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.
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.
“I alternate between all-out effort sprints (30 to 60 seconds) and walk/jog as a recovery until I feel fatigued. Intensity is key. Abs work as stabilizing muscles during a sprint, so the harder I push myself the harder my abs will work! Plus, there’s no equipment required, and I get a high calorie burn and full-body workout done in very little time. (I tell myself I can do anything for 30 seconds.) Depending on how I feel, I’ll either add this to the end of a routine or make it my entire workout, two to three times a week.” —Suzanne Cover, @suzannecover
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%.
Start by placing your heels on a low bench and holding two light dumbbells (begin with 3 pounds). Place a rolled-up towel under your lower back to increase the range of motion of your upper abs. Point your toes. From this start position, raise your upper body to the position shown in the second photo. Breathe normally. Now press the weights overhead. Keeping your arms straight, press your heels hard into the bench, then lower your upper body and allow the weights to arc behind your head.
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.
To do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Bring both arms overhead and hold onto the bottom of couch or a heavy medicine ball (as shown). Cross your right ankle on top of your left knee. Exhale and lift your legs in (in the same cross-legged position) as close to your chest as possible, lifting your hips and lower back off the floor. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Try for up to 15 reps with the right leg, then repeat on the left.
Despite the fact that sit-ups been widely rebuked—everyone from Harvard Medical School to the U.S. Army advises against performing them—you shouldn’t discount the classic move just yet. The sit-up’s “primary function is to work your rectus abdominis, which are those six-pack muscles that most people want,” says Katie Barrett, lead instructor at B/SPOKE Cycling Studio in Boston and a certified personal trainer. “But doing that full sit-up is also going to work your hip flexors and other stabilizing core muscles.” The key is making sure you’re doing them correctly. (And here’s how to do just that).
The inspiration for this exercise might come from skiing, but it's also an effective way to prepare your midsection for many sports, including tennis, softball, and golf. The reason: "It trains your abs, lower back, and hips to work together to rotate your body from side to side," says Durkin. And the more powerfully you can rotate, the faster you can swing and the harder you can throw.
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Body Recomposition — This essentially refers to losing body fat and building muscle at the same time. Now, conventional wisdom dictates that you cannot do both at the same time . This however, is not entirely true. You can lose fat and build muscle at the same time if you are in a positive nitrogen balance (I just take this to be sufficient protein intake) OR you’ve never trained with weights before. When you first start lifting, your body is not used to the amount of wear and tear (shock) resistance training causes to your muscles. Because of this, your body amps up it’s testosterone (muscle building hormone) production to make sure it can keep up, resulting in some awesome newbie gains. These are highly accelerated periods of muscle growth right after you start training. It’s often said that the muscle you gain during your first 1–2 years of training is more than all of the muscle you can pack on in subsequent years combined. Seeing these quick gains is great as it’s extremely satisfying and motivating as a newbie.
Follow a program. Alcantara is all about consistency — one reason why she recommends choosing a structured fitness plan rather than shooting in the dark and praying you surface with abs. "Follow it to 100 percent, do it back-to-back," she says. Many fitfluencers offer their own programs, but you'll want one from a certified fitness trainer like Alcantara, who offers an eight-week guide.
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.
To do it: Lie on the floor with your arms extended above your head and both legs lifted in the air at about a 45-degree angle. Inhale, roll your head and shoulders off the mat, press your ribs down toward your hip bones and exhale, lifting your entire upper body off the mat (keeping both legs up). At the top of the exercise, "land" your arms so that the arms and legs are parallel to one another. Then, breathe "naturally" while holding the top/up position for two slow counts. Reverse the action by inhaling and then rolling your back, shoulders and head down onto the mat exhaling at the start position.
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.
Eat carbs. "There's this notion that carbs are bad and that you need crazy amounts of protein to be lean and fit," says Alcantara, who disagrees, and eats just as much carbs as protein, although the ideal ratio varies based on your goals. "Whatever you eat to get the results you want has to be sustainable, otherwise you're going to end up right back where you started with the same habits that got you there."