There are thousands of trainers and infomercials hawking quick, effortless programs that are guaranteed to give users abs in mere minutes a day — as long as they buy an expensive piece of equipment or DVD set, of course. For some people with impeccable genetics or bulletproof diets, that might just be enough to make their core ripple with muscle. But most bodies just aren’t built that way.
The recipe for six-pack abs isn’t all that complicated: Crank out an abs workout, eat a nutrient-rich diet, and consume fewer late-night pizzas in a single sitting. The undisputed holy grail of men’s fitness is good for more than just an extra boost of confidence whenever you have cause to peel off your shirt, too. “The best way to avoid injury, whether in the gym, at home, or at the workplace, is by building a strong core,” says Edwin Wealth, NASM-CPT and trainer at Equinox. Want to do yoga better? Run faster? Squat heavier? Carry the groceries without wincing? It all begins with your core.
Do it: Think of this as an upside-down dead bug. Start in a tabletop position, with your shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Engage your core while simultaneously lifting your right arm and left leg. Your foot should be flexed as you kick back, and your palm should face in towards your body. Pause for one second when your arm and leg are at the same height as your torso, and then bring your elbow and knee to touch underneath the body. Repeat on the other side for one rep, and do five reps for one set.
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.
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.
Calorie Counting — I count my calories to make sure I’m on track everyday. I highly recommend the HealthifyMe app. They have an excellent database of food and dishes that you can select and track calories for. They also provide the exact macro breakdown for foods with a day-wise and week-wise analysis of your nutrition. I averaged out between 1500–1600 calories on Cardio Days and 1800–1900 calories on Weight Training Days.
Alcohol also hurts you in two other areas: “It is a diuretic, which dehydrates you and reduces energy levels,” he says. “It also can decrease testosterone in our bodies which is critical for creating muscle.” Next time you’re planning guys’ night, stick to one or two light beers or a hard liquor with a diet soda mixer. After that, opt for club soda with a lime—nobody but the bartender will know.
Regular cardiovascular exercise should be an essential part of your plan. I recommend you try and get in three to five cardio workouts per week. If you find you’re not losing as much fat as you’d like then shoot for five sessions a week. If your progress is good then you might be able to get away with just three sessions a week. Adjust appropriately based on your rate of progress.
To do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with the barbell on the back of your shoulders. Lower your body toward the floor, sending your hips back and down and bending your knees. Push through your heels to return to start position, keeping your back flat and head up throughout the movement. Try to do 8-10 reps for 3 sets (resting 45-60 seconds between sets).
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 on your hip. Lower your hips toward the ground a couple inches, then come back up to start. That’s one rep. Do 15 reps on each side.