We all want a solid core for different reasons: sports performance, pain prevention, that finish line photo—but strengthening your midsection is particularly important for runners. That’s because your core is the stabilizing center of your body (it keeps you standing, least of all sprinting), and it can make or break your speed goals, prevent (or contribute to!) an injury, and yes, make you feel pretty badass in a sports bra.
The reality isn't that simple, experts say. The answer to whether it's possible for someone to develop abs without adhering to a diet or by simply cutting back on calories is "maybe," says Evan M. Chait, a clinical nutritionist, physical therapist and acupuncturist based in Ramsey, New Jersey. He's a co-founder of the Kinetic PT and AcuWellness America centers. Anyone can cut calories and lose weight, Chait says. Dropping fatty pounds from your midsection can reveal the abdominal muscles that everyone has. "Six-pack" isn't a physiological term; rather, it's a shorthand way to refer to the rectus abdominus, the outer band of stomach muscle connecting the rib cage to the pelvis.

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.


“The bird dog forces you to keep your core stiff,” says Jack. “Lifting your knees off the ground just a couple of inches—as you do in this exercise—makes it even more challenging to keep your torso still as you switch arms and legs.” That means your hips and lower-back muscles, obliques, rectus abdominis (also known as the six-pack muscles) are working together to keep your spine stable.

Restricting Roti and Rice intake — Rice and Roti, two staple elements of a typical Indian diet are both forms of ‘fast carbs’ — meaning they have a high Glycemic Index. They instantly spike your blood sugar levels and give you energy, which when not used quickly is stored as fat. Fast carbs in general tend to make you feel hungrier which results in overeating and subsequent weight gain (see carb crash). You want to severely restrict eating them and all their derivatives (poha, idli, dosa) in the earlier parts of your day while consuming them only in your pre-workout, post-workout or dinner. Consuming them before workouts gives you the energy to perform and consuming them after means you’re restoring muscle glycogen, refuelling your body and maintaining some sanity. Unfortunately, a typical Indian meal is rather high in carbs and very low in protein. No, lentils (dal/sambar) are not enough protein for you. Infact, they barely qualify. Nearly every other country’s staple food is centred around a source of protein (typically meat) along with some carbs on the side. In India, it’s the other way round. My theory is that this is the reason most folks fall under the ‘skinny fat’ category. It’s all due to imbalanced nutrition.


“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
The Single Leg Bridge Exercise is a good way to wrap up your core workout in order to keep your core strong and balanced. The single leg bridge is a bit more challenging than the basic bridge exercise. It targets and strengthen the gluteus maximus and hamstrings, but done properly, it is also a terrific core strengthening exercise that targets the posterior chain and the back of the body.
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."
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).
I try to ensure my form and posture is correct and verify the same by heading over to YouTube and clearly looking at the way every exercise is performed, taking screenshots. While I do cheat towards the end with heavy reps, I make sure I nail the first 4–5 perfectly. I also made it a point to not skip leg day. Exercising legs has incredible benefits like making you stronger on your compound lifts and releasing the maximum amount of testosterone.

Build a strong back and sculpt a rock-solid middle in one shot with the archer row. This ab exercise combines a staggered side plank with a dumbbell row. "As the load moves up and down, your body has to fight to resist rotation," says Gaddour. That means your entire core—lower-back muscles, obliques, rectus abdominis (also known as your six-pack muscles)—is working overtime to keep your spine stable.
Some experts recommend eating six small meals a day, instead of the more conventional three, cutting out added sugars and processed foods, and loading up on dependable sources of protein to help build new muscle in your midsection. Before you commit to any new diet, though, speak to your doctor and/or a nutritionist to see what they believe will work best for you.
“You will not make more muscle by trying this route,” says McComsey. When you do cardio you’re burning calories, but you’re not stimulating your muscles to grow as you would with weight training. “The more muscle you have, the more calories and fat you’ll be burning,” he says. McComsey recommends hitting the weight room three or four days per week, with one of those days being a circuit with a variety of exercises. If you need to do cardio, try one day of 20-minutes of fast-slow intervals.
Supplementation — It’s hard to get all your macros from food, especially while staying in a caloric deficit. More food means more calories, buying more ingredients, more cooking and lot many issues that you don’t really want to deal with on a daily basis. Supplements are called so because they are meant to supplement your nutrition and lifestyle, not act as a substitute. It’s imperative to find a fine line between the two for yourself and use them judiciously. I use the following supplements and have linked them to the exact brand, product and place I purchased them from. I am not paid to promote anything I’ve mentioned here. My sole motive is to tell you what I used and how it could possibly help you too.
Like I mentioned earlier, I never quite knew why I looked a certain way. Body types are determined by your genetics and that’s something you can do very little about. Some people can eat bad foods all the time and get away with it, others can’t (college is the perfect time to observe this phenomenon). The only way I could deal with this was to embrace my features, understand my body tendencies and eat as well as train accordingly.

