To do the V-sit, start in a seated position on the floor, contract your abdominal muscles and core, and lift your legs up to a 45-degree angle as pictured. Reach your arms straight forward or reach up toward your shins as you are able. Maintain good core posture and a strong spine while you hold the position for several seconds. Rest and repeat several times. As you get stronger, hold the position longer.
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 the basic plank is too easy, after 60 seconds, add a few arm and leg lifts to the next 60 seconds. Every 15 seconds, alternate lifting one arm out in front of you while maintaining your posture for 10 seconds and repeating on the other side, and then switch to the legs. Lift the toes 5-10 inches off the floor and hold it for 15 seconds, and repeat with the other leg.
Once you've reduced the layer of body fat to the point where you can find your six pack, performing specific ab and core strengthening exercises will make them much more visible. Once you understand how to safely exercise your abs, you'll find core exercises are most effective when the torso works as a solid unit and both front and back muscles contract at the same time, and you perform multi-joint movements.
“If you need a small treat and indulgence per day, to keep you from overdoing it on the weekends,” says Shapiro, go for it. Just be sure to “stick to about 150 calories or less.” It’s a small trick to help you stay on-track. For a good sweet treat, consider dark chocolate (that’s a bar with a 70 percent or higher cacao rating). According to a study in Circulation Heart Failure, the flavanols within can slash your risk of heart disease by more than 30 percent.
Why it made the list: Decline-bench crunches amp up the challenge by increasing the range of motion over standard crunches, and you can dial up (or down) the degree of difficulty by adjusting the angle of the bench. Adding a medicine ball or weight plate against your chest adds a further level of customizable resistance. This also allows you to manipulate where you want to fail: low, medium, or high reps.
6. Seek guidance from experts. As with many health issues, getting assistance from experts can be enormously helpful. If you want to lose weight, particularly fat, seeking guidance from a registered dietitian or a nutritionist can be very beneficial, Herrington says. Similarly, if you want to build on weight loss to achieve more defined abs, consulting with a certified sports trainer can aid you in developing a workout regimen that will help you achieve your goals, Singer says.
Bent-Elbow Plank: This exercise works the whole trunk, particularly the transversus abdominis. Start by lying on your belly and then lift yourself up onto your toes and forearms (elbows in line with shoulders) while contracting your abdominals and keeping your back neutral. Hold that position for five seconds, then rest and repeat. Ultimately, strive to hold the pose for 90 seconds without any rest -- for one set. If you're more experienced, you can also do this exercise on your hands and toes. (As a beginner, start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine and simply contract the abdominals on an exhale without moving your back.)
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.
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.)
“These days, I do a fair amount of Pilates and yoga to focus on the strength of my core. You don’t have to be a crazy cardio bunny to lower your body fat percentage (to get those abs to show)—bodyweight exercises can be really effective. Yoga and Pilates help me focus on overall strength, not just my core, and it helps make sure I work my back, too. Most people forget about that, but you need a strong back to help support a strong core.” —Dorothy Beal, @mileposts
Creatine works twofold. It helps your muscles retain water, which means they’ll really pop, and it gives you long-lasting energy, which means you can make it through a grueling core workout, no problem. And taking it is effortless: just drop a scoop into your water bottle next time you head to the gym. (Best Life recommends the fruit punch flavor. It’s far and away the smoothest.) And for more great workout-boosting dietary additions, check out the 50 Best Supplements on the Planet.
How to: Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Lower your forearms to the floor with elbows positioned under your shoulders and your hands shoulder-width apart. Your arms should form a 90-degree angle. Maintain a straight line from heels through the top of your head, looking down at the floor, with gaze slightly in front of your face. Tighten your abs and hold. Do 15 reps.
This athletic move takes the plank to an all-new level. "It not only improves your core stability, but it targets muscles in your hips, groin, lower back, and often-neglected lower abs," says Durkin. Get your heart pumping by speeding up the movement, or hammer your core muscles by slowing it down. Either way, the exercise will boost your athleticism and will give you something to bare at the beach.
The starting position has you sitting at about a 45-degree angle and holding a medicine ball firmly with both hands in front of you. Start the movement by contracting your abs and slowly twisting from your torso to your right and tap the medicine ball on the floor beside you. Then quickly, but with a controlled motion, contract your abs and twist your torso and touch the medicine ball to the other side. Repeat 10-20 reps and rest.
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.
Stability moves like the plank are a great way to strengthen a weak core and prevent lower back pain. But if you want to kick things up a notch, then start dancing. When you perform the breakdancer, you'll quickly move your feet from side to side and across your body. However, you must maintain the same rigid, straight torso that you would when performing a plank.
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.
As the kettlebell shifts from hand to hand in front of your body, your core has to stabilize to fight against the movement of your arms, and your biceps, shoulders, and back muscles need to work together to control the pace at which you are catching and releasing the kettlebell. Your lower-body will get a workout, too. You can perform this abs exercise with a bent waist to hammer your hamstrings and glutes or try it in a squat position to target your quadriceps. No matter which way you try it, you'll see bigger strength gains and a smaller waistline in less time.