Home is actually a great place to hone your abs—after all, a six-pack is mostly made in the kitchen.
“There’s no such thing as spot-reducing fat, and a six-pack is indicative of overall health and whole-body fitness, not just the state of the core muscles,” says Kendra Coppey Fitzgerald, founder of Barefoot Tiger in-home personal training services in NYC and LA. “If there’s too much fat on top of the ab muscles, you’ll never see them, no matter how much core work you do.” That means eating healthily and doing cardio plus heavy weight training to lean down and build muscles to lose weight overall. (Bummer, we know.)
Then, when it comes to sculpting those abs of your dreams, it’s not as simple as doing endless crunches. “Developing a six-pack requires more than just working the ‘pretty’ muscles that you can see,” Fitzgerald says. “The deeper, transverse core muscles must be strengthened first to create a strong, solid base—without that, only doing crunches can actually make your belly stick out more. Nobody wants that.”
Better news: By doing the types of routines here that strengthen from all angles and focus on function (how your body moves in real life) rather than flexion (crunches), you’ll look good and have a stronger core and less risk of lower back injury. “Not only will you see better gains faster, it’s also the quickest way to take inches off your waistline,” says Fitzgerald.
Directions: Begin each of these workouts with a five-minute warmup, or go through the moves after you’ve done your usual cardio or strength training when you’re already warm. Each should also begin with 20 reps of what Fitzgerald calls “transverse pullbacks”—where you pull your navel toward your spine, as if bracing yourself against a sucker punch—as a way to activate the muscles for the work you’re about to ask of them. You’ll also need some dumbbells for some of these moves.
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No modern male argues with strong abs, and the best core exercises for men will deliver on that front. However, you may be surprised to discover that traditional crunches and sit-ups don’t make the cut, relatively speaking. For starters, they aren’t so great for your back. Plus, they just aren’t as effective as the best core exercises for men, which strengthen not just your abs, but the entire chain of muscles from your inner thighs to your upper back (i.e. your core muscles). This might have you wondering: if crunches and sit-ups are out, what’s in? Look no further, my friend. Here are the best core exercises and ab workouts for men. They’ll bring you the six-pack, minus the back problems.
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- What are Core Exercises for Men?
- What are the Benefits of Core Exercises for Men?
- 10 Best Core Exercises for Men
- Ab Wheel Rollout
- Medicine Ball Slam
- Three-Point Plank
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Reverse Crunches
- Hanging Leg Raise
- Hip Bridge
- Dip/Leg Raise Combo
- Superman Hold
- Bonus: Flutter Kick
- Core conditioning — It’s not just about abs
- Sample core exercises
- 7 Days and 7 Ways to Strengthen Your Core
- 1. Forearm Plank Pose
- 2. Plank Pose
- 3. Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)
- 4. Boat Pose (Navasana)
- 5. Prone Single and Double Leg Lifts
- 6. Locust Pose (Salabhanasana)
- 7. Table Top Arm and Leg Extensions
- 5 Core Exercises You Can Do With Just a Yoga Mat
- 1. Elbow plank with leg lift
- 2. Figure four bridge
- 3. Marching hip raise
- 4. Modified V-up
- 5. The hundred
- Best for Fitness Enthusiasts
- Best for Beginners
- Beyond the “Best Ab Exercises” (How to Actually Get Abs)
- If you’re sick of list after list of the “best ab exercises” and want to know what it really takes to get a six pack, then you want to read this article.
- The No BS Truth About How to Get Abs
- The 6 Best Ab Exercises
- Remember-Progression Is the Key
- How to Create the Ultimate Ab Workout
- 1. Do both weighted and unweighted training.
- 2. Do 2 to 3 ab workouts per week.
- 1. Your first set should be a weighted/high-resistance exercise.
- 2. Without resting, do one set of an unweighted/low-or-no-resistance exercise.
- 3. Without resting, do one set of another unweighted/low-or-no-resistance exercise.
- 4. Rest 2 to 3 minutes in between circuits.
- In terms of circuits per workout, a good goal to work toward is 3 ab circuits per ab workout (6 to 9 circuits per week).
- My Favorite Ab Circuit
- Can Supplements Help You Lose Belly Fat?
- The Bottom Line on Ab Exercises
- Want More Workouts?
- How to Create the Ultimate Upper Chest Workout
- The Best Back Exercises to Build Your Best Back Ever
- The Best Shoulder Workouts for Men & Women
- The 6 Absolute Best Quads Exercises You Can Do
- The 6 Best Hamstring Exercises You Need to Do
- The 7 Best Butt Exercises That Will Give You Glorious Glutes
- The Absolute Best Biceps Workout
- The Absolute Best Triceps Workout
- The Definitive Full-Body Workout Guide
- The Ultimate Forearm Workout
- 17 Bodyweight Exercises That Will Skyrocket Your Gains
- Readers’ Ratings
- Your Rating?
- The Best (and Worst) Ab Exercises if You Want a Six-Pack
- 7. Standing dumbbell side bend
- 6. Ab rocker and most ab machines
- 5. Swiss ball pike
- 4. Woodchop
- 3. Plank and plank variations
- 2. Ab wheel roll out
- 1. Hanging leg raise
- A note on “best” and “worst” ab exercises
- Your Ab Exercises and Six-pack Cheat Sheet
- 10 of the Best Ab Exercises
- 2. Medicine Ball Slam
- 3. Side Jackknife
- 4. Dragon Flag
- 5. Cable Woodchopper
- 6. Cocoon
- 7. Sandbag Sit-Up
- 8. Hanging Leg Raise
- 9. Superman With A Twist
- 10. Dish Rocks
- Abs Exercises and Workouts
- 15-minute Workouts: Cored To Death
- Battle Ropes Abs Workout
- Kettlebell Exercises for Abs: Eric Leija Men’s Health Kettlebell Flow
- BRITTANY PERILLE YOBE
- MELISSA ALCANTARA
What are Core Exercises for Men?
As the name suggests, your “core” is the central mid-region of your body, serving as a foundation for a range of daily movements. Every time you twist, bend, pivot, or lean, you’re using this chain of muscles, which include not just the abs, but the hamstrings, glutes, lats, traps, and hip abductors as well. Most importantly, your core muscles help you retain balance.
When you’re young and spry, things like balance and agility are practically a given. As such, you may take the core muscles for granted well into your later years. Then, one day, those nimble movements aren’t so nimble anymore. That’s bad news if you’re a father, in particular, since you need a functional and balanced core to keep up with your kid. Enter the best core exercises for men.
What are the Benefits of Core Exercises for Men?
It’s fairly obvious that the best ab workouts and core exercises deliver a range of advantages for men, however, there are more benefits to this regimen than meet the eye. Yes, you’ll be generating stronger abs, improving your sense of balance, strengthening your mid-section, retaining better posture, and increasing your agility, but you’ll also be eliminating back pain.
For grown males, back pain can be a consistent and debilitating problem that keeps you from performing a slew of basic functions. By implementing a core-focussed fitness regimen, you’ll be actually solving the problem, as opposed to just medicating it. Of course, that’s presuming you perform the right back and ab exercises, whereas the wrong ones can only make your back pain worse.
Another benefit of a quality core workout? It feeds into your other athletic endeavours. This rings especially true for bodybuilders, who need a strong core to retain stability when performing bench presses and deadlifts. Not only do proper core exercises provide a solid foundation for these routines, but they also decrease the risk of injury. Along similar lines, everyone from basketball players to marathon runners will benefit from core exercises for the same general reasons.
