Bodyweight exercises always recruit more than one muscle group for each exercise so it is impossible to isolate and work one muscle group specifically by doing one type of exercise. It is however possible to increase the load targeting specific muscle groups with specific exercises so that they respond the most to the challenge. The following chart helps you find the exercise that helps focus more on specific abdominal muscle groups for best results.
Plank poses are very effective at tightening your tummy, whether you do these types of exercises in a yoga class or as part of your gym workout. The classic plank pose involves lying down on your stomach, then raising all your body weight up on your toes and forearms or hands in a “plank” position. You then hold the pose for as long as you can. You can change it up by doing a side plank (put all your weight on one forearm or hand and the sides of your feet), or by doing back leg lifts while in the traditional plank pose.
Do it: With your feet shoulder-width apart, lift a barbell off the rig, centering it evenly across your shoulders. (This version of the squat targets the core, not the legs, and so you should be using far less weight than you would for a traditional back squat.) Send your glutes back like you’re lowering into a chair, bending at the knees as deeply as possible. Press through your heels to return to the starting position for one rep. Do 12 reps for one set.
No matter how strong your core is, you aren’t going to see a six-pack if your muscles are hiding behind a big layer of fat, says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia. “Each individual is going to be slightly different, but the ideal range of body fat in men is eight to 20 percent,” he says. Get below six percent and you could compromise your health.
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.
The inspiration for this exercise might come from skiing, but it's also an effective way to prepare your midsection for many sports, including tennis, softball, and golf. The reason: "It trains your abs, lower back, and hips to work together to rotate your body from side to side," says Durkin. And the more powerfully you can rotate, the faster you can swing and the harder you can throw.
7. Don't be disappointed if you can't achieve a well-defined six-pack. Because of your genetics and age, you may not be able to get the six-pack you want, but you can still be healthy, Hagensick says. "To be healthy, you have to have a certain percentage of fat. Some people simply have more fat than others around their midsection, but they can still improve their overall eating habits and exercise routine."
But there's science behind this buzzkill. The rectus abdominis — the muscle that makes the stomach look defined as hell — is typically covered by fat (because that's how humans are made) and isn't affected by things like crunches and planks. "You can work your abs all you want, but if you have a layer of fat over them, the 'pack' can’t be seen," Ball says. And FWIW, that's not a bad thing or something to feel bad about. "It’s very unrealistic for most people to have body fat percentages low enough to see the abs."
If it was possible for the experienced bodybuilders to build muscle without gaining fat or, better, build muscle and lose fat at the same time then they would do it in a heartbeat. Who wants to go through the ordeal of bulking and cutting when it’s possible to build muscle and burn fat at the same time? The answer is hidden in the muscle growth rate. Muscle growth follows a logarithmic pattern (rather than a linear pattern), which means that muscular gains come quickly in the beginning but they decrease over time.
To do it:Get into pushup position with both hands on the stability ball directly below your shoulders (your feet can be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart to give you extra stability). Contract your abdominals and try to bring your body into a straight line from your neck all the way to you toes (your butt should not be sticking out, so contract your glutes and keep your hips down). Once you are stable, lift your right leg a few inches off the ground and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Try to do three sets of a 10-second hold, and then advance to a 30-second hold.
Good news: Thanks to some of the best trainers in the country, we’re going to help you out. Below are their favorite abs exercises, along with a few pro tips to ensure that you’re executing each one perfectly. Incorporate them à la carte into your existing routine—or, if you’re feeling ambitious, turn all six into an abs workout circuit. Try two sets of each movement, resting for 30 seconds between each set.
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.