Try starting your day off eating heavier, and ending on a light dinner. Instead of waking up and running out of the door with a banana, eating a small lunch, and then eating a hefty dinner, try making your breakfast your heaviest meal and your dinner the lightest. For carb intake at dinner time, try to ingest the wet types of carbs that are in high-water, medium-fiber foods.
To do it: Lie down with a small ball (a small pillow will also work if you don’t have a ball) under your heels, both arms extended over your head, palms facing towards each other. Inhale to prepare as you lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor and then exhale as you continue to roll up by drawing in your abdominals, reaching up and over towards the feet. Keep your abdominals contracted, with your spine rounded in a ‘C’ curve, and then inhale to prepare and exhale as you roll down through each vertebra in a controlled movement, keeping your heels pressed evenly into the ball the entire way up and down. Do 15 reps as controlled and precise as you can.
"But after having children and maturing, my body image has changed. I don’t run or eat to look a certain way, but instead to feel a certain way—happy. I no longer count calories or restrict what I eat. I focus on real food that’s minimally processed, and most meals include some sort of carbs (I really love potatoes), protein, and lots of veggies. All of that, coupled with higher mileage during more intense marathon training, has led me to how I look today. When I’m not in the middle of marathon training, I’m often five to 10 pounds heavier—and that’s totally okay.” —Michele Gonzalez, @nycrunningmama
“Do I have a secret for building a ripped midsection?” asks Gregg Avedon, a certified personal trainer and former male model. “Yes, I do: hanging leg raises.” Whereas crunches and sit-ups hit the top part of your core, hanging leg raises work that hard-to-hit lower ab section, too. To reap the full effect, Avedon does three sets of 30 at the start of every workout. And for more sage advice from Avedon, learn his Best One-Move, Total-Body Workouts Of All Time.
To do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with the barbell on the back of your shoulders. Lower your body toward the floor, sending your hips back and down and bending your knees. Push through your heels to return to start position, keeping your back flat and head up throughout the movement. Try to do 8-10 reps for 3 sets (resting 45-60 seconds between sets).
But you can still go wrong. Because your feet are hooked, it's all too easy to pull through your thighs. Nor do you want to go all the way down to rest on the bench between reps; stay well off it. If you're not feeling a wicked burn, drop all the weight, put your hands on your belly, and really focus on the contraction at a slower pace. You can also introduce a cross-body movement, angling your elbow to the opposite-side thigh, to better engage the obliques.

Fats —Fats get a bad rep. Fats are actually required for the normal and healthy functioning of your body. They key is to consume healthy fats from sources such as almonds and walnuts without going overboard. If your fat levels are low, it’s going to affect the testosterone levels in your body, affecting your gains. Also, if you completely eliminate fats from your food, your body starts converting all your carbs into fat and we all know where that ends up!
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.[2] Watch that you don't risk your back by allowing it to droop into extension at the bottom, though!
A. If you’re someone who just can’t do without eating something, by all means don’t give it up. I personally find it very hard to let go of bread completely so it’s a part of my daily meals. A rule of thumb to follow is “IIFYM-If It Fits Your Macros”. This allows you to be flexible with the food you eat while making sure it doesn’t impact your overall nutrition requirements.
We put this on the list because of how easy it is to manipulate the degree of difficulty. If a regular plank is too easy for you, lift an arm, or a leg—or an arm and a leg. Put your feet into a TRX and give that a whirl. Still too easy? Take your feet out, and put your forearms in. Each one of these progressions leads to a greater training stimulus to the abs.

