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Arnold Schwarzenegger – Total Ab Training

Arnold Schwarzenegger – Total Ab Training

Arnold explains how to carve and polish the midsection.


The majority of bodybuilders are obsessed with developing the showy muscles, such as the arms, pecs and shoulders. Almost certainly they spend most of their training time developing the major muscle groups: lats, pecs, quads, hamstrings, delts, traps, biceps, triceps and calves. The abdominals are usually done almost as an afterthought. A few sets of crunches, reverse crunches – or situps are performed at the end of a workout, but without much energy or enthusiasm. Rarely are the abs trained with the volume of the sets or intensity that other muscle groups receive. This is a common mistake and the reason most bodybuilders’ abs are not in great shape.

The truth is, if you want great abs you have to work hard to get them. Nothing comes easily in bodybuilding, but what satisfaction you feel when you finally see a great six-pack!

Whether you are a competitive bodybuilder or just someone who wants to look good, sharply defined fat-free abdominals are an absolute must for optimal appearance. The entire abdominal region, which includes the rectus abdominus, the intercostals and the obliques, should be exercised regularly. Nothing improves the shape of your body and the overall appearance faster than reducing the size of your waistline, flattening your stomach and developing your abdominals. Muscle mass is important, but without good shape and definition muscle mass means nothing. Who impresses people most at the beach, a big guy with 20-inch arms and a 55- inch chest but also a big pot belly and fat hips and glutes, or a smaller man with 17-inch arms, a 45-inch chest but a tiny wasp waist, rippling abs, and a super defined muscular body? As a big guy myself I’d like to able to say the big man, but that isn’t true. The guy with the good abs and the defined body is the one who gets all the attention.

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People associate a small, tight, flat stomach and hard abdominals with athleticism and physical well being. When someone asks you how big your muscles are, what do you do? You flex your biceps. But when someone asks you if you’re in shape, what do you do? If you truly are in shape you show your abs. If you are not in shape, and have a fat stomach, you mumble something about being late for an appointment and get away as fast as you can.

Unfortunately, the training methods and diet that best developed mass are often the complete opposite of what are needed for shape and definition, and vice versa.

A limited number of exercises per body part, heavy weights, low reps and long resting periods between sets are best for mass, while a greater variety of exercises per body part, more moderate weights, higher reps and shorter rest periods between sets – i.e. quality training - are best for shape and definition. A diet high in protein, carbohydrates and fats, with lots of calories, will help you gain mass and bodyweight. A specialized diet high in protein, low in carbohydrates and moderately low in fats and calories will help you lose body fat and increase definition. So what’s a bodybuilder to do? What is the solution to this quandary? I recommend that you devote the fall, winter and early spring to mass training, and rest of the spring and the summer to definition training. That way every year you will be adding more and more muscle mass to your physique while improving shape and definition too.

Having a small, tight, muscular waist is the key to possessing a quality physique.

No other single muscle group makes your body look so impressive. A great set of abs changes your whole appearance. Suddenly your shoulders and lats look wider, your pecks and delts look bigger, and your V-taper improves. Your legs and upper body looks bigger and more impressive when you reduce the size of your waist and develop rock-hard abs. Well sculptured, highly defined, jewel-like abdominals not only give the entire physique a more polished and finished appearance but are essential if you hope to ever do well in a bodybuilding competition - but they are also a barometer of your physical condition. They indicate how low or high your bodyfat levels are. They let you, and other people, know instantly if you are in shape. When your abs are well defined and fat free, the rest of your physique is in muscular condition too. If your abs are covered with a layer of fat, however, it is a sure bet that you are not in good condition and are smooth everywhere. You cannot have fantastic washboards abdominals if you are not in shape. arnold_schwarzenegger_trainingI believe in doing some abdominal exercises every training day – or at least 6 times a week. When I was really in a hurry to get my midsection in shape, I worked abs twice a day.

This double training blitzed away fat and produced razor sharp abdominals quickly.

Some people claim they don’t have time to train abs twice a day, but a few sets after you wake up in the morning and a few sets before bed should be possible for anyone. If you truly are strapped for time, try doing a couple of ab exercises at the beginning of your routine each day and then finish with a few sets at the end of a workout. My approach to ab training has always been to work them hard and fast. Most top bodybuilders rest only for a few seconds between sets, or take no rest at all, by doing their ab exercises in supersets, trisets or giant sets. This method causes an intense burn in the abs and helps to burn off fat while developing the abdominals and the intercostals at the same time. Nonstop workouts create an aerobic effect for overall bodyfat reduction too.

