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."
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.
I train 6 times a week with the only goal of getting stronger, lifting heavier and beating my previous records. I aggressively subscribe to the concept of progressive overload where you constantly challenge yourself by increasing volume, intensity, weight or a combination of those 3. This is the only way to continue building lean muscle as someone natural (one who does not consume anabolic steroids or enhancement drugs). I keep notes on how heavy I hit an exercise previously and new exercises I would like to incorporate for each muscle group.
While legs should never be forgotten, this program is designed to concentrate on the abs and upper-body beach muscles. Hit legs on abs/cardio day by isolating each body part at the end of your routine. The idea of isolating muscle groups and upping the volume is predicted by research that backs applied solutions, which we have seen from those with rock-solid physiques.
What's the fastest way to sculpt a rock-solid core like Rocky Balboa's? Slow it down. "Your muscles can handle more weight on the eccentric, or lowering, phase of a lift," says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, California. So decreasing the pace of that phase—like you do with this slo-mo ab exercise from Rocky IV—forces your muscles to work harder, accelerating your gains.
Health fats is another valuable source in order to get lean muscles such as fish oils, raw nuts, olive oils and nut butters into your eating routine. These sources will keep your insulin levels stable, which is very salient if you will likely lose stomach fat and uncover well defined abs. I am not saying to go out there and eat a whole sack of Planters Cashews.
For training, you need to set a serious pace for when you hit the gym. Standing around your overloaded squat bar that you were going to do quarter reps on every five minutes won’t cut it. Start serious volume short-rest training by laying a smackdown on your muscles. Building mass comes at the price of getting lean, so maintenance and permanent pump will be the strategy—the results will be worth it. For training you’re going to do 4 exercises at 4 sets and 12 reps minimum per body part approach. It’s encouraged to do 5 or even 6 sets, and if you’re not struggling with those, then go further. When it comes to abs, slow and steady wins the race. I know it sounds cliché, but large range-of-motion reps with added weight for your 12 reps will produce far deeper cuts than doing 50 crappy situps. Give yourself at least a 4-count per rep on your abs.
Warm up and cool down for 5 to 10 minutes. Go for a brisk walk or jog, do jumping jacks, run in place, or jump rope at the start of your workouts. Moderate aerobic exercise will increase blood flow to your muscles, which reduces your risk of injuring yourself. When you finish working out, cool down for 5 to 10 minutes to help your muscles recover.
To do it: Stand with your feet planted 3-4 feet apart, toes slightly turned out, hands on your hips. Lower into a plie by bending your knees out over your toes and lowering your hips directly underneath your shoulders. Then, as your straighten back up, slowly lift the right knee up towards the right shoulder. As you go back into the plie, slowly return the foot to the floor. Be sure to move at a very controlled pace to really engage the obliques the entire time—on the way up and on the way down. Do 10 repetitions on the right side, then another 10 repetitions on the left side for a total of 20.