But instead of just trying to perform as many reps as possible, slow down and really focus on the quality of the movement—especially the eccentric, or downward motion, of the exercise, he says. “The eccentric contraction is the most important phase when sculpting any muscle.” Plus, focusing on quality over quantity will help protect your back (some experts say crunches can be potentially troublesome for guys with back issues.)
Some experts recommend eating six small meals a day, instead of the more conventional three, cutting out added sugars and processed foods, and loading up on dependable sources of protein to help build new muscle in your midsection. Before you commit to any new diet, though, speak to your doctor and/or a nutritionist to see what they believe will work best for you.
"This exercise is so effective because it teaches you not to rely on your bigger muscle groups (like your thighs) and focuses on using your abdominals correctly in a controlled manner without using momentum. The use of the ball gives you natural feedback of your weaker side so that you can adjust and work on symmetry of your musculature, preventing future injuries."
And, since the muscle is designed to bring your lower ribs and pelvis closer together or farther apart, you need to work them that way—with crunches and reverse crunches, Cary says. In fact, research commissioned by the American Council on Exercise shows that the crunch works the rectus abdominis better than other common abs exercises including the plank, sit-up, and boat pose.
Trainer tip: You know planks, right? It’s easy to go through the motions here. Don’t do it. “The key is to squeeze your entire body—quads, glutes, core, back, and fists—as tight as possible while taking diaphoretic breathes throughout the hold,” says Wealth. No matter how many times you’ve done it, this exercise is as difficult as you’re willing to make it.
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Abdominal muscles consist of three layers. The very deepest layer is the transversus abdominis, which acts as the body's girdle, providing support and stability and plays a critical role in exhalation. Next is the rectus abdominis, which flexes the spine. Closest to the surface are the internal and external obliques, which turn the trunk and provide the body with rotation and lateral movement.
Lie face-up on a mat grasping something overhead or your arms flat at your sides. Pull your legs up so that they are at a right angle with your torso. (Theresa Hessler demonstrates at top of page.) This is your start position. Keep the position of your legs as consistent as possible. Now curl your hips up to the position shown in the second photo while exhaling. Your weight should be concentrated on your shoulders, not your neck. Slowly return to the start position while inhaling.
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.
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.
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.)
Start on the floor with your feet outstretched (more difficult) or your knees slightly bend with your heels on the floor (a bit easier). Contract your core, lift your upper body from the hips so your lower back and shoulders are about 10 inches off the floor. Stretch your arms out along your sides with palms up, and simply hold that position for up to a minute at a time. Ouch. It's a good one.
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.
Go beyond crunches. Sims prefers exercises that challenge you to stabilize your core against imbalance or gravity, like a hands plank with dumbbell pull-through and ab roll-outs using a core-training wheel. "They challenge the entire core by resisting movement instead of creating it," she says of these moves, which she recommends doing in sets of 10 three times. You can repeat the series several times a week.
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.
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.
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]."
My Cardio and Callisthenics circuits really helped me increase my stamina and perform like an athlete. Some of my favourite ones are Burpees, Crab Walk, Jumping Jacks, Jumping Squats, Kettle bell runs and in general, circuits variations that really push me to the limit. I followed an HIIT program on the treadmill where I would run for 2 minutes and walk for 1 for a total of 12 minutes. I used the preprogrammed interval training option on the elliptical and stepper machine. I also went to the park sometimes for my workouts. You’ll be surprised at how different and relatively harder it is to train in the open.