Strength training is an essential part of most fitness routines, but if you want a six pack, building more muscle can help. Strength training with weight lifting not only helps build muscle, boost metabolism and increase muscle definition, but it is a great way to burn lots of calories in a short time. Strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments also helps reduce strain on the joints which ultimately can help prevent many sports injuries.
To do it: Lie on your back with your hands interlaced behind head, knees bent ,and feet hip-width apart on the floor. Inhale and lift your chest towards your knees, bringing your shoulders and head off the floor, maintaining a neutral pelvis (keeping it parallel to the floor). Exhale and rotate to the right side, and then exhale again rotating even further, lifting a little higher. Next, inhale and lift as you return to the center and repeat to the other side. Do 8-10 reps per side.
To make sure you stay safe, put one hand underneath the small of your back, crunch your head and shoulders up just a handful of inches, hold for about 10 seconds, and release back down, advises Stuart M. McGill, Ph.D., director of the spine biomechanics laboratory at the University of Waterloo. This move basically ensures that you aren’t rounding your back so that your weight doesn’t drop into your low spine, per McGill.
Natural trainers can build up to 20 pounds of muscle in their first year of strength training. Muscle growth slows down with each year of training until it creeps to a crawl in the 4th year. A natural trainer in his 4th year of strength training will build a pittance of 2-3 pounds of muscle in the entire year and that’s when his diet and training are both on point.
Muscles exert higher EMG tension when they are contracting eccentrically (lowering the resistance) versus raising it; but the problem with most exercises is that the amount of weight you can lower is limited by how much you can lift positively (concentric work). This exercise compensates for the problem by changing the leverage during the lowering (eccentric) phase of the exercise.
Ah the six-pack. The goal of most every fitness enthusiast. A tight, lean, shredded stomach not only looks great, but also feels great and builds more confidence. Let's face it, a chiseled midsection is something we all strive to strut. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to put in the time and effort to build this work of art. For those that do however, the rewards are well worth the struggle.
How to: Lie faceup on floor with arms and legs in the air, knees bent 90 degrees. Maintaining contact between low back and floor, brace core, then slowly and simultaneously lower right leg until heel nearly touches floor and left arm until hand nearly touches floor overhead. Pause, then return to start and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Do 15 reps.
Do it: Lay face up on the floor with arms straight above your shoulders. To start, bring your knees directly over your hips and bend at the knee so that your calf forms a 90-degree angle with your thigh. Next, simultaneously lower your left arm above your head while straightening your right leg and sending it towards the floor. Pause, return to the starting position, and then repeat on the opposite side. Do 14 alternating reps to complete one set.
"But after having children and maturing, my body image has changed. I don’t run or eat to look a certain way, but instead to feel a certain way—happy. I no longer count calories or restrict what I eat. I focus on real food that’s minimally processed, and most meals include some sort of carbs (I really love potatoes), protein, and lots of veggies. All of that, coupled with higher mileage during more intense marathon training, has led me to how I look today. When I’m not in the middle of marathon training, I’m often five to 10 pounds heavier—and that’s totally okay.” —Michele Gonzalez, @nycrunningmama
Try adding four or five to the end of your workout to challenge your core a little more, or turn them into a standalone workout—try doing 12-15 reps of each exercise and then repeating the circuit (of four or five exercises) three to four times, to start. If you feel tension in your lower back during any of these exercises, stop and reset, making sure your abs are really engaged and that your back is not arched. You can also try starting with fewer reps. If you still feel discomfort, skip that exercise and try a different that allows you to keep your spine in a safer position. (It's also helpful to read up on which abs exercises tend to be irritating for lower-back issues beforehand if that's a concern for you.)
Aerobic exercise is one of the safest ways to burn lots of calories over a long period of time while you maintain heart health and tone muscles. Simply modifying your diet or reducing your calories without exercise will lead to initial weight loss, but you'll likely reach a plateau and you may also lose muscle. A personal exercise plan that has a solid base of cardiovascular exercise will help you maintain exercise for the long-term, help you get past weight loss plateaus and can help you maintain your muscle mass. So get out for a nice long walk, a hike, a bike ride or a swim on a regular basis. Park the car and walk for most of your errands and just get moving more often.