10 Best Core Exercises for Men
While popular among high school gym teachers and Varsity coaches, traditional crunches and sit-ups are far less effective than a range of alternatives. In fact, some experts claim that crunches and sit-ups—which require you to perpetually bend your spine—are one of the easiest ways to incur a lower back injury. By contrast, the best core exercises improve back strength while still bringing you one step closer to washboard abs.
Speaking of washboard abs, they’re easier to achieve for some than others. As such, you might struggle to see the kind of magazine-ready results that most men aspire to. However, if you stick to the plan and throw in an optimal diet, we’re more than confident that you’ll start to notice the difference sooner than later. Here are the 10 best core exercises to get you started.
Ab Wheel Rollout
Grab yourself an ab wheel and kneel on the floor. Keep the wheel dead-center beneath your shoulders, tighten your abs, and roll forward until you lose tension at your core. Now roll back into the starting position. Continue this process until you feel like you can’t perform the exercise without breaking form. You’ll feel the burn from this one right away, and that’s a good thing.
Medicine Ball Slam
You’ll need a “slam” ball for this one, as it brings more bounce than your standard medicine ball (which brings no bounce at all). Keeping your knees at a slight bend, extend your arms and lift the ball directly over your head. Next, rise onto the balls of your feet, employing your core muscles as you slam the ball toward the ground, bending forward at the waist. Catch the ball as it bounces back up and repeat the motion. Your working not just the abs, but your shoulders as well.
The thing with basic planks is that your body adjusts to them rather quickly, so you should incorporate variables for maximum yield. One way to achieve this is by performing a three-point plank, which involves removing a contact point from the floor. Get into the plank position, keep your spine perfectly straight, raise a foot off the ground, and hold it in place. Avoid tilting in either direction and switch legs every 5-10 seconds.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at one side, lift the opposite leg while keeping your standing knee at a slight bend. Maintain a neutral spine as you bend at the hip, extending your free leg behind you. Lower the weight until your back is parallel to the ground, and then return to the upright position. Switch sides and perform the exercise again. Start with lighter weights and fewer reps, working your way up on both fronts.
Lying perfectly flat on the floor, hold a barbell above your chest. Keep your arms fixed and your legs together as you move the legs into an L-shaped position. Lower your legs down and to the side without having them touch the floor, all while keeping the barbell perfectly raised.
While regular crunches can hurt your back and your posture, reverse crunches stay true to their name by doing the opposite. That makes them one of the best abs exercises for men, though you’ll have to do a lot of them to really feel the burn. Keep your upper back straight on the ground as you lift your legs, glutes and lower back toward your chest. Repeat until sore.
Hanging Leg Raise
Find the nearest pull-up bar and make a V-shape with your arms. Drop into a dead hand and put your feet together. Keep your legs straight as you raise them into an L-position (in relation to your torso). Carefully lower your legs back into the starting position. Repeat.
Keep your back flat on the ground, your hands by your sides, and your knees bent. Put your feet on the floor, keeping them hip-width apart and close enough to your torso so that your hands can reach your heels when you’re in the starting position. Now, push up your hips while keeping your back straight. Hold for 15 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position. Repeat the process, working your way up to a longer hold as you go.
Dip/Leg Raise Combo
While popular, this core exercise for men is also quite difficult to pull off. Head over to the dip station and suspend yourself between the parallel bars. Bend your knees slightly and raise your legs into the L-position, keeping them parallel to the floor. Prepare to say hello to strong abs, because they’ll be arriving shortly.
Lie on your stomach, keeping your spine and neck in neutral. Extend both arms and both legs at once as if you’re Superman flying through the air. Your waist and belly button should be the only things touching the floor. Hold the position for 15 seconds during the early rounds and build that time in increments as you progress. Make sure your upper and lower body are moving in sync.
Bonus: Flutter Kick
Here’s a classic ab exercise that brings the pain and results alike, so we’re including it as a bonus. Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms extended at either side. Lift your heels about 6″ off the ground and flutter kick in a quick motion. See how long you can last and work up as you improve.
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Core conditioning — It’s not just about abs
Many of us have wished for flatter stomachs, a goal that seems more frustrating and elusive the older we get. You might have been tempted by infomercials for exercise devices or breathless magazine articles promising “flat abs” and tighter tummies “in just days.” Despite the hype, spot exercising abdominal muscles won’t get rid of fat. The only way to do that is to expend more calories than you take in. Working these muscles has its place, but the smart money these days is on strengthening a variety of trunk muscles, collectively known as “the core.”
Core conditioning improves posture, which contributes to a trimmer appearance (poor posture can give even a woman with well-toned abs a little “pot”). Moreover, developing core muscle strength can boost the effectiveness of workouts and reduce the risk of injuries that sideline our efforts to stay in shape.
Getting at the core
If you’ve ever had physical therapy to treat low back pain, you’re probably familiar with the concept of strengthening the core — the muscles in the abdomen, lower back, and pelvis that lie roughly between the rib cage and the hips. The strength and coordination of these muscles is important not only for sports and fitness routines but also for daily life — for example, reaching up to a shelf, lifting a child, or sponging a spot off the floor.
The current drive behind core conditioning comes in part from studies conducted in the 1990s showing that before they move an arm or leg, people with healthy backs (in contrast with those suffering from low back pain) automatically contract their core muscles, especially the transverse abdominal muscles, which wrap from the sides of the lower back around to the front. Experts concluded that well-coordinated core muscle use stabilizes the spine and helps create a firm base of support for virtually all movement. The role of the core is also central to the Pilates method, a series of exercises developed during World War I to help rehabilitate soldiers returning from the war. Its founder, Joseph Pilates, referred to the core as the “powerhouse.”
These days, patients who are receiving physical therapy for chronic low back pain or injury are told to contract their core muscles before performing prescribed exercises. And Pilates exercises are increasingly incorporated into health club workouts, along with other approaches that engage the core, such as fitness (stability) balls, yoga, and tai chi.
Exercises that strengthen abdominal and other core muscles should be part of an overall fitness plan that includes regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, 30 minutes per day, most days of the week. Guidelines also encourage us to get 20 to 30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week, and that might be a good time to fit in a few exercises designed to work the core.
Sample core exercises
To be safe and effective, core muscle strengthening exercises require proper alignment and progression from one type of exercise to another — adjusted to your body and fitness level. So you may want to ask a physical therapist or exercise professional for help in planning a program for you. (If you haven’t been physically active or have back problems or some other medical condition, consult a clinician before embarking on any fitness program.)
You’ll probably start by learning how to “draw in” — the first step in performing all core exercises and a basic tool you can use in almost any physical activity you perform (including walking). Here’s what you do: Sitting, standing, or lying on your back, gently but firmly tighten the abdominal muscles, drawing the navel in toward the small of the back. The tailbone should be slightly tucked. (Some trainers prefer to call it “bracing” the muscles, as if you were preparing to take a punch in the stomach.) Practice holding this position for 10 seconds at a time while breathing normally (that’s the hard part!). Once you get the hang of drawing in, you can start doing some core exercises, progressing from those you do on a stable surface (the floor or a mat) to those performed on an unstable surface, like a stability ball.
Below are just a few exercises that can help strengthen core muscles. If you decide to try any of them, go slowly, work at your own pace, and don’t keep doing anything that causes pain. Concentrate on performing the exercises correctly, not on the number of repetitions or how quickly you can do them. And don’t forget to breathe!
