No matter how strong your core is, you aren’t going to see a six-pack if your muscles are hiding behind a big layer of fat, says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia. “Each individual is going to be slightly different, but the ideal range of body fat in men is eight to 20 percent,” he says. Get below six percent and you could compromise your health.
“Unless you’re naturally gifted or a child, six-pack abs are always going to be a challenge. But remember, muscles have memory, so once you achieve a six pack once, if you lose it, it’ll be easier to get it back later. These days, I can get six-pack abs pretty quickly because I have such deeply ingrained muscle memory from my teenage years as a gymnast, when I was practicing in the gym five hours a day, six days a week.
Why it made the list: Yes, a leg exercise made the top 10 list for abs. Anyone who has ever pushed their potential in the squat knows exactly why! Sure, squat variations work the legs and lower back, but they also crush the abs. Both front and back squats force your abs and spinal erectors to work overtime to maintain a neutral, upright position. If both were not firing at high rates, you'd fold under the weight or drop in a split second.
On hardwood or tiled floor, place feet on two sliders and assume a high plank position (hands under shoulders, soft bend in elbows, butt and core engaged). Pull feet in toward chest, bending knees until you’re in a bear plank, knees below hips, but still lifted off floor. Slowly push feet back to high plank. Continue to repeat. To make it easier, move one leg at a time.
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.
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.
Progressive overload with bodyweight training is different. You don’t want to increase your body’s weight (unless you want to get fat). You can increase the number of reps you do (up to a point) but it’s only a temporary strategy because you’ll see that if you train for a while, the number of reps you can do for each exercise will soar rather quickly.
Start on the floor with your feet outstretched (more difficult) or your knees slightly bend with your heels on the floor (a bit easier). Contract your core, lift your upper body from the hips so your lower back and shoulders are about 10 inches off the floor. Stretch your arms out along your sides with palms up, and simply hold that position for up to a minute at a time. Ouch. It's a good one.
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).
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."