The reality isn't that simple, experts say. The answer to whether it's possible for someone to develop abs without adhering to a diet or by simply cutting back on calories is "maybe," says Evan M. Chait, a clinical nutritionist, physical therapist and acupuncturist based in Ramsey, New Jersey. He's a co-founder of the Kinetic PT and AcuWellness America centers. Anyone can cut calories and lose weight, Chait says. Dropping fatty pounds from your midsection can reveal the abdominal muscles that everyone has. "Six-pack" isn't a physiological term; rather, it's a shorthand way to refer to the rectus abdominus, the outer band of stomach muscle connecting the rib cage to the pelvis.
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."
Why it made the list: Yes, a leg exercise made the top 10 list for abs. Anyone who has ever pushed their potential in the squat knows exactly why! Sure, squat variations work the legs and lower back, but they also crush the abs. Both front and back squats force your abs and spinal erectors to work overtime to maintain a neutral, upright position. If both were not firing at high rates, you'd fold under the weight or drop in a split second.
Build a strong back and sculpt a rock-solid middle in one shot with the archer row. This ab exercise combines a staggered side plank with a dumbbell row. "As the load moves up and down, your body has to fight to resist rotation," says Gaddour. That means your entire core—lower-back muscles, obliques, rectus abdominis (also known as your six-pack muscles)—is working overtime to keep your spine stable.
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.
Spend a lot of money on expensive supplements and food — There are plenty of (rather expensive) supplements like plant protein powders and vegetarian meal replacement shakes. You might have to substitute more of solid food for these supplements to hit your ideal macro goals. As a vegetarian, you’re also not going to get in a lot of BCAAs through food so you might have to supplement with them separately. I’m not the one to tell you whether this is a good idea or not. If you can afford purchasing fancy food and supplements frequently, up to you.
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.
Lying on your back with hands either by your side or tucked under your pelvis, keep legs as straight as possible without locking them out and raise them so your heels point at the ceiling., lift your glutes off the floor and feet towards the ceiling as your twist hips to the left, feet point right, then lower, lift, and twist to the opposite side. That’s one rep and we’re already tired.
The crunch is the most popular abs exercise because anyone can do it. But that doesn't mean it's the best exercise for training your middle. "Crunches flex your trunk," says David Jack, owner of ActivPrayer in Phoenix, Arizona and creator of Men's Health MA40 Workout. "But the main function of your core is to prevent movement and resist force through your torso."
Many people ask themselves how lean should they be. The ideal body fat percentage varies based on gender and on how active you are. For instance, the average body fat for a woman is between 25-31%, while for a man it is between 18-24%. On the other hand, the ideal body fat percentage for a woman who works out is between 24-21%, while for men it should be between 14-17%. To get a clearly defined six pack, a man needs to get to under 10%.
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.)