If you made it here from the very first volume article, thank you very much and congratulations, you did it!
Today, I am going to finish off this article series about the optimal volume for hypertrophy.
If you don’t have any clue about what I mean with the optimal volume, make sure to check the previous link. This will lead you to the baseline article of this volume series that I wrote.
After we’ve talked about every muscle in detail, there is still one missing. Probably one of the most admired and highly praised muscles overall.
What does everybody strive for when starting their gym career?
What does give you the nice looking beachboy sixpack?
Exactly! It’s the abdominal muscles.
Most of you certainly train them at least once or twice a week. But is that necessary?
Do we need extensive abs workouts to have a visible sixpack?
How does your diet fit into the concept of a nice sixpack?
If you want to know more about these and many more questions, I made a complete guide about how to get a sixpack. Check it out and leave me feedback below.
What do you think is most important in order to get a sixpack?
On that note, today’s article is going to be about the optimal abs volume by focusing solely on training.
All other aspects like a nutritious diet, maintenance, six-pack myths and even some hints for training are covered in that very article.
But why should we train our abs?
Alright, you may now think that’s a pretty foolish question, right?
Obviously, a visible sixpack looks awesome, not that one in the fridge tho (but that looks sexy too :D).
Now it’s still just February but when the first sunrays come out, most people will rush to the gym and be first ones to hit their abs, every day. Day in and day out.
What are the benefits of strong abs?
I am glad you ask, guys because there are many other good reasons for training your abdominal muscles besides its captivating look.
In the following, I’ll present you some of the most far-reaching benefits of a strong mid-section.
These claims are based on a study from the Havard Medical School as well as other linked sources.
- Reduced Back Pain
Studies show that targeted abdominal and core training can have various benefits for people with back pain or similar issues.
The abdominal muscles act like a connection between our upper and lower body. One of its key functions is to stabilize.
Strong abs help you to keep your belly in and not out like you see a lot of people walking around with.
Especially, for individuals who have overweight, this can cause serious stress on your back muscles.
- Better Body Posture
If you have a weak mid-section it is not unusual that a lot of people tend to bend their body. This is due to the fact that the involved muscles aren’t strong enough to keep your body straight.
However, with a better body posture, you not only look more attractive, tall and probably more confident, but also does it relieves stress on your spine.
If you want to dig in deeper, here’s an article about 5 benefits of Abdominal Strength & Endurance.
- Functional Strength
Simple day to day routines and actions like moving, walking, picking something up or carrying stuff for somebody can be a real chore if you have weak abdominal muscles.
But with strong core muscles, you’re body is able to stabilize and balance you throughout everyday life.
- Improved Performance
In probably all sports you need to have proper body tension and thus preferable strong abdominal muscles.
Twisting, rotations while turning to catch a ball and throwing a ball all require and rely on your core strength.
With this in mind, a strong midsection will also benefit you with enhanced sports performance.
- Better Balance
As already mentioned, the core muscles stabilize our body which allows us to move around in any direction, stand and walk without losing balance.
Thus, it can be said that a general strength in your mid-section prevents the risk of falling and losing balance in a lot of situations.
To conclude, the abdominal muscles fulfill a lot of crucial functions for our day to day activities, support your sports hobbies and can even reduce pain and prevent injuries.
If you haven’t been convinced to train your abs yet, I am sure you are now.
Despite the fact that strong abs look good, they benefit your overall life performance and health.
Now, after we talked about the necessity for strong abdominal muscles, let’s take a look at how to achieve that strong mid-section.
It’s probably one of the most common fitness myths.
For jacked up sixpacks you need to do thousands of sit-ups and to do best train them at least once a day.
If we look at bodybuilders, do they have sixpacks? Most likely they have when they are not in offseason bulking.
But do they lay down and sit-ups until failure?
And is that really the optimal way? Is that necessary?
Let’s take a closer look at the optimal abs volume!
MV – Maintenance Volume
What does MV mean?
MV refers to Maintenance Volume which indicates the amount of work that is required to maintain your muscle’s current size.
