Abdominal Training and How to Keep the Waist Small

Frank Zane Training Abdominals
Image: Frank Zane Training Abdominals

Q: Flex – How did you develop your abs and keep your waist so small?
A: Frank Zane – I always did a lot of ab work. When I was nearing a show, I would work up to 1,000 total reps of abs. It would take me 30 minutes. I would superset crunches with leg raises, performing 50 reps each. Then I would do hanging knee-ups and seated twists. The hanging knee-ups developed my upper quads as well. Q&A with Bodybuilding Legend, Frank Zane: How did he build such a symmetrically perfect physique?

Seated Side Twists, Frank Zane
Image: Frank Zane, “Seated Side Twists”
Vince Gironda and Dick DuBois Posing
Image: Vince Gironda and Dick DuBois

Nutrition is Queen

This is about training the abdominals but losing fat around the midsection is a different story. For fat loss, one of the recommendations I suggest is keeping rest periods short. This will vary depending on the persons ability and training level, but no more than 10-30 seconds. If that is too quick, start higher with 45-60 seconds and work down to it. I have found while it is tough, clients adapt to it relatively quickly. Nutrition is QUEEN (queen is higher than king) however and is a major factor in keeping the waist small.

Vince Gironda Small Waist Pose
Image: Vince Gironda, “Kneeling Side Pose”

The Abdominal Vacuum is a Must for a Small Waist

“The Abdominal Vacuum” is a staple abdominal exercise that I love practicing. It is as beautiful as it is challenging.

Perform this movement without a shirt covering the abdominals! The reason for doing so is to be able to see when certain parts of the abdominals aren’t firing as well as they should be or at all. When I first started incorporating the Abdominal Vacuum into my training, I noticed that the bottom left side of my abdominal muscles wasn’t pulling in and contracting as hard as the bottom right. I made it a point of emphasis to really focus in on remedying that. After a couple of sessions practicing, the lagging side is currently contracting harder.

When performing other abdominal exercises, pulling the stomach in and being able to contract as hard as possible is imperative to fully engage and work the muscle optimally. Breathing is just as important. Exhale as much air out during each contraction. Consistent and focused practicing of the Abdominal Vacuum allows the trainee to do so with much more comfort and ability.

Since practicing the Abdominal Vacuum, my waist has gotten smaller. I don’t consider it the primary reason, but an influential piece of the puzzle to the all coveted small waist.

Frank Zane Abdominal Vacuum Pose
Image: Frank Zane, “Abdominal Vacuum Pose”

“The vacuum is a lost art in today’s big-time competitions. I haven’t seen anyone do it onstage in a very long time. At the ’03 Arnold Classic, Chris Cormier, who was leaner than I’d ever seen him, probably could have pulled it off. He did some impressive abdominal rolls and isolations, and if he’d added the vacuum to his presentation, his routine would’ve been even more exceptional. In the 1970s and ’80s Arnold always vacuumed when he hit his front double-biceps pose; Mike Mentzer had an impressive vacuum pose; I always finished my routine with the vacuum because it was considered my best shot’and it always brought the house down. But bodybuilders today have such big muscular waistlines that they can only let them hang out. There’s just too much to suck in. Here’s how to develop an impressive vacuum pose.

If you don’t have good serratus development, you can forget about getting an impressive vacuum pose. The most important exercise is the dumbbell pullover, which you do while lying across a flat bench. I’ve been doing that ever since I began working out at age 14 in my basement in Pennsylvania. I used to lie across a huge log then, but now I’ve settled for a flat bench. With your head hanging off the edge and the base of your neck touching the bench, hold a dumbbell between both hands over your face, take a deep breath and with your elbows slightly bent lower the dumbbell as far as it will go toward the floor. It’s important to get a very deep stretch. It develops the serratus and rib cage as well as the posterior head of the triceps. Keep your elbows bent slightly at the same angle throughout the exercise. My best pullovers were done with a dumbbell of 90 to 120 pounds for sets of 10. I did them on chest day. As your serratus develops, you’ll find that all of your arms-overhead poses from the front will look more impressive.” Frank Zane, Train With Zane: Vacuum Your Waist

My favorites for targeting the abdominals in no particular order are the following:

  • Abdominal Vacuums
  • 1/4 Sit-up With Plate and Without
  • Concemetric-Double Ups
  • Stiff Leg Raise
  • Shoulder Planche on Bench
  • Larry Scott, The Ring of Fire
  • Low Cable Pull-in
Standing Abdominal Vacuum
Image: Standing Abdominal Vacuum
1/4 Sit-up With Plate and Without
Image: 1/4 Sit-up With Plate and Without
Concemetric Double Up Lengthened Phase by Vince Gironda
Image: Vince Gironda, “Concemetric Double Up” Lengthened Phase
Concemetric Double Up Contracted Phase by Vince Gironda
Image: Vince Gironda, “Concemetric Double Up” Shortened Phase
Stiff Leg Raise by Vince Gironda
Image: Stiff Leg Raise
Shoulder Planche on Bench Phase 1
Image: Shoulder Planche on Bench Phase 1
Shoulder Planche on Bench Phase 2
Image: Shoulder Planche on Bench Phase 2
Shoulder Planche on Bench Phase 3
Image: Shoulder Planche on Bench Phase 3
Ring of Fire by Larry Scott Part 1
Image: “Ring of Fire” by Larry Scott
Ring of Fire by Larry Scott Part 2
Image: “Ring of Fire” by Larry Scott
Low Cable Pull In by Frank Zane
Image: Frank Zane, “Low Cable Pull In”

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