Lie with your back pressed to the ground, your hands at your sides, your knees bent, and your feet off the floor (ankles crossed) so that your knees create a 90-degree angle. Tighten your abdominal muscles, and raise your hips toward your rib cage, curling your tailbone off the floor (see illustration). Hold for a second or two; then slowly lower your hips to the starting position. Work up to 12 to 16 repetitions. Note: Use your hands at first to help stabilize yourself, but rely on them less as you get stronger.
Arm and leg raise
Lie on your stomach with your arms above your head. Tighten your stomach muscles; then lift your right arm and left leg (see illustration). Hold for five seconds. Lower, and rest a moment; then repeat with the left arm and right leg. Work toward eight to 12 repetitions on each side. Note: Avoid arching your back (keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tucked). When you’re ready for more, try lifting the leg and arm on the same side.
Lie flat on the floor on your back. Place your fingertips at the back of your head. Tighten your abdominal muscles, bring your knees up to a 45-degree angle, and lift your shoulder blades off the ground. Turn your upper body to the left, bringing the right elbow toward the left knee and extending your right leg (see illustration). Switch sides, bringing the left elbow toward the right knee. Continue this pedaling motion, slowly, for a total of 12 to 16 repetitions. Rest and repeat. Note: Avoid pulling on the neck.
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7 Days and 7 Ways to Strengthen Your Core
Core strength refers to the strength, control, and endurance in the muscles that make up the torso. Specifically, the core is made up of the abdominal wall (transverse, rectus, and oblique abdominal muscles) and the erector spinae muscles of the back.
Keeping these muscles strong accounts for that amazing dancer’s torso—ribcage pulled in, abs flat, slight ‘tuck’ under with the pelvis for perfect alignment of the spine. Core strength is the foundation for a healthy posture, flat abs, and a strong back.
Here are some yoga poses and exercises that strengthen your core muscles.
1. Forearm Plank Pose
Forearm Plank strengthens all the muscles of the abdominal wall. Start with 45 seconds of stillness here, focusing on perfect alignment and breath control, advancing to 3 to 5 minutes. Finally, add in some variations as you advance in the pose.
To start, come down to your forearms, aligning your shoulders directly under your elbows. Press the balls of your feet into the mat, feet hip distance apart. Keep your neck long, setting your gaze slightly in front of your fingertips. Press back through your heels as you tuck the hips under.
Visualize driving your navel to your spine to draw your abdominals in and up. This is your basic Plank setup. Breathe in and out through the nose, drawing the navel in each time you forcefully exhale.
To add in variations, start by lifting the right leg up behind you, pointing your toes. Hold it here, or add in tiny pulses or circles to distract your mind. Switch sides.
You can also drop your right hip slightly lower than the left, holding this for 30 seconds before switching sides. Or keep both feet on the floor and press back through your heels. Whatever variation you choose, keep the neck long and the hips tucked under the entire time.
If you need a short break, drop one or both knees to the floor for a modification, finding your deepest contraction before coming back into the full posture.
2. Plank Pose
This is similar to Forearm Plank, but requires more upper body strength. Pressing your hands firmly into the mat, keep your hands, elbows, and shoulders in one line. Lift to the balls of your feet, pressing back through your heels, feet are hip distance apart to start.
Spread your hands wide, pressing all ten fingers into the mat. Pull your shoulders down and back, engaging the muscles of the back and chest. Keep the neck long, gazing directly in front of you, resisting the temptation to drop the head.
Engage the same pelvic ‘tuck’ as for Forearm Plank, driving the navel into the spine. Make sure your hips are in line with the shoulders; your spine should be one straight line without dropping or lifting the hips. Inhale and exhale through the nose, driving the navel deeper on the exhale.
To advance, shift the weight forward into the hands, and release the right leg. You can keep it lifted behind you or draw the knee into the chest. You may also bring the bent knee over to the right or left elbow, slightly rounding the low back but keeping the hips low. This isolates the lower abdominals.
Switch to the left leg, using different variations to challenge yourself. When you feel your abs begin to fatigue, come down to Child’s Pose for a few breaths, then repeat the series.
3. Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)
From Plank, shift your weight on the right hand, then turn and lift your left hand to the sky, opening up the chest and stacking the feet left on top of right. “Rainbow” the hips to the sky, engaging the abdominals. One variations is to lift the top leg a few inches to test your balance.
You can also bring the top hand to stretch towards the front of the room or behind the head, keeping the elbow wide. Find your perfect spinal alignment, and breathe into the pose. To modify, come down to one knee, keeping the abs engaged to lift the hips.
Come back to Plank before switching sides, aiming to hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute per side, or 5 to 10 breaths each side.
Come to seated hugging your knees into your chest. Bring your hands behind your thighs, and extend the legs out in front of you, finding the catch in your abs. The legs can be bent at 90 degrees, 45 degrees, or straight, depending on your baseline abdominal strength and hamstring flexibility.
Keep the neck long and the shoulders down and back, opening up the chest. From here, extend one or both arms out straight. If your abs stay flat here, you can extend the arms up, biceps by the ears. Take it to your best position, feeling the heat begin to build at your navel center.
From here, take your boat down halfway by engaging the abdominals, bringing the feet towards the floor, arms by your sides. Take it to your lowest point before coming back up again, attempting to straighten the legs and extend the arms up.
You can flex the feet and spread the toes, point the toes, or cross one ankle over the other as you lift and lower the arms and legs. To modify, simply grab on behind the thighs. Aim for ten repetitions, moving to the measure of your breath, using the exhale to drive the navel toward the spine.
5. Prone Single and Double Leg Lifts
A strong back body is important to maintain a strong front body. Prone Leg Lifts isolate the contraction in the erector spinae muscles—the long, powerful muscles that run along either side of the spinal column.
To start, lie on your abdomen, folding your hands on top of each other, resting your forehead on your hands. Extend the legs long behind you, keeping the feet hip distance apart. Engage the back muscles and tuck the pelvis under as you lift the right leg up behind you on an inhale.
Focus on lifting the leg by using the muscles of the low back, keeping the hips tucked to protect the spine. Hold the leg lifted, then slowly lower on an exhale. Repeat on the left side.
To challenge yourself, lift both legs up behind you, extending the legs towards the opposite end of the room before squeezing the back to lift. Lift the upper body up as well. The hands can stay stacked and glued to the forehead. You can extend the arms in front of you (Superman), or long by your sides.
Isometric hold for a few breaths, or pulse the arms and legs up as you exhale, aiming for 20 lifts. To modify, keep the forehead on the floor and alternate leg lifts until you gain enough lower back strength to take it further.
6. Locust Pose (Salabhanasana)
Locust strengthens and increases flexibility in the entire back body, including the spine, legs, buttocks, ribs, and upper torso. Working the upper back muscles improves your posture and helps relieve stress and fatigue caused by slouching forward.
Lying on your abdomen, work your arms underneath your body, palms facing down or hands in fists, legs together, chin to the mat. Take 3 breaths; on the third inhale lift the legs up away from the mat using the strength of the entire back body. Hold it here as long as possible, lifting higher with each inhalation.
To come out of the posture, exhale the legs slowly down to the mat with control, and turn your head to the side taking a moment to rest.
7. Table Top Arm and Leg Extensions
Here, the shoulders and hips are supported, allowing isolation of the muscles of the back. Keeping the abdominals pulled in and the pelvis tucked under is key to avoid lower back strain. The exercise becomes ineffective once the back arches and the belly drops.
Come into Table Top with the hands directly under the shoulders, knees under the hips. Engage your abdominals as you lift the right arm and left leg in opposing directions on the inhale, keeping the abs pulled in and consciously rounding the lower back.
Crunch the elbow to the knee under your body as the back rounds out. Inhale the limbs out long again, and exhale to place them back on the mat and start again on the opposite side.
