"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.
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.
Once you've reduced the layer of body fat to the point where you can find your six pack, performing specific ab and core strengthening exercises will make them much more visible. Once you understand how to safely exercise your abs, you'll find core exercises are most effective when the torso works as a solid unit and both front and back muscles contract at the same time, and you perform multi-joint movements.
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.
To do it:Get into pushup position with both hands on the stability ball directly below your shoulders (your feet can be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart to give you extra stability). Contract your abdominals and try to bring your body into a straight line from your neck all the way to you toes (your butt should not be sticking out, so contract your glutes and keep your hips down). Once you are stable, lift your right leg a few inches off the ground and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Try to do three sets of a 10-second hold, and then advance to a 30-second hold.
Lay flat on your back again for this one but this time, place a dumbbell between your feet with your knees completely bent and thighs pointing straight up. Hold on to the dumbbell with your feet and bring your legs up toward your chest making sure your lower back gets off the ground. Focus on using your abs to pull your legs up and not getting momentum from your knees or feet.
When it comes to working the core, many people focus on abdominal muscles, and neglect their obliques (or what you may know as “side abs”). But, says Barrett, these clandestine muscles are just as important: they “keep everything tucked in.” To get a good oblique workout in, head to the pulley machine and start doing some Paloff presses. If you don’t know how to perform the exercise, read our comprehensive guide on mastering the move.
If the basic plank is too easy, after 60 seconds, add a few arm and leg lifts to the next 60 seconds. Every 15 seconds, alternate lifting one arm out in front of you while maintaining your posture for 10 seconds and repeating on the other side, and then switch to the legs. Lift the toes 5-10 inches off the floor and hold it for 15 seconds, and repeat with the other leg.
Refresh your abs workout with these 25 core exercises. They'll challenge your abs from all angles, making you stronger in everything you do and giving you a body you'll be proud to show off shirtless. And for a complete fitness program that will not only build your abs muscles, but also melt the fat that covers them, try Anarchy Abs from Men's Health. You’ll get five 30-minute calorie-torching workouts that employ a unique blend of metabolic training, traditional strength training, and gymnastics fundamentals to strip away fat from head to toe.
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