Stability moves like the plank are a great way to strengthen a weak core and prevent lower back pain. But if you want to kick things up a notch, then start dancing. When you perform the breakdancer, you'll quickly move your feet from side to side and across your body. However, you must maintain the same rigid, straight torso that you would when performing a plank.
But alas, this process doesn’t happen overnight. And by now, the washboard abs industrial complex has produced such a dizzying volume of exercises, tricks, and gizmos promising to transform your midsection into a Hemsworth brother’s midsection that even after you’ve settled on a strategy, it’s hard not to wonder whether all that diligence and discipline is really making a difference.
“Unless you’re naturally gifted or a child, six-pack abs are always going to be a challenge. But remember, muscles have memory, so once you achieve a six pack once, if you lose it, it’ll be easier to get it back later. These days, I can get six-pack abs pretty quickly because I have such deeply ingrained muscle memory from my teenage years as a gymnast, when I was practicing in the gym five hours a day, six days a week.
"I like a challenge, and someone telling me that it wasn’t possible was just the kick I needed to see if it was possible. So I started eating healthier—really focusing on figuring out what foods I had an intolerance for, were causing me to bloat, or were just notoriously hard on the gut—and learning how to get more out of my workouts. One trainer pointed out to me that I wasn’t doing situps in a way that was as effective as it could be, and to this day I still think of his advice (tilt my pelvis so my back lies flat on the floor!) every time I do core work.” —Dorothy Beal, @mileposts
After having achieved this goal, there’s a seemingly big void in my life. I intend to fill it up with another ambitious goal instead of more training, though the latter is far more tempting! I find that training, staying fit, and eating right fits in very well with my lifestyle. I intend to keep it that way while being content with slow but lean and steady gains over time. I do intend on dabbling in boxing and advanced callisthenics in the future.
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.
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.
Bodyweight training builds an excellent muscular foundation. After I built my six pack abs with bodyweight training, I wanted to build more muscle so I started lifting weights. 4 months after I started weightlifting, I was deadlifting 460 pounds, bench pressing 275 pounds, squatting 365 pounds and military pressing 175 pounds. I owe this incredibly fast progress to the foundation I built with bodyweight training. (If you don’t believe me, read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography that documents his bodybuilding career (which I reviewed here) and you’ll see that he also recommends newbies to start building muscle with bodyweight training.)
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and pressed firmly into the floor and hold a medicine ball (or other similar weighted object). Brace your abs in tight (as if preparing for someone to punch your stomach) and use your lower body to start the movement by bending your knees, sitting back into your hips, and reaching the ball down across the outside of your left leg. Stand up, swinging your arms across your body and up to the right while pressing your hips forward. Do 10-12 reps going from left hip to right shoulder, and then repeat on the other side.