Fluidity and flexibility in the practice of yoga asana are enhanced when you strengthen your core as this allows for ease of movement from one posture to another. Practicing some, or all, of the exercises above regularly can help you build strong, solid abs.
5 Core Exercises You Can Do With Just a Yoga Mat
Most of us think we need to head to the gym to get a good sweat session, but that’s really not true. In fact, many fantastic exercises can be performed anywhere. Sometimes, all you really need is a yoga mat, plus some ideas for moves you can do. This is where we can help. With this batch of moves, you can expect to strengthen your core, glutes, quads, and more. Grab a mat and get started.
1. Elbow plank with leg lift
Planks are hard work. | iStock.com
To begin, get into a forearm plank position. Your elbows should be right underneath your shoulders and your legs extended straight, toes on the ground. Once you’re in this position, lift your right foot off the floor until it’s in line with your back, keeping your back flat and abs contracted. Hold this position for five seconds, then lower your leg back to the ground, and repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating legs for one minute before taking a break.
2. Figure four bridge
You’ll want to try this bridge variation.| iStock.com/undrey
Expect to feel the burn in your glutes, quads, and core muscles with this spin on a standard bridge exercise. Self says to start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Then, cross your right ankle over your left leg so your ankle is resting on your thigh, right below your knee. Keep your arms at your sides, palms facing up. Next, lift your glutes off the floor by pushing through your left foot until your body creates a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause at the top, then slowly return to starting position. Repeat a few times, then switch sides.
3. Marching hip raise
Though this move looks simple, it’s quite a challenge. | iStock.com
The marching hip raise is another exercise that adds even more of a challenge to the classic bridge pose. Cosmopolitan offers a great demonstration. Begin in a bridge with your shoulder blades and feet on the floor, glutes lifted off the ground, and arms at your sides with your palms facing down. Your body should remain in this lifted position throughout the entire exercise, which means your abs, glutes, and thighs are constantly engaged. Now, raise one leg at a time as if you’re walking, bringing your knee directly above your hip at the top of each movement. Continue alternating sides for as long as you can without letting your form suffer.
4. Modified V-up
V-ups are challenging, so work your way up to them.| iStock.com/Ostill
Crunches are great, but they can get boring with too much repetition. During your next workout, challenge your core with a modified V-up. Women’s Health says to start by lying on your back with your legs straight out and arms at your sides. Then, lift your torso and legs off the floor, bringing your knees toward your chest and fingertips toward your feet so you’re balancing on your glutes, stopping when your elbows and knees just about meet. You should feel the contraction in your abs at the top of this move. Then, slowly bring your body back to the floor to complete one rep. Repeat 10 times for one set.
5. The hundred
Try completing the hundred Pilates exercise. | iStock.com/VladimirFLoyd
You’ll definitely feel the burn in your abs after you complete all 100 reps of this pilates exercise. Yes, you read that right — 100 repetitions. It’s a challenge, but you’ll feel invincible after you’ve finished this Pilates classic, which is a favorite over at Fitness.
Begin lying on your back, then lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground as you raise your legs until they create a 45-degree angle with the ground. Keeping your legs and core steady, begin pumping your arms up and down about six inches from the floor. Make sure to focus on your breathing, inhaling for five pumps and exhaling for five pumps, as you perform 100 total reps. Your abs should be on fire at the end of the exercise.
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The high-quality Athlos Fitness ab mat provides stability and constant tension so you can do a full range of workouts even as a beginner. The shape and extended tailbone protector help you to perfect your form — something crucial for beginners if you want to avoid injuries to your back. You’ll also never have to worry about a tailbone injury or skin burn, even after your hardest workouts, thanks to the tailbone protector. Get one here.
Beyond the “Best Ab Exercises” (How to Actually Get Abs)
If you’re sick of list after list of the “best ab exercises” and want to know what it really takes to get a six pack, then you want to read this article.
Let’s face it:
You might be big (or curvy)…
You might be lean…ish… 😉
And you might be strong…
But all the cool kids have abs.
And the fact the you’re here reading this article tells me that you probably want a shiny new six pack of your own.
There’s a problem, though.
What happens when millions of people just like you want something so badly that it keeps them up late at night, wallets in hand, searching desperately for answers?
You got it.
A rogues’ gallery of fake “guru” hucksters line up like carnival barkers to shill their “six pack secrets”–pills, PDFs, powders, and the lot.
Okay, okay…I’m being dramatic (but not entirely inaccurate…).
But here’s the reality:
There is an overwhelming amount of misguided, misleading, and even malicious advice out there about how to get “six pack abs.”
- Some people say special types of ab exercises and workouts are all you need…and they’re wrong.
- Some people say ab exercises are useless…and they’re wrong.
- Some people say you just need a low body fat percentage…and they’re wrong.
- Some people say you have to eat certain foods and avoid others…and they’re wrong.
- Some people say it’s all in the supplements…and they’re just lying.
The good news is this:
If you can do just two things well, you can have killer abs.
And that’s what this article is going to be all about.
By the end, you’re going to know exactly what to do in the kitchen and the gym to get the core definition you’ve always wanted.
And no, you won’t have to buy anything, subscribe to anything, or even try anything else.
Everything you need is right here.
So let’s get started.
The No BS Truth About How to Get Abs
You are two simple steps away from abs.
This is true regardless of how fit or fat you might be and how little or much you exercise.
It’s true whether you’re a guy or girl, whether you’re 20 or 50, and whether you love “clean eating” or not.
Here they are…
1. Lose the belly fat.
Let’s start with the obvious.
You can’t see your abs because you have too much fat covering them.
If you shrink that layer of fat, you’re close to a six pack if not there.
The sixty-four-dollar question, though, is how to actually do that.
And the first thing you need to know about losing belly fat is you can’t directly “target” it for elimination.
In fact, you can’t target any area of your body for fat loss.
“Spot reduction” is debunked a myth that’s used to sell hogwash books, magazines, supplements, and the rest of it.
No individual workout can “slim your thighs,” “tone your butt,” or “sculpt your midsection.”
While research shows that training a muscle does increase blood flow and lipolysis in the region, the effect is negligible.
You simply can’t burn away the fat covering muscles by training them.
What your training can do, however, is help build muscle and burn energy, which can help you get slimmer thighs and a more toned butt and sculpted midsection.
The reason for this is fat loss (and gain) is a whole-body process.
That is, you can reduce your total fat mass through proper dieting and training, but those reductions will occur everywhere on your body.
And as you’ve probably noticed, some areas (like the arms and face) lean out faster than others (like the stomach). (More on that in a minute.)
What this tells us, then, is if we want abs, our body fat percentage needs to be in the right range.
That range is about 15% and below in men and 25% and below in women.
Here’s what that looks like:
Your body composition and genetics will determine how lean you look at various body fat percentages, but these images are going to be fairly accurate for most people.
Now, I mentioned earlier that some areas lose fat faster than others.
And unfortunately, if you’re like most people, the fat covering your abs is particularly stubborn.
Well, there’s a scientific reason for this and science-based solutions, too.
Learn more here.
2. Develop your abs and other core muscles.
You’ve probably heard that you don’t need to do ab exercises to have great abs.
That’s true if you have great genetics.
Some people–#blesstheirlittlehearts–get lean for the first time in their lives, look down, and wouldyalookatthat, a fully hatched set of abs.
Most of us aren’t so lucky. We have train our abs to get the look we want.
To understand why, let’s quickly review the anatomy of the core muscles.
