Instead of copying the experienced bodybuilders, newbies would be better off if they took advantage of a phenomenon called newbie gains (a.k.a. beginner gains). There’s a brief phase in strength training where building muscle and burning fat at the same time is a better strategy than bulking and cutting. It’s the beginner phase. Thanks to newbie gains, beginners will build muscle fast even in a state of caloric deficit, provided that they train and eat right.
“You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again—what you put in your mouth matters. It’s crucial to trimming up your core. You can do crunches for days, but if you aren’t fueling properly you’ll never see those abs! My favorite foods to snack on for flat abs are blueberries, apples, sweet potatoes, eggs, lean poultry, and green tea. ” —Amanda Butler, @amandabutlernyc
Here at Men's Health we love the plank. It strengthens your abs, stabilizes your spine, and prevents lower back pain. But let's be honest: Once you master the move, it can get boring just hovering there. That's why Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., strength coach at Cressey Perfomance in Hudson, Massachussetts, came up with prone plate switches—a new, super hard version of the classic ab exercise.
“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
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%.
"I have researched this move in my lab, and it is very effective at activating all of the abdominal muscles (the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and the transverse abdominins), and yet the movement is very straightforward and does not require several steps or positions, says Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery.
Core exercises target the same muscles that crunches do — but they also include your hip and lower-back muscles. So what's a true core exercise? One that trains you to keep your spine stable and in its natural alignment. Besides the plank (more on that in a minute), scores of exercises qualify, including the side plank, mountain climber, rollouts, hollow body holds, and even the pushup.
Evening Snacks (5.00PM) —1 scoop whey protein, 5 almonds, 3 walnuts. If it’s cardio day I mix a spoonful of peanut butter with my protein shake for some extra fat that satiates my hunger. I also keep a couple of reasonably priced Sugar Free Protein Bars in my bag in the rare cases when my hunger gets really bad or if I couldn’t manage a proper meal. There are some really expensive ones out there and while I’ve indulged in a few of them, the ones I linked to give me the best bang for buck and are also incredibly tasty.
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."