Favourite Ab Exercises

Roman Chair Situps

This exercise strongly works the upper abdominals. Over his career Zabo Koszewski must have done millions of them, and he probably won more Best Abs awards more than anybody. I often began my ab workouts with 10 minutes of nonstop Roman-chair situps. They not only worked my abs, but also served as a good warmup for my entire body. Don’t forget that your entire body is under tension when you do Roman chairs, so they almost work like iso-tension posing. To do Roman-chair situps, sit on the Roman-chair bench and hook your feet under the supports. Cross your arms over your chest and fold them in front of you. Keeping your stomach sucked in, lower yourself to approximately a 70-degree angle. Do not lower until your torso is parallel to the floor because you’ll take the stress off the abs and put it on the hip flexors and lower back. You want to maintain an arch in the lower back, and not let it round. The 70 degree position lets you maintain constant tension on the abs.

Inhale as you lower your body back and exhale as you come up to the finish position.

Pause at the top to tense and squeeze your abs, then lower under muscular tension to begin another rep. Concentrate deeply on crunching your abs to increase contraction. To make the exercise more intense, try placing the block under the front of the bench to create more of an incline. Although I listed my sets and reps as 4 X 25 to 50, in truth I normally did Roman chairs for time. I’d go nonstop for ten minutes and do as many as I could. Once I had completed the Roman chairs, I would do sets and reps of many other exercises. To put more tension on the intercostals and the sides of the waist, you can do what I called three-way Roman-chair situps. Do three minutes of regular reps, moving the body straight up and down. Then do three minutes of reps in which you twist your torso to work one side of the waist, followed by three minutes of twisting to the other side. Finish with a couple more minutes of regular reps. By the time you complete this exercises, your entire waistline and intercostals should be burning.

DSC040591Hanging Knee Raises

These work the lower abs strongly if they are done correctly. Hang from the chinning bar, bend your knees and raise them as high as possible. Tense your abs hard and pause for a count of two. Lower your legs slowly to take advantage of negative resistance, and repeat. Exhale when raising your legs and inhale when lowering them. If you find your grip slipping, use straps.

Lying Leg Raisesflatlegraise2

These are good for lower abs. Keeping a little bend in the knees at all times will reduce strain on your lower back. You can do these raises on a flat bench, on a decline ab board (definitely the most intense version), or on the floor. When doing them on the floor, never let your feet touch down, as this momentary relaxation prevents continuous tension on the abs. Do the middle three-fifths of the exercise, not quite reaching a 90-degree perpendicular-to-the-floor position at the top, but not allowing your feet to touch at the bottom. Remember to keep your stomach sucked in as you do the exercise, and concentrate on keeping constant tension on the abs. A good variation of these exercises is lying reverse crunches, or lying knee-ins. As you lie on the bench, you bend your knees and bring them up to your chest. Tense your abs hard to contract the muscles and then lower slowly back to the starting position. Do not take tension off the abs by either straightening your legs or touching the ground.

jorge_broomstick_twistBroomstick Twists

Side to side twists may been done either seated or standing. They work the intercostals and help to trim the obliques. Hold a broomstick on the back of your shoulders. Inhale as much as possible to suck in your abs. Twist rapidly from side to side. Do not let your head twist back and forth as you turn your torso. Keep it steady. Look straight ahead. Also keep your hips and pelvis steady. Try to turn only your midsection. A good mental image to help you do this exercise properly is to imagine your lower body encased in concrete and your head locked in a vise. Now the only part that can move is the midsection.

A word of warning about twists:

Avoid this exercise with heavy barbell, for you risk developing the obliques, thus thickening your waist and reducing your V-taper. You could also injure your lower back if you twist with a heavy weight because of the torque involved. You want to twist with light weight. Do it rapidly and for high reps to bring a burn in the targeted muscles.


Great for developing spinal erectors, hyperextensions will also strengthen your lower back. Position your body face down on the hyperextension bench. Lower your upper body all the way down and then come up to just a little above horizontal. Pause to tense and squeeze the lower back muscles and then lower again. If you rise too high, you risk overextending your lower back and causing injury to the discs that make up the spinal column.

Some of you might be thinking, ‘Hey, hyperextensions are not abdominal exercises – they’re for the lower back. What are they doing in an ab routine?’

Well what do you think the back of your waist is? It’s your lower back! You need lower – back exercises to help remove fat from that area as much as you need situps, crunches or leg raises to help burn fat from the front of the body. Hyperextensions strengthen the lower back and create synergistic balance between the two muscle groups. You do not want to ignore the lower back and have it become your weak link.