When people talk about “abs,” they’re talking about the *rectus abdominis.”
Here’s how it looks:
And when people talk about the “core,” they’re usually including several other muscles such as the obliques, transversus abdominis (or “TVA”), and serratus.
Here those are:
The rectus abdominis gets the most attention, but these lesser-known muscles play an important role in achieving the overall look we want.
For example, here’s what a semi-developed rectus abdominis and under-developed core looks like:
He has a better core than most guys, but if you look closely, you’ll see there’s very little v-taper at the waist, no serratus, and no TVA line.
This can go the other way, too: too much core development and too little rectus abdominis.
Case in point:
This “thick-waisted” look is due to overcooked obliques and poorly developed abs, TVA, and serratus.
Our goal is something more like this:
Sure, Plitt had far better genetics than the other two guys, but he also has a far better developed core.
All the major players are balanced and proportionate, which gives his torso that tight, integrated, “interlocking” look.
My own body is a good example of how addressing a lagging core can improve the overall appearance.
Here’s a picture of me taken a few years ago:
As you can see, I was lean, had decent rectus abdominis development, and my obliques and TVA were at least visible.
Compare that to these pictures, though, which were taken a couple years later:
As you can see, I’ve worked hard on further developing every aspect of my core, and I think the results speak for themselves.
And this article lays out everything I’ve done.
So, now that we know exactly what we’re going for, let’s look at how to get there.
The 6 Best Ab Exercises
If you’re like most guys, you don’t just want abs.
You want thick, “blocky” abs with deep cuts that “pop” when flexed.
And that means you’re going to need significantly more muscle development in your core than you currently have.
(And if you’re a woman, you probably want something a bit more “elegant,” but even that’s going to require more muscular core than you might realize.)
Accomplishing that isn’t complicated, but you need to take a different approach than most people.
You can work up to a tremendous number of crunches and tremendous plank times and still have rather underwhelming abs.
The reason for this is simple:
If you want to build muscle effectively, you need to progressively overload your muscles, and the best way to do that is with resistance training.
That is, bodyweight training can build muscle up to a point but it can’t deliver anywhere near the results of resistance training (and weightlifting in particular).
This applies as much to your “upper chest” as to your abs. The muscle tissue covering your stomach functions like all other muscle tissue in your body.
What this means for your abs and core training is you must do weighted exercises if you want a great six pack.
And not only that, but you must progress on the exercises over time (by getting stronger).
This is why, as you’ll see, I recommend that every ab workout you do contains at least a few sets of weighted training.
Before we get into workouts, though, let’s talk exercises.
There are hundreds of ab exercises out there and thousands of opinions as to which are effective and ineffective, best and worst, and so forth.
I’m going to keep it simple here.
You only need a handful to develop a tight, chiseled core. And you’ll find them below.
This list is based on a bit of scientific research as well as my experiences with my body and the thousands of people I’ve worked with.
1. The Big Compound Lifts
Few people think of the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press as “ab exercises,” but they deserve a place in this article.
Research shows that compound movements like these can train your core better than traditional “core” exercises, and especially when performed with heavy weights (80%+ of 1RM).
This is one of the many reasons why each and every one of the most time-proven and popular weightlifting programs include and emphasize these exercises.
(And why my Bigger Leaner Stronger (men) and Thinner Leaner Stronger (women) programs are built around them.)
2. Cable Crunch
This is one of my favorite exercises for training the rectus abdominis.
It allows you to safely and comfortably overload your abs and core, making it particularly good for increasing the size and definition of the muscles involved.
3. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise
This exercise is really good for training both the rectus abdominis, including the “lower abs,” and obliques.
You can start with your knees bent but you want to work toward keeping your legs straight.
Then, as you get stronger, you can add weight by snatching a dumbbell in between your feet.
4. Hanging Leg Raise
This is a more difficult version of the Captain’s Chair Leg Raise because you have to keep your body stabilized.
Again, you can start with your knees bent but you want to work toward straight legs, and you can add weight by snatching a dumbbell in between your feet.
5. Air Bicycle
This exercise is simple but effective, and particularly good for training your obliques and TVA.
6. Ab Wheel Rollout
I generally shy away from gadgets and gizmos, but I do like the ab wheel.
The video above lays out the progression process nicely.
If you want to include this exercise in your ab routine, here’s a high-quality wheel:
Remember-Progression Is the Key
That’s it for the best abs exercises. Those are all you need to get a washboard stomach.
Now, I mentioned earlier that your goal isn’t to just do these exercises. It’s to progress on them.
What that means in this context is:
1. Adding weight to your weighted exercises over time.
You do this by adding weight once you hit the top of the rep range you’re working in.
For instance, I’m going to recommend that you work in the 10 to 12 (or 12 to 15, if you prefer) rep range on your weighted work.
Thus, if you get 12 or 15 reps of cable crunches, increase the weight on the stack (most go up by 10 pounds), and work with that new weight until you can crunch it for 12 to 15 reps, move up again, and so forth.
2. Getting more reps on your bodyweight exercises over time.
Your goal in your bodyweight ab exercises is to simply get as many reps as you can.
If, in time, you make so much progress on a bodyweight exercise that you can do what seems like an endless number of reps (50+), you can increase the difficulty by adding resistance/weight or moving on to a more difficult exercise or progression.
I can’t overstate the importance of progression, so make sure to track your workouts and always strive to beat your last performance.
If you continue in this fashion and eat right, you will get abs.
How to Create the Ultimate Ab Workout
Now that you know which ab exercises you should do and how to get the most out of them, let’s look at how to put together an effective ab workout.
Here’s how I like to do it:
1. Do both weighted and unweighted training.
I’ve found that this gets superior results to just weighted or unweighted training alone.
2. Do 2 to 3 ab workouts per week.
Smaller muscle groups can recover faster than larger ones, which means the abs (like the calves) can take more of a beating than a larger muscle group like the legs and .
Thus, I recommend you do 2 to 3 ab workouts per week in addition to your compound lifting.
This seems to be a “sweet spot” for most people for maximizing results without adding too much additional stress on the body (which increases the risk of overtraining).
I also recommend that you separate your ab workouts by 1 to 2 days.
Personally, I do Tuesdays and Thursdays and sometimes Saturdays as well.
So, with those “rules” in place, let’s look at how to structure your ab workouts.
The best ab workouts involve doing “circuits” consisting of several exercises done back-to-back, without rest. I like 3-exercise circuits personally.
You rest in between circuits and repeat them several times per workout.
Here’s how to do the circuits:
1. Your first set should be a weighted/high-resistance exercise.
Some exercises are better for this than others.
My favorites are the cable crunch, captain’s chair leg raise (with weight added), and hanging leg raise (ditto).
I like to work in the 10 to 12 rep range on my weighted/high-resistance sets.
2. Without resting, do one set of an unweighted/low-or-no-resistance exercise.
Go directly into the next exercise and do as many reps as you can.
3. Without resting, do one set of another unweighted/low-or-no-resistance exercise.
Again, go directly into the next exercise and do as many reps as possible.
4. Rest 2 to 3 minutes in between circuits.
I like to do my ab circuits in between sets of major muscle groups to save time.
- 1 set of side lateral raise
- 1 ab circuit
- Rest 60 to 90 seconds
- 1 set of side lateral raise
- 1 ab circuit
- Rest 60 to 90 seconds
- And so forth.
I also usually do them later in my workouts, in between the sets of “easier” exercises (as opposed to early in my workouts, when I’m doing my heavy, compound work).
When 9 circuits per week is no longer challenging, you can increase to 12 per week.
