Interview With Shane Dwyer of Lazy Man's Abs Interviewed by Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com - July 2009
CRITICAL BENCH: How important is nutrition when it comes to getting your abs to show?
Sean: Of all the things you can do to get a set of abs, nutrition is the most important. You can train all you want, but if your diet isn't right, then you're not going to see your abs. It's all about eating the right foods, combined with correct portion sizes and optimum meal timings. The average joe gets all three of these wrong, which is why you see so few really ripped guys out there.
Firstly, you've gotta stop eating junk and eat the right foods. When it comes to picking which foods to eat, the best thing to look at is the level of human interference. Chemicals and other food additives are a really new thing, in terms of our evolution as a species. For tens of thousands of years, we've been eating stuff we pulled off trees, or grew in the ground, or stuff that we shot with an arrow. So our bodies aren't that great at processing all these chemicals. Not to mention that a lot of food these days is so highly processed that a lot of the nutritional value is stripped out. Fruit juice is a good example of this. Many people drink juice because they think it's really healthy. After all, it comes from fruit. But it's basically sugar water, because most of the real nutrients have been removed. Bread is another example. Good wholemeal breads are a great food for helping you show your abs (in moderation of course), but most people these days eat white bread, which has had most of the nutrients stripped out of it and oftentimes replaced with nasty stuff like high fructose corn syrup.
Secondly, you need to eat the right amount of food. You could eat great quality food all day, but if you're eating too much, you'll still have trouble losing fat. This is because we need to make sure that our bodies are in a calorie deficit. This is different for everyone and how many calories you burn on a daily basis can change, especially if you start changing your physique. I had a friend who asked me for some advice about getting back into shape. I sat him down, wrote out the guidelines for him and told him to get started. A few weeks later he gave me a call complaining that what I told him wasn't working. Knowing that this stuff does work for everyone, I started helping him with troubleshooting. The first thing I asked him to do was to write down everything he ate for a week.
After the week, I looked at it and noticed that he was consuming a huge amount of calories from nuts. Turns out he was eating entire handfuls at once because I told him they were healthy.
So he cut down on the nuts and the fat came off him pretty fast. Often it's one simple mistake like this that's holding people back.
And lastly, meal timings are very important. Most people have a small breakfast (often none at all), then work their way up to a large meal for dinner. If you want to get really lean, reverse this. It's like that old saying, breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. You want to start off your day with a great meal so that your metabolism is firing as early as possible. And as the day goes on, you'll use less and less energy. After dinner, most of us aren't that active, so you're less likely to burn of your glycogen stores and if they're full, any excess energy is likely to end up as extra fat.
Also, it's very important that you eat before and after you workout. Working out is really taxing on your body and if you don't properly fuel yourself, you're leaving a lot of results on the table.
Before your workout, throw down a quick protein shake or some other source of protein. And afterwards, have another protein shake along with some form of carbohydrate. What I do is pour my protein shake over 3/4 cup of oats.
CRITICAL BENCH: Is it possible to spot reduce fat in just the ab area. A lot of guys carry beer guts, how can they get rid of fat in just that area?
Sean: Yes it is! You can go to a cosmetic surgeon and ask him to suck some fat right out of you. This is the only way to spot reduce. If you want to reduce your fat through training, then you'll have to be patient.
Tom Venuto (one of the most knowledgeable guys around when it comes to this) once told me that expecting to lose fat from a specific area is like draining a swimming pool and expecting the deep end to drain first.
Your body just doesn't work like that. Because men store a lot of our fat around our abdomen, it's going to be the last place to look really lean. And this is why a set of abs is so hard to get.
Accept that you need to lose fat from all over your body and that getting a lean stomach is going to take some time. Short of going under the knife, that's the only option you have.
CRITICAL BENCH: Body fat percentage to have abs show?
Sean: This differs for everyone and people's definition of "abs" is also different, but a good benchmark to aim for is around 10%. At this point, the rest of you will be really lean, so you'll look muscular even if your abs aren't razor sharp.
Getting down to 5-6% is possible, but very difficult and it's not realistic to maintain this level of body fat. The guys you see in muscle magazines only look like that for a short time. After their show or photo shoot, they put on 10-20 pounds in just a few days and lose the definition.
But for most people, 10-12% body fat is achievable long term. You'll still have to work hard and eat correctly, but it's possible to maintain this level of body fat, even if you don't have the best genetics.
CRITICAL BENCH: How important of a role is cardio compared to training and nutrition when it comes to ab development?
Sean: Cardio is very important. It's like a fat lot catalyst. That is, it speeds up the process by helping you burn off more and more calories. While some people will be able to get ripped without cardio, they will be in the minority and I highly recommend that everyone starts to implement cardio into their training regime.
