It’s that time, summer is here and we all want to expose our hard earned progress on the beach. If nothing else, I’m usually talking about our abdominals and obliques. No matter the amount of muscle you have on your frame, a well defined and chiseled midsection brings together your leg development and upper body development in a neat, aesthetic package.
It’s always a good idea to do ab exercises when you’re dieting down to expose your abs as you would still train the rest of your muscles, but starting to do ab workouts only when you begin to lose fat definitely isn’t a good strategy. For some reason, in the off-season when lifters can’t see their abs they usually forget and neglect training them, which is like neglecting any other muscle group when you’re bulking! Like your biceps or quads or any other muscle, you will gain the majority of your muscle in a calorie surplus, and virtually none when starting a diet (in fact you’ll probably lose muscle). This is important to know because your abdominals and obliques need to be built up and grown too as an underdeveloped midsection does not look ideal.
Beyond looks, doing ab workouts in the off-season is a good idea to strengthen your core, which is extremely important for protecting your low back and bracing during heavy lifts. In fact, a lot of lifters don’t even need to use a lifting belt because their transverse abdominis (the abdominal muscle that wraps around your midsection under your rectus abdominis) is strong enough to act like a lifting belt in and of itself.
The Suitcase Crunch
The list of abdominal exercises out there is almost limitless, but we will only be focusing on one today that can activate all of the midsection muscles when performed correctly. Known as the suitcase crunch, this optionally weighted exercise is great for beginners, intermediate and advanced lifters to get a good burn and activation in their abs.
For the beginner version, start in a V-sit position (your legs bent about 90-degrees off the ground and your back off the ground also, leaving only your butt on the ground), with your arms extended out in front of you. To perform the reps bring your upper and lower body together, crunching your abs as you contract at the center, and that’s it. This version is quite simple and can be done for high reps or for time.
The intermediate version incorporates twisting, to activate the obliques as well as the abdominals. To begin, start in the same position as the beginner version, or begin with your legs and back on the ground and crunch both halves of your body up into the V-sit position for the first half of the movement to make the exercise more challenging. Next, instead of crunching your body straight together, reach your arms to one side of your legs and lean your legs to the other, so you’re still crunching in the middle but adding a twist at the end. Return to the V-sit position to start each rep or lay back on the ground for the more difficult version.
Lastly, the advanced version will incorporate a weight plate/kettlebell/etc. and has an optional extra step. To begin you should always be completely lying down with your extra weight above your head being held with both your hands and you can either do the first two versions with the weight going between your legs or to either side. But when you have mastered those, you can add an extra step, which is in the ending crunched position (when you are not twisting, but straight down the middle). You will raise your legs up as high as you can in the crunched position, which will give your lower abs an extra boost of activation.
Not only will these variations of the suitcase crunch help grow your upper and lower abs as well as your obliques, but they will also help strengthen your abs, especially when you move into the more advanced versions.
Take Home Message
Best added to the end of a workout (doesn’t matter if it’s after chest day, pull day, or a full-body workout), incorporating this ab exercise along with others in the off-season will benefit you in many ways. Besides helping prevent lower back injuries and strengthening your inner weight belt, you will build the most abdominal muscle in this calorie surplus.
While you can’t see them, they are there and are definitely growing, which is best measured by how much weight you can use while performing your ab exercises, the same way you’d judge progress with any other muscle group. Keeping up the same level of ab training during the dieting season will help preserve the muscle you’ve already build and will make it more likely that your abs will show when you get to a lower body fat level!
So whether you are bulking or cutting, give this exercise and its variations a try to reap all the aesthetic and strength benefits.