There’s no need to increase beyond that, though, as it’s not likely to improve your results. 12 is plenty.
My Favorite Ab Circuit
Here’s a simple but challenging circuit to get you started:
1 set of cable crunch (12 to 15 reps)
1 set of captain’s chair leg raise (to failure)
1 set of air bicycles (to failure)
Rest 2 to 3 minutes in between circuits
Give that a go and I think you’ll agree that it’s tougher than it looks!
Can Supplements Help You Lose Belly Fat?
No amount of weight loss pills and powders are going to make you lean.
If you’re trying to lose fat, pill popping, even to excess, is not going to be enough.
There just aren’t any safe, natural “fat burning” compounds powerful enough to, all on their own, cause meaningful weight reduction.
That said, if you know how to drive fat loss with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.
Based on my experience with my own body and with people I’ve worked with, I feel comfortable saying that a proper fat loss supplementation routine can increase fat loss by about 30 to 50% with little to no side effects.
That is, if you can lose 1 pound of fat per week through proper diet and exercise (and you can), you can lose 1.3 to 1.5 pounds of fat per week by adding the right supplements into the mix.
Another big benefit of taking the right fat loss supplements is they are particularly effective for reducing stubborn fat, which is usually belly fat for us guys and hip and thigh fat for girls.
So, as you can see, even the best “stack” of fat loss supplements isn’t game changing, but I think it’s worthwhile for both the lean looking to get really lean and overweight looking to get lean.
It makes the process of fat loss faster and more enjoyable and has no downsides or negative tradeoffs.
So, with that said, let’s look at my actual supplement recommendations (and personal “cutting stack”).
As weight loss boils down to energy consumed vs. energy expended, caffeine helps you lose fat by increasing your body’s daily energy expenditure.
Caffeine also improves strength, muscle endurance, and anaerobic performance, and also reverses the “morning weakness” experienced by many weightlifters.
Part of maximizing the fat loss benefits of caffeine is preventing your body from building up too much of a tolerance, however. The best way to do this is to limit intake, of course.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Before training, supplement with 3 – 6 mg caffeine per kg of body weight. If you’re not sure of your caffeine sensitivity, start with 3 mg/kg and work up from there.
- Keep your daily. intake at or below 6 mg per kg of body weight. Don’t have 6 mg/kg before training and then drink a couple of coffees throughout the day.
- Do 1 – 2 low-caffeine days per week, and 1 no-caffeine day per week. A low day should be half your normal intake, and a no day means less than 50 mg of caffeine (you can have a cup or two of tea, but no coffee, caffeine pills, etc.).
Personally I get my caffeine from my pre-workout PULSE, which contains a dehydrated and concentrated form of caffeine (caffeine anhydrous) shown to be more effective for improving performance than what is naturally found in beverages like coffee.
PULSE also contains clinically effective dosages of 5 other ingredients scientifically proven to improve workout performance:
- Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that reduces exercise-induced fatigue, improves anaerobic exercise capacity, and can accelerate muscle growth.
- Citrulline Malate. Citrulline is an amino acid that improves muscle endurance, relieves muscle soreness, and improves aerobic performance.
- Betaine. Betaine is a compound found in plants like beets that improves muscle endurance, increases strength, and increases human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 production in response to acute exercise.
- Ornithine. Ornithine is an amino acid found in high amounts in dairy and meat that reduces fatigue in prolonged exercise and promotes lipid oxidation (the burning of fat for energy as opposed to carbohydrate or glycogen).
- Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found primarily in tea that reduces the effects of mental and physical stress, increases the production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow, and improves alertness, focus, attention, memory, mental task performance, and mood.
And what you won’t find in PULSE is equally special:
- No artificial sweeteners or flavors..
- No artificial food dyes.
- No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.
The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.
Yohimbine is a substance found in the Pausinystalia yohimbe plant.
Research shows that it enables your body to reduce fat stores faster, and it’s particularly useful as you get leaner and are battling with stubborn fat holdouts.
(Not a very technical explanation, I know–if you want to know exactly how it works, click here.)
Now, something you should know about yohimbine is that it accelerates weight loss, but only works if you’re training in a fasted state. Elevated insulin levels negate its effects.
(If you’re not sure what fasted training is, check out this article.)
I’ve cut both with and without fasted training and yohimbine and I can say with absolutely certainty that with is noticeably faster. So much so that I think the biggest benefits of fasted training are that it lets you use yohimbine and it makes the other supplements discussed in this article more effective.
By itself, fasted training will make a slight difference in how quickly you lose fat. Combined with these supplements, however, it’s quite dramatic.
In terms of dosages, research has shown that .2 mg/kg of body weight is sufficient for fat loss purposes, and that ingesting it prior to exercise is particularly effective.
Some people get overly jittery from yohimbine, so I recommend you start with .1 mg/kg of body weight to assess tolerance. If you feel fine, then increase to the clinically effective dosage of .2 mg/kg.
Furthermore, yohimbine can raise blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, I don’t recommend you use it.
In terms of which specific yohimbine supplement I recommend, I’ve included a clinically effective dosage in my pre-workout fat burner FORGE.
It also contains clinically effective dosages of two other ingredients:
- HMB. β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate (also known as HMB) is a substance formed when your body metabolizes the amino acid leucine.
Research shows that HMB is an extremely effective anti-catabolic agent, which means it’s very good at preventing muscle breakdown. And this means you will recover faster from your workouts and experience less muscle soreness.
- Citicoline. CDP-choline (also known as citicoline) is a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain that increases levels of another chemical called phosphatidylcholine, which is vital for brain function.
Research shows that supplementation with CDP-choline improves attentional focus, and I included this in FORGE because most people find fasted training more mentally draining than fed training and CDP-choline can help counteract this.
The bottom line is FORGE helps you lose fat–and “stubborn” fat in particular–faster, preserve muscle, and maintain training intensity and mental sharpness.
3. PHOENIX Fat Burner
PHOENIX’s caffeine-free formulation is quite a bit different than FORGE’s and is actually made to be “stacked” with it (taken together).
PHOENIX helps you burn fat in three different ways:
- It dramatically increases metabolic speed.
- It amplifies the power of fat-burning chemicals produced by your body.
- It increases the feeling of fullness from food.
It accomplishes this through clinically effective dosages of several ingredients, including…
- Synephrine. This increases both basal metabolic rate and lipolysis, inhibits the activity of certain fat cell receptors that prevent fat mobilization, and increases the thermic effect of food (the “energy cost” of metabolizing food).
- Naringin. This stimulates the production of a hormone called adiponectin, which is involved in the breakdown of fat cells, and that it activates a type of receptor in fat cells that regulates fat mobilization (the PPARα receptor).
Through these mechanisms, naringin also works synergistically with synephrine and hesperidin to further accelerate the basal metabolic rate.
- Hesperidin. Like naringin, this also stimulates the production of adiponectin and activates the PPARa receptor. It also improves blood flow and reduces the inflammation of blood vessels.
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This inhibits the activity of a different enzyme also responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters that induce lipolysis. It has also been shown to reduce abdominal fat in particular.
- Forskolin. This increases blood plasma and intracellular levels of a molecule known as cAMP. When cAMP is high, it signifies a lack of ATP (the most basic form of cellular energy in the body) and thus initiates a process to make more ATP by burning through energy reserves (body fat).
Research has show that supplementation with forskolin accelerates fat loss and increases testosterone levels.
- And more…
The bottom line is if you want to lose fat faster without pumping yourself full of stimulants or other potentially harmful chemicals…then you want to try PHOENIX.