I'm not a big fan of long drawn out cardio sessions. Firstly, I'm not built for long distance stuff. I much prefer to go to a running track and pump out 2-3 laps of high intensity interval training.
What I'll do is warm up, then sprint 100m. Then I'll walk 100m. And then I'll sprint the next. And I'll do this until I'm ready to throw up. And it doesn't take long for this to happen.
The benefits of this are two fold. Firstly, you can burn off as many calories in 15 minutes as you could've spending an hour trudging along on the treadmill.
Secondly, this type of training will only help you keep your muscle mass. You only have to look at sprinters to see this. Compare sprinters or boxers (who both train with a lot of high intensity) to marathon runners or any other endurance athlete.
It's also important to find some cardio that you enjoy doing. I enjoy sprinting, so I like heading down to the track and getting in a couple of sessions.
It's the same with playing squash and kickboxing. I enjoy both and it's much easier for me to spend an hour doing those activities than it would be spending an hour jogging on a treadmill.
So try and find something that is not only great cardio, but is also something you enjoy doing. After all, this is a long term thing. You can't just expect to work out for 6 weeks and stay lean forever, so you've gotta find something that fits in with your lifestyle.
CRITICAL BENCH: I've read that you can't really overtrain the calves and abs. Is that true?
Sean: Hmm, I'm sure it's possible to overtrain the calves and abs, I think the main difference is that it's a lot harder to overtrain these guys. And this is because of their make up.
Our bodies have a couple of different types of muscle fibers. There are the fast twitch, which are involved in strength activities, then there are the slow twitch, which are much more suited for endurance stuff.
Our calves and abs have more slow twitch, especially compared to other major muscle groups. This means that you can use them a lot more and they won't wear out.
This doesn't mean you can't wear them out, it just means you'll have to do a lot more to overtrain them. It also means you have to take a slightly different route when training them.
For example, when I train my calves, I stand on a step with a dumbbell in my hand and do as many reps as I can. I wouldn't train like this for biceps or chest, but it works well for the calves.
CRITICAL BENCH: I typically work out 4x's a week and throw in an ab exercise in at the end of the workout. Is that a good idea? How often do you recommend training abs?
Sean: It can work. Like I mentioned just above, it is a bit harder to overtrain the abs. You can get away with training them a little more often. Personally, I only train them twice a week, but that's just me.
There isn't a magical formula that will transform your abs, so don't go looking for one. As long as you're training them regularly, you'll strengthen your core and that's the main point.
CRITICAL BENCH: I asked my wife last night if she had any questions about abs and she asked how you can target the lower abs, below the belly button. What are those called and how to you train them?
Sean: The rectus abdominis is the "six pack" muscle that runs along your front, above and below your belly button. There are exercises that tend to focus more on the lower part though.
My favorite exercise for this is the leg raise. Either lying down or hanging from some bars, raise your legs up towards your stomach. The weaker your abs, the more of a bend you can put in your legs.
This is tough to do, but it's a great exercise, so it's definitely worth a shot. Start out doing 3 sets of 10 reps and work your way up to see how many reps you can do.
CRITICAL BENCH: Are there any ab exercises that are best to avoid. Like crunches with hands behind your head or any others like that?
Sean: I think the most overrated ab exercise is the situp. It was the gold standard when I was in the military and I thought it was kind of stupid, since the abs aren't really involved all that much in a sit up.
Your hip flexors are actually used a lot more in this, so I would advise you to stay away from them if you're looking to develop your abs. Another one to watch out for is heavy woodchoppers.
This is where you grab a cable and rotate your torso so you workout your obliques. I wouldn't want to go really heavy here as building up your obliques can make your waist look larger than it otherwise would be.
CRITICAL BENCH: I have a question about leg and knee raises. A lot of times my hip flexors will get tired before my abs. How can I corret this?
Sean: Good question. The hip flexors will be involved mainly in the first half of the movement. So if you're starting with your feet on the floor, your hip flexors will be doing a lot of the work until you get about half way.
So to focus on your abs, bring your feet and knees up to about the half way mark and don't go any further down than this. Just focus on the half of the movement that's closer to your abs and the hip flexors won't be as much of a problem.
CRITICAL BENCH: Shawn LeBrun wrote a report called Killer Abs and it talked about how we train with resistance on all our other body parts but for abs a lot of people train super high reps like 50-100 reps. Shawn said you shoud use resistance training your abs and still perform less than 20-reps. Do you agree with that?
