Exercise also can't erase a couple factors beyond your control, experts say. "I think age plays a critical role in how easy or hard it is to get 'six-pack abs.' It's all about hormones – when we are younger, we have more circulating androgen hormones, which affords us the ability to not eat clean and yet continue to be shredded," Chait says. Our androgen hormone levels decline after we reach age 27, he says. (Testosterone is an androgen hormone in men. In women, a primary purpose of androgens is to be converted into female hormones known as estrogen.) After that age, "we need to focus more on dietary adjustments to maintain a lean body," Chait says.
A University of Southern Maine study found that a single set of a weight-training exercise torches as many calories as running at a 6-minute-mile pace for the same amount of time. So for every second you spend lifting weights, your body is expending high amounts of energy. Add high intensity interval training (HIIT) principles to your workout, and you could see even more gains.
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.
To make sure you stay safe, put one hand underneath the small of your back, crunch your head and shoulders up just a handful of inches, hold for about 10 seconds, and release back down, advises Stuart M. McGill, Ph.D., director of the spine biomechanics laboratory at the University of Waterloo. This move basically ensures that you aren’t rounding your back so that your weight doesn’t drop into your low spine, per McGill.
Go beyond crunches. Sims prefers exercises that challenge you to stabilize your core against imbalance or gravity, like a hands plank with dumbbell pull-through and ab roll-outs using a core-training wheel. "They challenge the entire core by resisting movement instead of creating it," she says of these moves, which she recommends doing in sets of 10 three times. You can repeat the series several times a week.
Lying on your back with hands either by your side or tucked under your pelvis, keep legs as straight as possible without locking them out and raise them so your heels point at the ceiling., lift your glutes off the floor and feet towards the ceiling as your twist hips to the left, feet point right, then lower, lift, and twist to the opposite side. That’s one rep and we’re already tired.
After having achieved this goal, there’s a seemingly big void in my life. I intend to fill it up with another ambitious goal instead of more training, though the latter is far more tempting! I find that training, staying fit, and eating right fits in very well with my lifestyle. I intend to keep it that way while being content with slow but lean and steady gains over time. I do intend on dabbling in boxing and advanced callisthenics in the future.
Lie on your back and bend your knees, placing a Swiss ball across your hips. With your hands on top of the ball and your body crunched forward as demonstrated, push your arms down as hard as possible for six seconds. The harder you push, the more the ball will resist you, giving your abs an intense stimulus. Exhale, relax for a few seconds, and then repeat.
How to: Lie faceup on floor with arms and legs in the air, knees bent 90 degrees. Maintaining contact between low back and floor, brace core, then slowly and simultaneously lower right leg until heel nearly touches floor and left arm until hand nearly touches floor overhead. Pause, then return to start and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Do 15 reps.
To do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Bring both arms overhead and hold onto the bottom of couch or a heavy medicine ball (as shown). Cross your right ankle on top of your left knee. Exhale and lift your legs in (in the same cross-legged position) as close to your chest as possible, lifting your hips and lower back off the floor. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Try for up to 15 reps with the right leg, then repeat on the left.
2. Cut out or greatly curtail your consumption of refined sugar. Not all calories are equal when you're trying to lose weight and develop a six-pack, Herrington says. For example, 200 calories from a robust serving of beans or from a sugary cookie provide vastly different amounts of nutrition. A serving of beans would typically contain good amounts of protein, potassium, magnesium and dietary fiber, while a cookie packed with sugar is mostly empty calories, Herrington says. She advises staying away from foods like white bread, cakes and pies and white crackers that are laden with refined sugar. You should also eschew sugary sports drinks, fruit juices and sodas, in favor of plain water or milk. "The biggest thing I advise people to avoid is added sugars," Herrington says. "If you want to cut out body fat, cut that out. Refined sugar isn't doing you any good. You get a temporary boost of energy, then you crash and crave more. It's like burning money; it's a waste." Eating too much refined sugar is also linked to fatty liver disease, obesity and diabetes, she says.
To do it: Start in a plank position with one small towel placed under each ball of your foot, legs together. Bring your left knee in towards the right side of your chest, squeezing your abs. Then, straighten your right leg back out to full plank and bring your right knee in towards the left side of the your chest and back out to full plank. Next, draw both knees into your chest at the same time and then slide your legs back out to full plank. That’s one rep. Build up to 3 sets of 12-15 reps (resting in between).
4. Be sure to eat enough protein. As you lower your calorie intake and cut down on processed foods and refined sugar, be sure to get enough protein, Singer says. "Prioritizing protein will help you maintain muscle mass," he says. Lean meats, skinless chicken and turkey, beans and lentils, tofu and soy-based foods, eggs, nuts and low-fat dairy products are good sources of protein. Your body breaks down protein into amino acids, which it uses to build muscle, according to Harvard Health. Research published in 2015 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that for all adults, consuming high-quality protein (from eggs, beef and dairy products, for instance) in combination with physical activity "represents a promising strategy to delay the onset of sarcopenia [a disease characterized by loss of muscle mass and strength]."
Leg day, arms day, chest-and-shoulders day. You already break up your regular workouts by muscle group; steal a page out of Alicia Vikander’s ab-shredding book and do the same to your core. To get ripped for Tomb Raider, Vikander broke her core workouts into three days: isometric (endurance moves, like planks); strength (sit-ups, hanging leg raises); and oblique-specific (told you so).
To do the V-sit, start in a seated position on the floor, contract your abdominal muscles and core, and lift your legs up to a 45-degree angle as pictured. Reach your arms straight forward or reach up toward your shins as you are able. Maintain good core posture and a strong spine while you hold the position for several seconds. Rest and repeat several times. As you get stronger, hold the position longer.
Spend a lot of money on expensive supplements and food — There are plenty of (rather expensive) supplements like plant protein powders and vegetarian meal replacement shakes. You might have to substitute more of solid food for these supplements to hit your ideal macro goals. As a vegetarian, you’re also not going to get in a lot of BCAAs through food so you might have to supplement with them separately. I’m not the one to tell you whether this is a good idea or not. If you can afford purchasing fancy food and supplements frequently, up to you.
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.)