Bringing her A(b) Game

Develop a strong core with four-time figure Olympia champ Nicole Wilkins' abdominal workout.
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Nicole Wilkins’ diligence keeps her at the top of her sport, and it’s also what gives her those enviable abdominals many of us are currently missing post-winter indulgence. But she admits she has to stay on top of her midsection to keep it reveal-ready.

“Abs have always been a physically strong bodypart because of my gymnastics background, but usually they are flat with no definition come contest time,” she says. “I was only working them like once a week, but my coach and I agreed that we needed to really focus in on that area and make it stand out.”

To make that happen, Wilkins changed her routine dramatically, altering her exercises, bodypart split, training volume and number of sets. She went from working abs once a week to six days a week, and she did nine to 12 sets of different exercises each workout. She also tweaked her diet so that her calories were higher, but her options were more limited. “For instance, I don’t eat artificial sweeteners anymore,” she says, a change that she believes had a huge impact on her overall definition, including her abdominal area.

Training Split

Nicole’s Success Strategy

• When training abs and core, breathing is very important. A lot of people forget to breathe, but making a conscious effort to inhale and exhale throughout will enable you to do more reps per set, which in the end means more work and better results.

• Don’t hurry through your reps just to get your abs “over with.” Trust me, I am not a huge fan of ab training myself and want the time to fly by, too! But if you do each rep slowly and focus on contracting and squeezing each time, you’ll get stronger and your abs will come up more quickly.

• Abs is an area that requires a good mind-muscle connection. It’s easy to let your upper body or legs and hip flexors take over, and if you’re not connecting to your abs and core when you’re doing a move, that might very well happen. Take a moment before each set and mentally focus in on your abs, then do the reps to help connect your mind to your muscles.

• Always work within your personal comfort zone. This routine has some pretty advanced moves, so if you’re just starting out, modify them to suit your level. As you get stronger, try making them harder to keep progressing.

More:Nicole Wilkins' Arm Workout

The Workouts

Workout 1

Stability-Ball Pike

Stability Ball Pike

Setup: Get on your hands and knees and carefully extend your legs behind you on top of a stability ball. Level your hips so they are in line with your head and heels.

Action: Lift your hips toward the ceiling, pressing into the ball with your feet and dropping your head between your arms. When your torso is vertical or nearly so, pause a moment before slowly returning to the start.

Wilkins’ Note: “When coming back to the start, don’t drop your hips too low. That puts a lot of strain on your lower back.”

V-Up

V-Up

Setup: Sit on the floor and lean back onto your tailbone. Extend your legs in front of you to hover several inches above the floor. Lean back and reach your arms overhead, elbows by your ears.

Action: Lift your upper and lower bodies simultaneously, reaching your hands toward your feet with straight arms, making a V in the air. Pause a moment, balancing on your tailbone, then slowly lower to the start.

Wilkins’ Note: “This is an advanced move. To make it easier, cross your arms over your chest or lower them by your hips.”

Windshield Wiper

Windshield Wiper

Setup: Lie faceup on the floor and place a medicine ball (4 to 6 pounds) between your ankles. Raise your legs over your hips and extend your arms out to the sides.

Action: Slowly drop your legs to one side, controlling the descent and stopping about 6 to 12 inches from the floor. Pause briefly, then raise your legs back to the start. Continue, alternating sides.

Wilkins’ Note: “Try to keep your back as flat on the floor as possible, and use your arms to stabilize you.”

Ab-Wheel Rollout

Ab-Wheel Rollout

Setup: Kneel with your legs together and grasp the handles of an ab wheel, arms straight.

Action: Slowly roll the wheel forward, extending your arms and lowering your hips. Roll out until your body is almost completely straight, then reverse the move and use your abs to pull yourself back to the start.

Wilkins’ Note: “This is an advanced move. To make it easier, cross your arms over your chest or lower them by your hips.”

Workout 2

Bench Rockies

Bench Rockies

Setup: Lie faceup on a flat bench and reach your arms overhead, grasping the end of the bench with both hands. Lift your hips and lower back off the bench and extend your legs overhead, feet together and toes pointed.

Action: Without dropping your hips or lower back, lever your legs away from you and reach your toes for the opposite wall. Pause a moment, then bring them back overhead.

Wilkins’ Note: “This is a really challenging move, so if you can only get a few reps at a time, that’s perfectly fine. Rest a beat in between, then try for a few more reps.”

Extended Plank

Extended Plank

Setup: Get into a forearm plank position with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels all in line. Shift your elbows forward several inches so they are in front of your shoulders while maintaining your body and leg position.

Action: Hold and breathe.

Wilkins’ Note: “Planking like this eliminates the shoulders and chest and really forces the work onto the core.”

Elevated Plank Row

Elevated Plank Row

Setup: Place a kettlebell on the floor next to a flat bench and crouch in front of the bench. Extend both feet behind you and place your toes wide on the bench; you should now be balancing on your toes and both hands. Grasp the kettlebell with one hand, arm extended, keeping your hips level.

Action: Dive your elbow up and back, pulling the kettlebell into your rib cage. Slowly lower back to the start, touching the weight to the floor briefly before going into the next rep. Do all reps on one side before switching.

Wilkins’ Note: “Keep your hips square and your spine neutral throughout.”

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