Demoing the moves below are Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City; Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies; Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; and Rachel Denis, a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York state powerlifting records.
But you can still go wrong. Because your feet are hooked, it's all too easy to pull through your thighs. Nor do you want to go all the way down to rest on the bench between reps; stay well off it. If you're not feeling a wicked burn, drop all the weight, put your hands on your belly, and really focus on the contraction at a slower pace. You can also introduce a cross-body movement, angling your elbow to the opposite-side thigh, to better engage the obliques.
We put this on the list because of how easy it is to manipulate the degree of difficulty. If a regular plank is too easy for you, lift an arm, or a leg—or an arm and a leg. Put your feet into a TRX and give that a whirl. Still too easy? Take your feet out, and put your forearms in. Each one of these progressions leads to a greater training stimulus to the abs.
I use the ab machines at the gym. I do a couple variations on crunches (sitting up and lying down both on machines with weights. I can crunch 55lbs on the one that’s sitting position, 40 on the other), hanging leg lifts (which kill my shoulders), the oblique twist machine, as well as full body workouts. I just started the gym about 2 months ago and have really upped the weight since then so my body is definitely progressing.
If you're taking on healthy fitness and eating habits with the dream of achieving a six-pack, some real talk for you: "Very few people can achieve this look, regardless of what they do," says Stephen Ball, professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri. "Most women who make this their goal will fail and ultimately give up on exercise all together." Way harsh, Tai.
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.
5. Engage in resistance training aimed at your abs. In addition to eating right and losing weight, doing certain types of exercises can help you achieve a better-defined abdomen, Singer says. "I'm sure everybody knew somebody in high school who had tremendous abs who ate whatever he or she wanted and had tremendous abs without working out," Singer says. "Most of us aren't that lucky." If developing a six-pack is your goal, doing exercises aimed at your abs can be part of a successful regimen. Such workouts would include weighted crunches and weighted sit-ups, he says. Cardio workouts are helpful for shedding pounds, but won't, on their own, lead to defined abs.
4. Be sure to eat enough protein. As you lower your calorie intake and cut down on processed foods and refined sugar, be sure to get enough protein, Singer says. "Prioritizing protein will help you maintain muscle mass," he says. Lean meats, skinless chicken and turkey, beans and lentils, tofu and soy-based foods, eggs, nuts and low-fat dairy products are good sources of protein. Your body breaks down protein into amino acids, which it uses to build muscle, according to Harvard Health. Research published in 2015 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that for all adults, consuming high-quality protein (from eggs, beef and dairy products, for instance) in combination with physical activity "represents a promising strategy to delay the onset of sarcopenia [a disease characterized by loss of muscle mass and strength]."
Start by placing your heels on a low bench and holding two light dumbbells (begin with 3 pounds). Place a rolled-up towel under your lower back to increase the range of motion of your upper abs. Point your toes. From this start position, raise your upper body to the position shown in the second photo. Breathe normally. Now press the weights overhead. Keeping your arms straight, press your heels hard into the bench, then lower your upper body and allow the weights to arc behind your head.
So let's get to it. Here are the experts' choices on the most effective abdominal exercises. These should be performed two to three times weekly (for beginners, two is plenty to start). Each exercise should be executed until the point of momentary muscular failure, which should happen between 30 and 90 seconds. This is considered one set, which should be no more than 15 to 20 repetitions. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds. Concentrate on performing each exercise slowly with good form. Work up to completing two to three sets of each exercise.
"Most guys neglect their obliques in favor of their six-pack muscles, and that's a mistake," says Jack. "Your obliques not only support your spine, but they also help your abs work together with the muscles of your hips and lower back to explosively rotate your torso." That means you'll be able to lift heavier loads on every exercise, while adding a ton of rotational power to your tee shot and Hail Mary pass at the same time.