"But after having children and maturing, my body image has changed. I don’t run or eat to look a certain way, but instead to feel a certain way—happy. I no longer count calories or restrict what I eat. I focus on real food that’s minimally processed, and most meals include some sort of carbs (I really love potatoes), protein, and lots of veggies. All of that, coupled with higher mileage during more intense marathon training, has led me to how I look today. When I’m not in the middle of marathon training, I’m often five to 10 pounds heavier—and that’s totally okay.” —Michele Gonzalez, @nycrunningmama
World-renowned spine specialist Stuart McGill recently referred to the Swiss-Ball Stir-the-Pot as the best core exercise you can do. Try it once, and you’ll start to see why: It’s hard. Make that really hard. That’s because it combines two elements that leave your abs screaming: instability and dynamic movement. This combo allows you to work your rectus abdominis (a.k.a. six-pack muscles), obliques, and all of the muscles that help stabilize your spine from just about every direction. The upshot: an ab workout like you’ve never done.
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.
Exercise also can't erase a couple factors beyond your control, experts say. "I think age plays a critical role in how easy or hard it is to get 'six-pack abs.' It's all about hormones – when we are younger, we have more circulating androgen hormones, which affords us the ability to not eat clean and yet continue to be shredded," Chait says. Our androgen hormone levels decline after we reach age 27, he says. (Testosterone is an androgen hormone in men. In women, a primary purpose of androgens is to be converted into female hormones known as estrogen.) After that age, "we need to focus more on dietary adjustments to maintain a lean body," Chait says.
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.
We all want a solid core for different reasons: sports performance, pain prevention, that finish line photo—but strengthening your midsection is particularly important for runners. That’s because your core is the stabilizing center of your body (it keeps you standing, least of all sprinting), and it can make or break your speed goals, prevent (or contribute to!) an injury, and yes, make you feel pretty badass in a sports bra.
A regular pushup works your core. A reverse pushup will work it so hard your abs will want to form a labor union. “When your legs fire your body forward, your core has to work extremely hard to decelerate your body,” says B.J. Gaddour, C.S.C.S., director of Men's Health StreamFIT. So this ab exercise not only works your shoulders and arms, but gives you a killer core workout at the same time.
1. Consume fewer calories than you're burning every day. Job one when trying to achieve a six-pack is to lose weight, which means expending more calories than you take in on a daily basis, says Dani Singer, a certified fitness nutrition specialist and certified personal trainer in Baltimore. He's the director of Fit2Go Personal Training. To optimize losing fat and not muscle, you need to be in a caloric deficit, eat adequate protein and strength train, he says. "The source of your food will affect health, but will have zero effect on your body composition," Singer says. "It's the total calories and macronutrients [protein, fat and carbs] from your foods that will determine how your body looks."
As easy as the models and athletes in our magazine make being lean and ripped look, we’ve got to be honest, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s hard, it takes time, and it demands an unwavering degree of discipline. In our on-going efforts to assist you in sculpting the body you’ve always wanted, we’ve laid out the gold rules to getting ripped.
Last but not least, it is essential to get enough sleep if you want to get the six pack you have always dreamed of. As an adult, you should sleep between 7 and 8 hours per night. People who don’t sleep enough are more prone to obesity, when you don’t sleep properly your the hormones for regulating your body’s appetite are all out of whack. Get a good night’s sleep and you’ll find it much easier to stick to a healthy diet.
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.
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.
The rectus abdominis is the muscle you think of when you think "abs." It's the outermost abdominal muscle, and runs vertically along each side of your abdominal wall. The transverse abdominis is the deepest muscle of the abdominal wall, which means it's closest to your spine, and basically wraps around your torso between your ribs and your hips. The oblique muscles run along the sides of your torso, and there are two sets: internal and external. The internal obliques lie above the transverse abdominis, and then the external obliques are on top of those (they're the most superficial of the bunch). There's also a handful of other smaller muscles in this area—what we call the core—that work to stabilize the spine and allow us to bent and twist and lift without hurting ourselves.
Let's come clean from the start: We're not here to sell you on the single "best ab exercise ever." Too many organizations and authors have tried that, and the profusion of "winners" out there can make it confusing—especially because the studies backing them are always limited in one way or another. A few years ago, it was the bicycle crunch. Then it was the traditional crunch. Then it was the pike, the plank, the roll-out... We could go on.
Refresh your abs workout with these 25 core exercises. They'll challenge your abs from all angles, making you stronger in everything you do and giving you a body you'll be proud to show off shirtless. And for a complete fitness program that will not only build your abs muscles, but also melt the fat that covers them, try Anarchy Abs from Men's Health. You’ll get five 30-minute calorie-torching workouts that employ a unique blend of metabolic training, traditional strength training, and gymnastics fundamentals to strip away fat from head to toe.
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