In other words, the amount of volume required to avoid losing any gains.
Why is it important to know your MV?
Imagine you have to take a step back from training or need to reduce your frequency for some reason.
You don’t want to lose your hard acquired gains, do you?
Furthermore, after a period of heavy workouts in between your MAV and MRV or even above, it is for sure a good thing to lower your volume every now and then.
This will desensitise your body again and enable it to fully recover. Sometimes it’s even necessary to reduce your volume in order to recover because you overreached too heavily.
Such phases after heavy training where you lower the volume, are so-called “deload” phases. They often occur after 4-5 weeks of your mesocycle.
How does a “deload” work?
If you don’t know I am talking about here, I wrote a whole article about Deloads and some follow up articles that go more in-depth about more spefici Deload topics.
Nevertheless, I’ll just shortly point out the main aspects of a Deload.
On average, you reduce your weights about 40-60% of your initial weights. You keep the same amount of sets as before but, obviously, train a lot easier with higher rep ranges.
In the end, your body can recover and when starting your new mesocycle, you’re in charge of full strength.
In addition, you need to rotate exercises over time to stimulate new incentives anyway. Thus, deload phases are a good point to make some adjustments for your routine.
For beginners, you can start to rotate exercises every 2-3 mesocycles, advanced athletes can even switch every mesocycle.
Concluding, considering all above-mentioned points, it is crucial to know what the MV is.
What’s more, the MV benchmarks are significantly as well because they provide you with the foundation to keep your gains.
Also, something notably important that gets underestimated a lot, is keeping the volume in your “deload phase” appropriate.
Some folks tend to train “too heavy” in their deload week. I find myself in a similar situation, that’s for sure. But for best results and enhanced performance, we should obey the deload conditions more closely.
What’s the Maintenance Volume for the optimal abs volume?
MV: 0 sets/week
Really? Again a volume that accounts for 0 sets/week?
How can that be true?
This refers to most individuals, as always there are exceptions, with you might being one of them.
Exercises like squats, deadlifts, bent over rows, pull-ups, shoulder press and stuff that is often used with heavy weights all need a certain level of balance and stabilization.
In other words, your abdominal muscles/abs get involved quite a lot during almost every workout, especially doing compound exercises with heavy weights.
For most people, this is already sufficient to keep your abs’ current size.
MEV – Minimum Effective Volume
What does MEV mean?
MEV stands for Minimum Effective Volume. This relates to the least amount of work that is necessary to stimulate some muscle growth.
Why is it important to know your MEV?
Briefly speaking, as it’s important to know how much volume your abs need to maintain its current size, it is at least of similar importance to know how much volume you need to grow your abs.
What’s the MEV for the optimal abs volume?
MEV: 0 sets/week
It’s the same concept as above. Granted that you’re training hard in the heavy basic compound exercises.
Referring back to what I’ve mentioned earlier, do bodybuilders do a lot of isolation ab work? No, most of them likely not.
But they still have massive abs, right? Hell yes.
With this in mind, it becomes more and more clear that lifting heavy in the basic compound exercises is essential for an overall strong mid-section.
Thus, most folks abs will grow with 0 sets/week but granted that you’re training hard in the heavy compound exercises!
MAV – Maximum Adaptive Volume
What does MAV mean?
MAV relates to the Maximum Adaptive Volume.
This represents the amount of work where approximately most of the muscle growth will happen, on average.
Why is it important to know your MAV?
If you really want to grow your muscles and add size instead of only stimulating some growth through your MEV, more effort is required to achieve that goal.
Therefore, consistently increasing volume during your mesocycles is appropriate.
That’s why it’s important to know what the MAV is about and where you can refer to.
What’s the MAV for the optimal abs volume?
MAV: 16-20 sets/week
If you want to grow your abs particularly and get as big abs as possible to really make them stand out, you have to do some additional work.
The MAV here is somewhere around 16-20 sets/week.
But, if you just want to have good size abs that match your physique, you either need to do only a little or no isolation work at all.
MRV – Maximum Recoverable Volume
What does MRV mean?