More Tips

Never train your abs with heavy weights, because you’ll get a thick, chunky midsection that distracts from your V-taper and ruins symmetry. Do high reps with no weight at all, or very light weights at most. Exercises for the lower abdominals can sometimes be done with extra weight, as you are unlikely to get ab thickness in this area. Ectomorphs are the only bodybuilders who might occasionally benefit from some ab thickness, but even they shouldn’t overdo it. Endomorphs should never train their waists with weights – they are already thick enough in the waist and hips. Mesomorphs should decide whether the extra thickness in the abs that comes from using weights is a positive or negative factor for their physique.

Abs And Your Diet

You can’t get fantastic abs through training alone. A good high- protein low-carbohydrate diet is a necessity if you hope to develop fat free abs. Reduce your intake of sweets, starches and fatty junk foods. Keep your protein levels high. Eat 30 to 50 grams of lean protein every three hours. If you reduce your caloric intake by 500-calories a day below maintenance level (the number of calories necessary to maintain your current bodyweight) and physically burning another 500 calories a day at the gym, you can lose upto two pounds of body fat a week.

Faster Results?

If you really want to speed up fat loss to the max, follow a high protein and very low-carb diet. When you’re losing fat, a high-protein diet helps you to maintain as much muscle size as possible, and assist in the fat burning process too. Do not eliminate all fat from your diet. A small amount of natural fat (from egg yolks, red meat and vegetable oils) helps the body to burn more fat. You need fat to burn bodyfat.To lose all stored bodyfat, you must eliminate almost all carbohydrates and starches from your diet. When striving for maximum definition, restrict carbs to one salad a day. If you eat lot of carbs, your body will use them for energy instead of stored bodyfat, so results will come more slowly than you expect.

What About Cardio?

Aerobics are a great benefit for fat burning. Running, jogging and swimming are fantastic. Stair climbers, rowing machines, stationary bikes and treadmills also provide effective aerobic exercise. Your choice of aerobic activity is not as important as the fact that you just do it. Daily sessions of 20-30 minutes will speed up your metabolism, and make your abs show much sooner than just doing ab exercises and dieting. Running and swimming also make you more athletic and prevent your body from becoming stiff and prone to injury.

I have personally found running to be a very valuable training asset.

I highly recommend it for faster progress in training down to a hard, muscular body condition. The health benefits of doing aerobic exercises are a good enough reason to do it. Your heart, lungs and immune system benefit, and your energy level, endurance and stamina markedly improve. You can train with less fatigue and faster pace because you recuperate more quickly.


When your abs are in the great-to-fantastic category, all eyes will be on you whether you are onstage, at a contest, at the beach in a swimsuit, or in the gym wearing a cutoff T-shirt or tank top. Moreover, you will have the satisfaction of knowing the rest of your body is in fantastic condition too. What a great feeling knowing you are in peak condition! It makes all the pain and hard work worthwhile.

Author: Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Anonymous wrote 65 months ago:
Arnold is numero uno real prectical
Anonymous wrote 40 months ago:
Arnold gives me head every night
Anonymous wrote 32 months ago:
Anonymous wrote 26 months ago:
Your grasp of increasing mass is completely flawed. For the optimum mass increases, you need to increase the time under duress. What you are describing (with heavy weights and low reps) is strength training. That is VERY different from hypertrophy training. You should be aiming for 10-12 rep sets, with a very slow concentric phase to increase the time that your muscles are strained. A mass increase is a physical body shape change, while the key with strength training is to create neurological changes (how your nerves fire). Strength training cycles are usually 4-6 weeks, while hyperteophy cycles are usually 6-8 weeks because neurological efficiency increases are quicker than actual physical changes.
Anonymous wrote 18 months ago:
Of all these comments, have any of you won anything? Have any of you redeveloped bodybuilding? Do any of you think your body looks better than Arnold's did? There is no science in Th e weight room, just life and shut The f@#% up!
Anonymous wrote 4 months ago:
steroids do help also....;) hahahaha
Anonymous wrote 3 months ago:
Thank you Arnold for this article. All the negative comments are coming from negativity minded people who I’m sure are not in as good shape as you. Thanks for the motivation and advice. God bless!
Anonymous wrote 1 week ago:
Yall do see that this was posted by TuDominicano and not Arnold right?
Anonymous wrote 1 week ago:
Trust some guy saying this is what Arnold said, sounds like third party "he said so".

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