You may think of power bars as protein-loaded snacks that are perfect pre- or post-workout. And while you’re not entirely wrong, you’re not entirely wrong, either. In addition to high protein levels, many power bars are surreptitiously loaded with sugar, which will bring any ab-seeking efforts of yours screeching to a halt. So, if you’re going to reach for a bar, be sure to check the nutrition facts first. Many bars—like the offerings from ONE or thinkThin—only have 1 gram of sugar for 20 grams of protein (and still taste delicious, to boot).
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.)
The recipe for six-pack abs isn’t all that complicated: Crank out an abs workout, eat a nutrient-rich diet, and consume fewer late-night pizzas in a single sitting. The undisputed holy grail of men’s fitness is good for more than just an extra boost of confidence whenever you have cause to peel off your shirt, too. “The best way to avoid injury, whether in the gym, at home, or at the workplace, is by building a strong core,” says Edwin Wealth, NASM-CPT and trainer at Equinox. Want to do yoga better? Run faster? Squat heavier? Carry the groceries without wincing? It all begins with your core.
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.
Bicycle: This exercise works your obliques as well as your rectus abdominis. Lie on your back, hips and knees bent at 90-degrees, chest curled over ribs, hands behind your head. Extend the left leg out while bringing the right knee in towards the chest and rotating the left shoulder toward the right knee. Keep the arm from crossing the face. Rotate from the trunk through the center to the other side without dropping your chest. Move in slow, controlled movements without shifting your hips.
The reverse crunch comes in 7th place for effective ab exercises, with a focus on the rectus abdominis. With this move, you're curling the hips off the floor, so you'll feel this in the lower part of the abs. The key to this move is to avoid swinging the legs to raise the hips. This is a small, subtle move, so you only need to lift your hips a few inches off the floor.
How much time can these techniques save? A 2011 Spanish study found that men who trained with circuits achieved the same gains as those who trained with straight sets —yet their workouts were 42 percent shorter. But that's not to suggest you should hit the showers early. No, it means circuits and alternating sets can help you squeeze more total sets into the same sweat session.
That's why Jack recommends doing 360 abs to sculpt a washboard stomach and improve core stability all at once. While in a pushup position, you must keep your torso completely still as your legs create sweeping circles in different directions. Doing smaller loops hit your six-pack muscles, while bigger ones hit your entire midsection including your obliques, hips, and lower back.
Do it: Lay face up on the floor with arms straight above your shoulders. To start, bring your knees directly over your hips and bend at the knee so that your calf forms a 90-degree angle with your thigh. Next, simultaneously lower your left arm above your head while straightening your right leg and sending it towards the floor. Pause, return to the starting position, and then repeat on the opposite side. Do 14 alternating reps to complete one set.
"My goals six years ago was to 'get abs' and I used to think cardio and crunches would get me there. But it wasn’t until I started lifting weights and varying my abdominal exercises that I started to see a major change. You don’t realize how much you use your core muscles in order to perform powerful rapid movements like deadlifts!" — Shante Franca, @shantefranca