"Most guys neglect their obliques in favor of their six-pack muscles, and that's a mistake," says Jack. "Your obliques not only support your spine, but they also help your abs work together with the muscles of your hips and lower back to explosively rotate your torso." That means you'll be able to lift heavier loads on every exercise, while adding a ton of rotational power to your tee shot and Hail Mary pass at the same time.
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."
This athletic move takes the plank to an all-new level. "It not only improves your core stability, but it targets muscles in your hips, groin, lower back, and often-neglected lower abs," says Durkin. Get your heart pumping by speeding up the movement, or hammer your core muscles by slowing it down. Either way, the exercise will boost your athleticism and will give you something to bare at the beach.
Do it: With your feet shoulder-width apart, lift a barbell off the rig, centering it evenly across your shoulders. (This version of the squat targets the core, not the legs, and so you should be using far less weight than you would for a traditional back squat.) Send your glutes back like you’re lowering into a chair, bending at the knees as deeply as possible. Press through your heels to return to the starting position for one rep. Do 12 reps for one set.
Why it made the list: Those infomercials got one thing right! Some EMG data suggests that using an ab wheel may beat out hanging leg raises, sit-ups, and reverse crunches for the top muscle activator. This movement capitalizes on the concept of anti-extension perfectly; as you roll out, your trunk must actively fire (eccentric motion) to maintain a neutral spine without collapsing under your body weight and gravity. Watch that you don't risk your back by allowing it to droop into extension at the bottom, though!
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders down, and your abs drawn in. Hinge forward at your waist and inch forward, walking with your hands into a top-of-the-pushup (or plank) position. Hold plank for three seconds, being sure to keep your chest lifted and your belly button drawn into your spine. Your body should form a straight line from your ears to your ankles. Then, perform one pushup by bending your elbows to the sides and lowering your body towards (but not touching) the floor, maintaining a straight spine.
"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
So let's get to it. Here are the experts' choices on the most effective abdominal exercises. These should be performed two to three times weekly (for beginners, two is plenty to start). Each exercise should be executed until the point of momentary muscular failure, which should happen between 30 and 90 seconds. This is considered one set, which should be no more than 15 to 20 repetitions. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds. Concentrate on performing each exercise slowly with good form. Work up to completing two to three sets of each exercise.
Be content with slow but definite progress — It’s near obvious your meals are going to contain more fat, more carbs and lesser protein than a meal which has meat. However, if you think you can make this work long term and are willing to commit yourself, you will definitely see amazing progress. Just make sure you’re in a slight caloric deficit (or surplus, if you’re underweight), consume sufficient protein (atleast 0.5gms of protein per pound of bodyweight) and hit the weights hard.
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Contrary to what popular culture portrays, one does not need to lift really heavy if muscle hypertrophy, aka “bigger muscles” or aesthetic gains are the primary goal (see bodybuilding vs powerlifting). One needs to ensure that a particular muscle is subjected to enough time under tension and training volume to ensure that muscle fibres are broken down and rebuilt stronger over time. This can be done by following a high-volume, moderately high rep range, moderate weight and low rest period lifting routine. I start off with 5 sets of a heavier compound lift eventually moving to isolation exercises. I started off with the popular ‘3 sets of 10’ for isolation exercises, then to 12 and now hit 4 sets with the rep ranges 15,12,10 and 8. Higher reps would mean a lighter weight and vice versa. My last set is almost invariably a dropset. I hit around 15 -18 working sets per muscle group per week.
Bodyweight training builds an excellent muscular foundation. After I built my six pack abs with bodyweight training, I wanted to build more muscle so I started lifting weights. 4 months after I started weightlifting, I was deadlifting 460 pounds, bench pressing 275 pounds, squatting 365 pounds and military pressing 175 pounds. I owe this incredibly fast progress to the foundation I built with bodyweight training. (If you don’t believe me, read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography that documents his bodybuilding career (which I reviewed here) and you’ll see that he also recommends newbies to start building muscle with bodyweight training.)
"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.
To do it: Lie on your back with your arms out to each side in a ‘T’ shape, palms facing down. Position a stability ball between your feet and extend both legs up towards the ceiling, just above your hips, knees slightly bent. Gently squeeze into the ball, draw your abs in tight, and press your ribcage into the floor as you carefully move the ball to the right, lowering both legs towards the floor (only go as far toward floor as you can without dropping to the side). Press the ball back up to the ceiling and repeat to the left, alternating sides for one minute.
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.
How to: Lie on your left side with your legs straight and your right leg stacked on your left. Position yourself so your weight is resting on your left forearm and the outside edge of your left foot. Your elbow should be directly beneath your shoulder, and your upper arm should be perpendicular to the floor. Align your body so it forms a straight line from your neck to your ankles, and place your right hand on your hip. Lower your hips toward the ground a couple inches, then come back up to start. That’s one rep. Do 15 reps on each side.