The Bottom Line on Ab Exercises
“Six pack abs” are the biggest honeypot in the fitness game.
If someone is in the gym or watching what they eat, one of the reasons is they probably want abs.
And if someone trying to sell you a product or service, one of their big promises is probably a chiseled core.
Well, you now know what it takes.
There are no shortcuts or “secrets.” Just some basic know-how, elbow grease, and patience.
Stick to the advice in this article, put in the work, and you will get there.
Want More Workouts?
How to Create the Ultimate Upper Chest Workout
The Best Back Exercises to Build Your Best Back Ever
The Best Shoulder Workouts for Men & Women
The 6 Absolute Best Quads Exercises You Can Do
The 6 Best Hamstring Exercises You Need to Do
The 7 Best Butt Exercises That Will Give You Glorious Glutes
The Absolute Best Biceps Workout
The Absolute Best Triceps Workout
The Definitive Full-Body Workout Guide
The Ultimate Forearm Workout
17 Bodyweight Exercises That Will Skyrocket Your Gains
The Best (and Worst) Ab Exercises if You Want a Six-Pack
7. Standing dumbbell side bend
The standing dumbbell side bend was super-popular in the ’90s and early ’00s — you’d see people cranking out the side bends in the free weight section of the gym like no one’s business — but eventually, the movement went out of style, and for good reason. Mainly because it’s just not that functional; how often during your everyday life do you find yourself awkwardly leaning over to one side, then straightening up again?
People typically twist or rotate as they bend, engaging the core as a unit rather than trying to isolate the obliques. Plus, if you’re trying to carve a six-pack, dumbbell side bends just aren’t a good choice — twisting exercises, like woodchops or bicycle crunches, are better options that target your obliques and your rectus abdominis.
6. Ab rocker and most ab machines
Two separate studies looked at the EMG response (electromyography, a typical test used to measure muscle and nerve activation) of the abdominals for various exercises, some of which used infomercial-style, popular ab equipment. The ab rocker, hands down, was the worst performer for oblique and rectus abdominis engagement in a 2001 study, while the bottom line from a 2014 study was basically that fancy ab machines and equipment are mostly unnecessary, given that you can enjoy significant muscular engagement with basic, equipment-free exercises.
5. Swiss ball pike
The swiss ball pike takes the challenge of a plank, adds instability and enhanced shoulder engagement in the form of the pike motion, ultimately creating one bad-ass ab exercise. Which, of course, is confirmed by science.
According to a 2010 study comparing it to the traditional crunch and bent-knee sit-up, the swiss ball pike came out on top for EMG activity of all the major muscle groups of the abdominals.
Granted, it’s not easy to perform — you need to have a fairly strong core and sufficient upper-body strength to control the movement without falling off the ball or collapsing to the floor. Start with a limited range of motion, only lifting your hips as high as you feel comfortable, gradually progressing to a full pike. You can also perform the same action with an Ab Wheel or TRX suspension straps.
The woodchop is the very definition of an integrated core exercise that works the abdominals through a twisting, reaching motion while also engaging the glutes and shoulders. According to a 2013 study, “When completing the core strength guidelines, an integrated routine that incorporates the activation of distal trunk musculature would be optimal in terms of maximizing strength, improving endurance, enhancing stability, reducing injury, and maintaining mobility.”
In other words, if you want to improve core strength, you need to do exercises that require the engagement of the glutes and shoulders. The woodchop does just that, as do the other exercises included on this “best” list. Plus, the woodchop itself is excellent at working the obliques in addition to the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis, really helping develop strength and definition throughout your core.
Start with a dumbbell or medicine ball version of the exercise, and as you get stronger, progress to a cable crossover or resistance band version with greater resistance.
3. Plank and plank variations
When it comes to enhancing core stabilization while targeting the deep, transverse abdominis, it’s hard to beat the standard plank. Surprisingly, though, the isometric exercise is also effective at hitting the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle) and the obliques. Kendall likes it because, “You can do this movement practically anywhere, and it’s easy to manipulate the degree of difficulty. If a regular plank is too easy, lift one arm or a leg. Try putting your forearms on a stability ball, or your feet in TRX straps. You can also take the plank to the side to better target the obliques — the variations are endless!”
When incorporating planks into your workout, it’s important to shoot for time, rather than reps. Kendall suggests you start by holding the move for 30 seconds, eventually working your way up to three sets of 60 seconds.
2. Ab wheel roll out
The ab wheel, admittedly, is a tough piece of equipment to use if you’re just starting your fitness journey, but it’s certainly effective. In fact, according to Kendall, “Ab Wheel or barbell ab roll-outs are, in my opinion, the most difficult ab exercise out there, but they come with the biggest payoff. This movement capitalizes on the concept of anti-extension; as you roll out, your trunk must work twice as hard to maintain a neutral spine without collapsing under your body weight and gravity. If you’re new to this movement, start off on your knees. Once you’re more comfortable with it, go up on your toes and try for three sets of 10 reps with minimal rest between sets.”
1. Hanging leg raise
Kendall points to the hanging leg raise as the ultimate six-pack sculpting move, “Top to bottom, this is a great movement for abdominal development. There are several reasons why I like the hanging leg (or knee) raise for building a six-pack. For one, very little equipment is required — all you need is a bar to hang from. Secondly, this exercise lends itself to multiple variations. You can scale them back by bringing your knees in toward your chest, rather than holding your legs out straight, or for added difficulty, you can hold a medicine ball or dumbbell between your knees or ankles.”
Kendall’s suggestion is also supported by research. Hanging knee-ups using straps were one of three exercises to elicit the greatest abdominal muscle response, as well as enhanced muscle response of extraneous muscle groups.
A note on “best” and “worst” ab exercises
Due to the, literally, hundreds of exercises people use to work their abs, even the most comprehensive studies that use EMG data to assess muscle activation during exercise just barely scratch the surface. This means many exercises and pieces of equipment haven’t been studied at all, except through the anecdotal evidence of individuals who use them.
That said, evidence from a review study points to the importance of using multi-joint, free-weight exercises (think squats, lunges, pull-ups, pushups, and the like) to help strengthen the core, rather than relying solely on traditional core exercises. This evidence is compounded by another 2013 study that indicates the abdominal muscles engage more during exercises that simultaneously recruit the shoulders and glutes in an integrated routine.
The takeaway, then, is to stop thinking of your abs as a set of muscles you need to crank away at with hundreds of crunches to develop the six-pack of your dreams. Rather, they’re a set of muscles inherently involved in almost all the exercises you perform, which means with proper core engagement, you can turn almost any free weight routine into a functional abdominal workout.
You can dominate at your sport: As a strong core will help you transfer more power to your limbs, you’ll be able to punch harder, drive further and send a ball with more force, making you a better athlete at just about anything.
You’ll become more agile with ab exercises: A study in the journal Kinesiology found that participants performing core and instability exercises — such as TRX exercises and single-leg moves — can help you become more flexible and more agile.
Your Ab Exercises and Six-pack Cheat Sheet
Of course, there’s more to life — and to your training – than the ab exercises that we’ve prescribed in this article. The links, below, offer alternatives to your current training, alongside diet advice, physique know-how and workouts that will hit your abs and other areas of your body, such as your shoulders and your arms.
- The Shoulder Workout That Also Gives You Great Abs
- This Brutal Ab Circuit Will Rock You to an 8-Pack
- Want a Six-pack Before Summer? You’ll Need This 15 Minute Workout
- How Much Fat Is Covering Your Abs?
- 5 Six-pack Myths You Should Ignore
- What Body Fat Percentage Should I Be to See Abs?
