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Fast Reps for Better Abs

If all you do for abs are slow and controlled reps, it's time to speed things up – and possibly speed up your results.

Fast Reps for Better Abs

“Slow and controlled reps” has always been the advice given for training abs – as if fast, explosive reps should be forbidden on exercises like crunches and leg raises.

But why? The abdominals and obliques are muscles just like the pecs, lats, quads, and biceps, all of which are known to respond well to explosive reps when properly programmed. No reason ab training should be any different. This isn’t just my opinion, either; research confirms it.

So, if all your sets and reps in ab workouts are “slow and controlled,” it’s time to add some speed to your routine. The benefit: better muscle fiber recruitment in the midsection (specifically in the obliques) for a better developed six-pack, a stronger core, and improved performance in the gym and on the athletic field.

The Research Behind Fast Reps for Abs

One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research had subjects perform crunches (termed “trunk curl-up” in the study) using four different rep cadences – 1 rep per 4 seconds, 1 rep per 2 seconds, 1 rep per 1.5 seconds, and 1 rep per 1 second – as well as “maximum speed” reps.

Results from the study showed greater muscle activation in the abdominal and internal oblique muscles with max speed reps versus the slowest rep speed (4 seconds). But the greatest difference was seen in the external obliques, which were activated roughly six times more with max speed reps than with 4-second reps.

Working Fast Reps into Your Ab Workout

So, how do you incorporate these study findings into your ab training? It’s pretty simple, and consistent with every other program I design that incorporates fast, explosive training for greater power development.

You always want to do your fast reps first in a workout before heavier sets designed to enhance pure strength and/or muscle size. For example, if you were going to do multiple exercises for a muscle group (in this case, the abs), where one of the exercises was going to be done using explosive reps, you’d want to do that exercise first.

But you can also incorporate fast reps and slow-to-moderate-speed reps in the same set. In this case, again, you’ll want to start the set with the fast reps. Then, as your midsection muscles (abs and obliques) fatigue, slow your reps down to finish off the set to ultimate muscle failure.

One JimStoppani.com program that incorporates multiple rep speeds within individual sets is my Speed-Set training system. In Speed-Set workouts, I prescribe doing sets of 15 reps, where the first 5 reps are done explosively, the next 5 are done super slow, and the last 5 reps are done with a typical 2-4-second cadence.

Incorporate this Speed-Set protocol into your next ab workout – starting each set with fast reps, then finishing with slow-to-moderate-speed reps. Your abs will be better stimulating, and better developed, as a result!



Vera-Garcia FJ, Flores-Parodi B, Elvira JL, Sarti MA. Influence of trunk curl-up speed on muscular recruitment. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(3):684-690. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816d5578


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