(Photo Above: Steve Reeves - Mr. Pacific Coast 1946, Mr. Western America 1947, Mr. America 1947, Mr. World 1948, Mr. Universe 1950)
In previous posts, we mentioned that Steve Reeves didn't directly train his abs most of the time. This is certainly true. The beginning, intermediate, and advanced routines that he followed didn't contain any direct ab exercises (see his book, Building the Classic Physique - The Natural Way available at http://www.stevereeves.com/). However, the specific routine that he used to prepare for the Mr. America and (at least one of) the Mr. Universe contests that he competed in, did contain 2 sets of knee raises on a vertical bench (with some light ankle weights). That's it!
However, it would be wrong to conclude from this that Steve did not really train his abs. On the contrary, he felt that his abs got plenty of training from all the other exercises in his routines. He noticed, for example, that when he did tricep pushdowns, he would strongly contract his abs. This was true for his other exercises as well. When you consider the amount of concentration and all-out-effort he put into every set of his exercises, then it is quite believable that his abs got plenty of training. So much so, that he didn't feel the need to train them directly. I'm sure if he had felt that his abs needed more training, he would have done more.
That being said, as we look over the pre-roid Golden Age of the 1940s and 50s, we can identify 3 basic approaches that the champs seemed to follow:
(1) The Indirect Approach - followed by Steve Reeves as described above,
(2) The "Normal" Approach - followed by those who felt the abs were just like any other muscle and needed to be exercised in the same way (this is the approach taken in the Weider 1950 Muscle Building Course),
(3) The "High Rep" Approach - followed by those who felt that the abs were a "high rep muscle" requiring training with very high reps - and even daily training (this was the approach used by Zabo).
There are pre-roid Golden Age champs who followed each approach and they all have great abs. So what can we learn from this? That all 3 approaches work!
But each approach may not work for everyone. Many people trying to gain mass find that they cannot do so when they include direct ab work in their routines (this phenomenon was noticed by Vince Gironda). Others do fine when training the abs normally. Still others can take the high rep approach. The bottom line is that you have to see what works for you.
But remember, proper exercise can only tone (tighten up) a muscle, or increase its size. There is no such thing as "spot reducing." No amount of exercise is going to define your abs (despite all the TV commercials for various ab exercisers that imply that it can). It doesn't matter what approach above you take, your "six pack" will not show if there is a layer of fat over it and ab training will not reduce that fat (even cardio is not the best way to burn up calories). So your number one "tool" for ab training is YOUR DIET!
Vince Gironda once said not to even bother training your abs until you can see them! In other words, he is making the point to GET YOUR DIET ON TRACK - lose the spare tire first! Then when you can see your abs, you can start training them and actually see the effect your exercise is having on them. Vince had other reasons for avoiding ab training during mass building, but we will save that for another time.
Just remember, if you want great abs, get your diet right first - then pick one of the three approaches above and see what works best for you.
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