- This 557-rep Workout Gives You Harder Abs and Bigger Arms
- Build a Six-pack at Home in Three Weeks with Dumbbells
- 8 Reasons to Do An Abs Workout Today
10 of the Best Ab Exercises
– Lie with your back flat on the floor and your arms extended holding the barbell above your chest.
– Keeping your arms fixed straight raise your legs up to the L-shaped position.
– Lower your leg down to each side then back up without touching the floor.
2. Medicine Ball Slam
– Standing up with your knees slightly bent lift the medicine ball directly over your head with your arms extended.
– Rise up on the balls of your feet and use your core muscles to throw the ball to the ground as you bend forwards at the waist.
– Catch the ball and repeat. The motion will not only train your abs but will also give you powerful shoulders.
3. Side Jackknife
– Lay on your side with your left arm extended out on the floor and you right arm bent to your head with your elbow bent out.
– Make sure your right leg is on top of your left.
– Bring your right elbow to your left leg as you raise your body up, contracting your obliques and slowly lower down before swapping sides after reps
4. Dragon Flag
– Lie back on the bench with your hands holding the bench behind your head.
– Bring your knees up to your chest and kick out to the ceiling, raising your body with just your shoulders on the bench.
– Keep your body straight and as you slowly move down. You’ll not only feel the burn in your abs but in your lower back too.
5. Cable Woodchopper
– Set the cable machine to the highest position with and stand side on to the weights with your back to the machine.
– Grabbing the handle with both hands take a step away from the tower and put your feet shoulder width apart.
– Extend your arms fully and pull the handle down and across your body whilst rotating your torso.
– Bend your knees and pivot your back foot and slowly return to the start position, swapping sides after each set.
– Lay flat on your back with your arms extended behind your head and your feet slightly off the ground.
– Pull your knees towards your chest, lift your backside off the floor and lift your arms over your head as you perform a crunch and repeat.
7. Sandbag Sit-Up
– Lie with your back on the ground and you knees bent upwards.
– Hold a sandbag up above you with both extended arms and crunch forwards as you tense your core so your body performs a V shape with your thighs.
– Carefully lower down and repeat.
8. Hanging Leg Raise
– Grab a pull-up bar making a V shape with your arms and lower yourself into a dead hang.
– Put your feet together and raise your legs until they are perpendicular to your torso whilst keeping them straight.
– Slowly lower back to the starting position.
9. Superman With A Twist
– Lie on your stomach and place your hands on your head.
– Raise your torso and twist your chest from one side to the other.
– This move will not only target your abs but can also help combat that dreaded back pain.
10. Dish Rocks
– Sit up with your legs straight and extend your hands up above your head
– Raise your legs to make your body form a dish shape.
– Keep your body rigid as you rock back and forth to strengthen your core.
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Eat carbs before workouts. “I eat carbs at a point in the day when I need the most energy,” says Sims of the body’s primary source of energy. On days when she teaches up to seven classes, she refuels with a sweet potato served with ghee (aka clarified butter), a carb-heavy snack that helps her power through workouts.
Eat protein after exercise. Your body uses protein to rebuild the muscles it breaks down during workouts. It’s why Sims chows down on foods like eggs, chicken, and tuna within 45-minutes of exercising, although science suggests timing may be less important than getting enough protein on days you work out.
Pair natural sugars and fats. At breakfast, Sims eats eggs and avocado with her berries; for a snack, she’ll have an apple with almond butter. Both combos contain simple carbs—read: quick energy—from whole (not processed) foods and healthy fats, which keep you satisfied.
“Abs change all the time! Sometimes I wake up, and my six-pack is there with a bow on. Then there are other times when I barely see definition.”
Know your triggers. “It’s important to know what might make you bloated,” she says. “Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts don’t always sit well with me, so I will avoid them before photo shoots.”
Go beyond crunches. Sims prefers exercises that challenge you to stabilize your core against imbalance or gravity, like a hands plank with dumbbell pull-through and ab roll-outs using a core-training wheel. “They challenge the entire core by resisting movement instead of creating it,” she says of these moves, which she recommends doing in sets of 10 three times. You can repeat the series several times a week.
Valeo BodySport Ab Wheel, Amazon.com $12.82
She also practices push-up to knee tucks with her feet in TRX straps, stability ball V-ups, kettlebell carries, and Russian twists—so no crunches and no basic sit-ups.
Activate your abs during every exercise. “You can turn any exercise into a core-focused exercise by drawing your navel in toward your spine to stabilize the rest of your body,” Sims says. This also can be done anytime you’re just sitting around.
BRITTANY PERILLE YOBE
Ventura, California-based certified fitness trainer
Eat similar meals every day. “I pretty much eat the same thing, or substitutions that are very close to my normal meal plan, every day,” Yobe says of her daily food intake, which includes a protein bar before her morning workout, a protein shake afterward, and two meals including chicken or fish, veggies like a green salad or bok choy, and a carb like rice, pasta, or potatoes. She also snacks on rice cakes with peanut butter, carrots, celery, and nuts. Although she admits this can be boring, the approach makes it easier for her to get all the nutrients she needs while remaining satisfied throughout the day.
Eat before bed. Lest she wake up hungry or starve her muscles of the protein they need to rebuild while she sleeps, Yobe eats Greek yogurt, which contains casein, a slow-releasing protein, right before going to sleep. Some research suggests the technique helps with muscle recovery overnight.
“Nobody walks around with a scale number written across their forehead, so why put so much pressure on yourself to get down to a certain number?”
Ditch your scale. “Too many people get hung up on how much they weigh, but the scale can be very discouraging because of the daily fluctuation in the time you weigh yourself, bloating, and hormones,” says Yobe, who knows that muscle weighs more than body fat.
Los Angeles-based online coach and certified personal trainer to clients like Kim Kardashian; NCB Figure and Physique Bodybuilding Champion
Trust no-equipment workouts. Alcantara insists you don’t have to schlep to the gym to squeeze in a core workout. At home, you can strengthen your abs with one minute of mountain climbers, one minute of flutter-kicks, 15 to 30 toe-touching V-ups, and a one-minute plank hold. Then repeat the entire circuit four times up to twice a week.
“To get you need to be consistent, hardworking, focused, patient, and dedicated, which happen to be the exact elements every person needs to be successful at pretty much anything in life.”
Eat mostly unprocessed foods. “The quality of the calories coming from something like broccoli versus chips is dramatically different,” Alcantara says, speaking to the nutrients found in whole foods.
Eat carbs. “There’s this notion that carbs are bad and that you need crazy amounts of protein to be lean and fit,” says Alcantara, who disagrees and eats just as much carbs as protein, although the ideal ratio varies based on your goals. “Whatever you eat to get the results you want has to be sustainable, otherwise you’re going to end up right back where you started with the same habits that got you there.”
Follow a program. Alcantara is all about consistency—one reason why she recommends choosing a structured fitness plan rather than shooting in the dark and praying you surface with abs. “Follow it to 100 percent, do it back-to-back,” she says. Many fitfluencers offer their own programs, but you’ll want one from a certified fitness trainer like Alcantara, who offers an eight-week guide.
Work body parts besides your abs. “You want to have abs? Well, you need legs. And your chest, and arms, and calves,” she says. After all, muscle imbalance can lead to injury in everyday activities. “Balance is extremely important.”
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Elizabeth Narins Senior fitness and health editor Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more. Ashley Oerman Deputy Lifestyle Director Ashley Oerman is the deputy lifestyle director at Cosmopolitan, covering fitness, health, food, cocktails, home, and entertainment.