If it was possible for the experienced bodybuilders to build muscle without gaining fat or, better, build muscle and lose fat at the same time then they would do it in a heartbeat. Who wants to go through the ordeal of bulking and cutting when it’s possible to build muscle and burn fat at the same time? The answer is hidden in the muscle growth rate. Muscle growth follows a logarithmic pattern (rather than a linear pattern), which means that muscular gains come quickly in the beginning but they decrease over time.
Why it made the list: It turns out the ball is good for more than just sitting and waiting for your partner to finish his set! A research team from California State, Sacramento demonstrated that the pike movement is one of the most effective total-ab workouts.[3] It topped their EMG list for upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. This movement may be the heavy hitter that's been missing from your daily routine. While not exactly the same, the pike can also be done using a TRX system with similar results expected.
Creatine works twofold. It helps your muscles retain water, which means they’ll really pop, and it gives you long-lasting energy, which means you can make it through a grueling core workout, no problem. And taking it is effortless: just drop a scoop into your water bottle next time you head to the gym. (Best Life recommends the fruit punch flavor. It’s far and away the smoothest.) And for more great workout-boosting dietary additions, check out the 50 Best Supplements on the Planet.
I also advise you to take weekly pictures of your body so that you are able to observe how your body changes. You’ll not notice the daily changes solely by looking in the mirror as the changes will be too gradual to be noticed by daily observation but they will be visible when they accumulate. The good thing is that you don’t have to wait until you get six-pack abs to notice major changes in your body. When I was just 5 weeks into my bodyweight training routine, people around me had started complimenting my physique. Seeing your body changing and receiving compliments on your physique will keep you motivated to stay on track.
I use the ab machines at the gym. I do a couple variations on crunches (sitting up and lying down both on machines with weights. I can crunch 55lbs on the one that’s sitting position, 40 on the other), hanging leg lifts (which kill my shoulders), the oblique twist machine, as well as full body workouts. I just started the gym about 2 months ago and have really upped the weight since then so my body is definitely progressing.
Here’s a how a standard HIIT routine goes: one minute of strenuous exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest, repeated four to six times. You can do it for anything: sprinting followed by walking; biking full-steam followed by a casual pace; butterfly strokes followed by a doggy paddle. Or, if you really want to turn up the heat on HIIT, try out The Single Best HIIT Workout For Turning Back the Clock.

One of the best tricks for getting six-pack abs is to lose some weight, even if it’s just a few pounds. And one of the best ways to lose weight is to adhere to the 80-20 method. Since it takes your brain about 20 minutes to “catch up” to your stomach and realize that, hey, you’re full, oftentimes, you’ll eat more than you need to. So eat 80 percent of what you’d normally eat, then wait 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry, eat the remaining 20 percent of your portion. But chances are, you won’t be hungry one bit. And for more great ways to lose weight, master the 20 Techniques Successful Dieters Share.
Better news: By doing the types of routines here that strengthen from all angles and focus on function (how your body moves in real life) rather than flexion (crunches), you’ll look good and have a stronger core and less risk of lower back injury. “Not only will you see better gains faster, it’s also the quickest way to take inches off your waistline,” says Fitzgerald.
Why it made the list: There are many reasons to like leg raise variations, but one is their scalability. You can start doing bent knee raises in the Roman chair or ab straps to focus on the lower core, work up to straight leg raises, and then move to a hanging bar. By the time you can do full straight-leg toes-to-bar raises, your entire core will have strength for days.
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."
To do it: Lie down with a small ball (a small pillow will also work if you don’t have a ball) under your heels, both arms extended over your head, palms facing towards each other. Inhale to prepare as you lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor and then exhale as you continue to roll up by drawing in your abdominals, reaching up and over towards the feet. Keep your abdominals contracted, with your spine rounded in a ‘C’ curve, and then inhale to prepare and exhale as you roll down through each vertebra in a controlled movement, keeping your heels pressed evenly into the ball the entire way up and down. Do 15 reps as controlled and precise as you can.
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