak out about gaining a couple pounds of body and belly fat.
Core Exercises with Strength Bulking Goals
If your fitness goal is to bulk while also increasing your overall strength, you should be training with heavy weights and performing various compound lifts and their variations. This will train your abs enough by itself. However, some people want a little bit more. Here are some great exercises for those looking to crush their personal records this bulking season.
The plank is an essential body stabilization exercise. However, many people do it wrong by keeping their buttocks too high or letting their hips go too low. To do it properly, you should focus on keeping a straight line from your heels all the way to the top of your head.
You might think that for planks to be effective, you need to do them for minutes on end. The truth of the matter is, you don’t have to. Just concentrate on holding your core muscles tight for 20-30 seconds. If this seems too easy for you, try engaging your abs a bit more by staying as tight as possible or by adding in an extra task like moving a 2.5lb plate from one side of your body to the other.
2. Pallof Presses
This exercise may not be sexy to perform when training abs, but it’s essential if you want to build lean muscle mass and stronger abs.
Get a “D” handle cable attachment and hook it up to a cable pulley. Choose the weight you’d like to use. Get into a full kneeling or half kneeling position, get to the side of the cable, take the handle with both hands, engage your core and push the weight from your chest until your arms are fully extended. After finishing, get back to the starting position.
Do two or three sets of this movement for twelve to fifteen repetitions.
3. Barbell Hip Thrusts
One of the most overlooked parts of the core muscle groups is the posterior chain. However, strengthening the posterior chain is mandatory for ultimate ab muscle gains. And if you’re looking to build muscle and boost your strength, it’s even more essential to do so.
The best exercise for targeting your glutes and helping your muscles grow is the barbell hip thrust. The carry over will also have a positive impact on your squat and deadlift numbers.
To do this exercise, take a barbell and set up in front of a bench. Position your upper back onto the bench and put the barbell on your hips. After that, contract your gluteus muscles to press the weight up.
Do two or three sets of this exercise for four to eight reps.
Core Exercises with Lean Mass Bulking Goals
Now let’s take a look at some excellent exercises you can add to your fitness routine to build abs as well as build muscle strength and mass during your bulk. During most hypertrophy programs, there’s no direct ab training. Nevertheless, if you want to isolate and train abs directly, the following exercises are amazing options.
1. Hanging Leg Raises
Hanging leg raises are great abs isolation movements. Most core flexion exercises add extra pressure on the spine, however, hanging while doing the hanging leg raise enables the spine to decompress.
Do two to three sets of hanging leg raises and aim for twelve to fifteen reps.
2. Weighted Crunch Machine
Although the weighted crunch machine is a very popular choice among coaches, it’s still an excellent option for weightlifters who are looking to build their upper abs and lower abs and gain more muscle mass.
It’s a loaded ab exercise you can safely get into position for that provides constant tension during the whole range of movement.
For best results, do two or three sets of the weighted crunch and make sure to get ten to fifteen reps.
Hyperextensions are another great option for isolating the posterior chain. You can also do loaded or unloaded hyperextensions. This exercise can target either your glutes or your lower back, it all depends on where you put the emphasis. For best results, do two to three sets of hyperextensions for twelve to fifteen reps.