Maximum Recoverable Volume. This refers to the maximum amount of work that your body is capable of to fully recover.
To put in another way, the maximum amount of work that your body can sustain until you might experience a drop in your workout performance.
Sooner or later in your mesocycle program, you will reach a point where progress isn’t going as steady as you desire and your performance starts to stagnate or even decrease.
If this sounds familiar to you, it is very likely an indication that you overreached your MRV.
Why is it important to know your MRV?
Let me answer that by asking you a simple question.
Who wants to take superfluous breaks from training?
Exactly, I assume nobody wants that.
All things considered, it’s important to know what and where your MRV is to avoid redundant breaks and overreaching too quickly.
What’s the MRV for the optimal abs volume?
MRV: 25 sets/week
Most individuals can train their abs with a volume of up to 25 sets/week. This refers to advanced athletes that want to compete on stage and really need their abs to shine out when they are lean.
Of course, you can train your abs as often as well, just for enjoyment or to grow bigger, but that’s not necessary for most people.
How often can/should we train for the optimal abs volume?
The abdominal muscles can heal relatively quickly but not as fast as other muscles.
Furthermore, keep in mind that you need your abs to recover for all the heavy compound exercises like squats, deadlifts and so forth…
Thus, you should not train your abs until failure every day because this may lower your overall performance and endanger proper execution and technique.
But, generally, for most folks, 3-5 times/week tends to work fine. Some people like to train their abs every day, but usually they only focus on crunches, planks or sit-ups.
That’s not the most effective way. If you really train your abs effectively, 3-4 times/week is the most people can sustain overtime to keep their performance equal in other exercises.
How hard should we train the abdominal muscles for the optimal abs volume?
Anything below 8 reps/set is likely to be too heavy. This can endanger proper execution and eventually lead to injuries.
On the opposite, anything above 20 reps/set is usually too light to stimulate good growth.
Thus, if you keep it in between 8-20 reps/set you’ll get enough volume and intensity to grow your abs.
Abs workout – Exercises
Now, after we finished the volume recommendations, what about the actual workout?
What exercises can and should be done for the optimal abs volume?
I don’t really like endless sit-ups (you exceed the 20 reps/set range relatively fast), crunches and the casual ab stuff which is I exclude them at this point.
Of course, you can do them now and then but I would not recommend it, as there are way more effective exercises to train your abs.
Below, I’ve listed the exercises that worked pretty fine for me and other exercises that are quite popular as well.
- Machine Crunches (Exception to normal crunches because it’s easy to load progress here)
- Slant Board Sit-Ups
- Hanging Knee Raises & Leg Raises (as far up as possible)
- Ab rollouts (Wheel, Barbell or Dumbbell) My favourite exercise! -> Easier version = on your knees, Harder version = on your toes
There is no right and wrong here, give them a try and figure out what works best for your body.
Vary your ab exercises from time to time to stimulate new growth and increase variety.
Range of Motion
How important is Range of Motion for the abs workout?
Especially for abs, range of motion is a big deal. Why?
Because there are different parts of your abs and you definitely want to train them from all angles.
For example, you can split it up and focus one week/month more on the side obliques or central part.
Overall, range of motion as I like to emphasize is always a thing to pay attention to. It will benefit you with better muscle contraction and growth as well.
To conclude, abs don’t need as much attention as other muscles to grow. But, if you want to maximize your abs and let them shine out, you probably need to put more effort into it.
Key aspects to remember for the optimal abs volume:
Exercises: I would not recommend you to do thousands of crunches or sit-ups. Rather do hanging knee or leg raises, slant board sit-ups, candlesticks and ab rollouts. These exercises will a) strengthen your core and b) still give you strong abs.
Range of Motion: You definitely want to pay attention to range of motion when it comes down to ab workout. The abdominal muscles consist of different parts (like side obliques and central part) which is why you should train them from all angles for a fully developed mid-section.
Special shout-out to Dr Mike Israetel, we really value his knowledge and the content that he shares with everybody on his YT channel and his blog.
Definitely check out his video about abs volume!
How often do you work out your abs?
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