Sean: Yes and no. I think the best way to train calves and abs is to find a balance. Higher reps than usual should definitely be used, but at the same time, we still want to apply as much resistance as we can.
15-20 reps with a moderate weight would be much better than doing 100 reps with no weight, but these muscles are a little bit different. You can't train them like fast twitch muscle groups, because they are quite different.
I mentioned above one of my favorite methods for training calves. If you're reading this, give it a shot next time. Grab a 15kg dumbbell and see how many reps you can do. There's no way you would be able to pump out hundreds of reps but you're adding lots of resistance, so I think this is a decent level of balance.
CRITICAL BENCH: Everyone does crunches. Is that the best exercise? What do you do you think are the best exercises for training the abs?
Sean: You know, I don't think crunches are bad. They certainly beat not doing anything at all. However, I think you should have some other weapons in your abs arsenal.
I've already mentioned hanging leg raises, they're great. If you haven't done them before, give them a shot. And if you've been doing them for a while, add some extra resistance.
Put a light dumbbell between your feet and give it a shot. This will really take things to the next level. Another exercise I like to use are woodchoppers, which I've already mentioned here.
Although I don't recommend you go really heavy, they are worthwhile if you keep the weight down to around 20kg or so, depending on the type of cable machine you're using.
And the funny thing is, abs exercises aren't the main focus in any of my programs. Diet, cardio and training other parts of your body are far more important than worrying about your abs.
But in saying that, don't completely neglect them :)
CRITICAL BENCH: You train your core indirectly from a lot of compound movements like squats. Do you need less ab work if you do a lot of functional heavy lifting?
Sean: That's true and it's another reason why I don't really emphasize ab training in most of my workouts. Sure, it's important to still have some ab training, but if you're training correctly and performing exercises like squats and deadlifts, then you're indirectly getting an ab workout whether you realise it or not.
That's one of the main reasons I love compound exercises. You can get so much done in so little time. Sure, they're harder to perform and sometimes can get down right uncomfortable, but they're well worth the effort.
CRITICAL BENCH: Ab gadgets. What's the deal with all the ab gadgets on TV, do those really work? You've got the electric belt, the ab roller, wheels, slings. The list goes on and on. Is there anything good out there?
Sean: Ahh, good old ab gadgets. As a general rule, just stay away from these things. I'm not really up to date with the latest gizmos out there, but if I had to put money on it, I'd bet that their aren't really that many (if any) that are worth while.
You can get a better workout with a couple of basic ab exercises that require no equiment whatsoever, so unless you have so much money that you just have to spend it on junk, I wouldn't bother.
One funny thing to note about these things is that you've probably noticed that so many of them fold away for "easy storage". Well I was actually speaking to someone who is in a similar business and he explained that they make it like that so people can hide them and not feel bad about never using them.
I think that sums up people who tend to buy those things. They don't want to actually work for their abs, they just want to wake up with them one day.
So forget about them and just stick to diet, training and cardio and you'll get there.
CRITICAL BENCH: What about creams? I've heard some people say there are special creams that can reduce fat in certain body parts.
Sean: If getting a set of abs was as easy as rubbing some cream on yourself, everyone would be ripped. The fact that most people are far from ripped shows that getting a set of abs isn't an easy thing to do.
There are some creams that can act as topical diuretics, meaning that it will remove water, but these only last until you drink some more water, so it's not exactly a quick fix.
If you're getting ready for a bodybuilding show, they might be useful, but I'm all about developing programs for people that they can implement into their regular lives.
What about wearing a weight belt, not for heavy lifting but just working out, will that hinder your ab development?
Yeh, it's not something I recommend and here's why. Your abs are kinda like your body's natural weight belt. It's their job to help with keeping the core strong and if you go and add a belt, you make it easier on them and therefore they won't develop quite as fast as if you were to workout without the belt.
And unless you're lifting serious amounts of weight (ie when people look at you in amazement when you're lifting) a weight belt isn't necessary on larger lifts either.
CRITICAL BENCH: In summary, how many reps, sets and times per week should we be training abs?
Sean: If you want a recommendation, try this. Do 3 sets of 2 different exercises for 20 reps, twice a week. That's a great starting point for most people, so give it a shot.
You've got some programs related to ab training. Can you tell us about that and where people can go to learn more about it?
Yeh sure Mike, my latest program is called The Lazy Man's Guide To Abs. Now, the name is a bit of a misnomer, it's not about how to get abs while sitting on your ass.
It's more suited to someone who is impatient and wants to get their abs as fast as possible. You'll learn step by step how to implement a diet plan, exactly how to train for maximum fat loss and you'll get some cardio workouts that will have the fat coming off you as quickly as possible.
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