Bent-Elbow Plank: This exercise works the whole trunk, particularly the transversus abdominis. Start by lying on your belly and then lift yourself up onto your toes and forearms (elbows in line with shoulders) while contracting your abdominals and keeping your back neutral. Hold that position for five seconds, then rest and repeat. Ultimately, strive to hold the pose for 90 seconds without any rest -- for one set. If you're more experienced, you can also do this exercise on your hands and toes. (As a beginner, start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine and simply contract the abdominals on an exhale without moving your back.)
“I alternate between all-out effort sprints (30 to 60 seconds) and walk/jog as a recovery until I feel fatigued. Intensity is key. Abs work as stabilizing muscles during a sprint, so the harder I push myself the harder my abs will work! Plus, there’s no equipment required, and I get a high calorie burn and full-body workout done in very little time. (I tell myself I can do anything for 30 seconds.) Depending on how I feel, I’ll either add this to the end of a routine or make it my entire workout, two to three times a week.” —Suzanne Cover, @suzannecover
When it comes to working the core, many people focus on abdominal muscles, and neglect their obliques (or what you may know as “side abs”). But, says Barrett, these clandestine muscles are just as important: they “keep everything tucked in.” To get a good oblique workout in, head to the pulley machine and start doing some Paloff presses. If you don’t know how to perform the exercise, read our comprehensive guide on mastering the move.
To do it: Start with feet in a wide stance, knees bent, arms up on guard. Keeping your lower body still, quickly lean your upper body to the right, then come back through the center and lean to the left. Repeat lean back to the right. Next, lower your upper body, from the right around to the left side, making a half circle with your torso. Return to start position. That’s one rep. (Tip: it helps to keep a steady rhythm with this move, think—or say aloud—1, 2, 3, weave to help you keep your tempo). Repeat 10 times total, alternating starting on the right and left sides.
Try starting your day off eating heavier, and ending on a light dinner. Instead of waking up and running out of the door with a banana, eating a small lunch, and then eating a hefty dinner, try making your breakfast your heaviest meal and your dinner the lightest. For carb intake at dinner time, try to ingest the wet types of carbs that are in high-water, medium-fiber foods.
Why it made the list: It turns out the ball is good for more than just sitting and waiting for your partner to finish his set! A research team from California State, Sacramento demonstrated that the pike movement is one of the most effective total-ab workouts. It topped their EMG list for upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. This movement may be the heavy hitter that's been missing from your daily routine. While not exactly the same, the pike can also be done using a TRX system with similar results expected.
To do it: Start in a plank position with one small towel placed under each ball of your foot, legs together. Bring your left knee in towards the right side of your chest, squeezing your abs. Then, straighten your right leg back out to full plank and bring your right knee in towards the left side of the your chest and back out to full plank. Next, draw both knees into your chest at the same time and then slide your legs back out to full plank. That’s one rep. Build up to 3 sets of 12-15 reps (resting in between).
The reality isn't that simple, experts say. The answer to whether it's possible for someone to develop abs without adhering to a diet or by simply cutting back on calories is "maybe," says Evan M. Chait, a clinical nutritionist, physical therapist and acupuncturist based in Ramsey, New Jersey. He's a co-founder of the Kinetic PT and AcuWellness America centers. Anyone can cut calories and lose weight, Chait says. Dropping fatty pounds from your midsection can reveal the abdominal muscles that everyone has. "Six-pack" isn't a physiological term; rather, it's a shorthand way to refer to the rectus abdominus, the outer band of stomach muscle connecting the rib cage to the pelvis.
“A silly thing I do on a daily basis is focus on sitting or standing tall with good posture and then ‘sucking it in,’ for lack of a better term. Basically, I tighten my core and hold onto it for as long as I can, and I keep doing that throughout the day. It’s a great way to not feel like a lump while sitting in front of a computer for a long period of time, and it’s like a bonus workout for my abs.” —Dorothy Beal, @mileposts
How to: Lie on your left side with your legs straight and your right leg stacked on your left. Position yourself so your weight is resting on your left forearm and the outside edge of your left foot. Your elbow should be directly beneath your shoulder, and your upper arm should be perpendicular to the floor. Align your body so it forms a straight line from your neck to your ankles, and place your right hand in the air. Engage your core, and slowly twist your chest left, until it’s parallel to the ground. As you do this, thread your right arm through the space between your body and the floor. Raise back to start. That’s one rep. Do 15 reps on each side.
"My goals six years ago was to 'get abs' and I used to think cardio and crunches would get me there. But it wasn’t until I started lifting weights and varying my abdominal exercises that I started to see a major change. You don’t realize how much you use your core muscles in order to perform powerful rapid movements like deadlifts!" — Shante Franca, @shantefranca
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.