"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.
How much time can these techniques save? A 2011 Spanish study found that men who trained with circuits achieved the same gains as those who trained with straight sets —yet their workouts were 42 percent shorter. But that's not to suggest you should hit the showers early. No, it means circuits and alternating sets can help you squeeze more total sets into the same sweat session.
Alcohol also hurts you in two other areas: “It is a diuretic, which dehydrates you and reduces energy levels,” he says. “It also can decrease testosterone in our bodies which is critical for creating muscle.” Next time you’re planning guys’ night, stick to one or two light beers or a hard liquor with a diet soda mixer. After that, opt for club soda with a lime—nobody but the bartender will know.
So why so much chest, back, and arms work? Ironically, showcasing your newfound six-pack won't be just about the abs. By building up your entire upper body, you’ll create more shape that will help define the midsection. Your volume of muscle building will also increase your metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories in the process. Remember, it’s all connected. You'll thrash your abs three days a week along with some interval cardio activity for 30 minutes, and bang out some other muscle groups or hit a second helping of arms with whatever time you have left. Your other three days per week will be dedicated to chest, back, and arms exercises, so that your upper-body mass grows—increasing the V-angle and minimizing the chance of having a belly.
Your core muscles allow you to stabilize your spine when you do pushups, shovel snow, walk up stairs, pick up your kids from the floor, and otherwise go about the motions of everyday life. "That's why the best ab exercises don't flex your spine, they keep your spine straight," says Durkin. The hip-up does exactly that while also sculpting your obliques and increasing your rotational control and stability.
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.
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.)