As easy as the models and athletes in our magazine make being lean and ripped look, we’ve got to be honest, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s hard, it takes time, and it demands an unwavering degree of discipline. In our on-going efforts to assist you in sculpting the body you’ve always wanted, we’ve laid out the gold rules to getting ripped.
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).
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.
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and pressed firmly into the floor and hold a medicine ball (or other similar weighted object). Brace your abs in tight (as if preparing for someone to punch your stomach) and use your lower body to start the movement by bending your knees, sitting back into your hips, and reaching the ball down across the outside of your left leg. Stand up, swinging your arms across your body and up to the right while pressing your hips forward. Do 10-12 reps going from left hip to right shoulder, and then repeat on the other side.
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.
That's because it’s insanely hard to get ripped abs. “Every woman’s body is built differently, so it varies, but generally speaking it takes a lot of time and dedication to get those abs to show,” says Amanda Butler, C.P.T., instructor at The Fhitting Room in New York City (and a fitness model who has her own fierce six-pack). “It can take anywhere from three months to a year to get a six-pack, and it’s not just about doing a ton of abs exercises.”
“A silly thing I do on a daily basis is focus on sitting or standing tall with good posture and then ‘sucking it in,’ for lack of a better term. Basically, I tighten my core and hold onto it for as long as I can, and I keep doing that throughout the day. It’s a great way to not feel like a lump while sitting in front of a computer for a long period of time, and it’s like a bonus workout for my abs.” —Dorothy Beal, @mileposts
The optimal caloric deficit when you are training 4 times a week is different than the optimal caloric deficit for merely losing weight. You must eat enough food to fuel your training and feed your muscles but still be in a state of a caloric deficit to keep burning fat. For further information on dieting for six-pack abs, refer to my other article entitled Six Pack Abs Diet: The Ultimate Diet Plan to Get Ripped.
Trainer tip: You know planks, right? It’s easy to go through the motions here. Don’t do it. “The key is to squeeze your entire body—quads, glutes, core, back, and fists—as tight as possible while taking diaphoretic breathes throughout the hold,” says Wealth. No matter how many times you’ve done it, this exercise is as difficult as you’re willing to make it.
Another important tip that you should take into account when you try to get a six pack is the daily calorie intake. The ideal number of calories a person should consume also varies from one person to another. For instance, the average male with a normal body mass index, who works out three times a week should consume between 2000-2500 calories per day in order to stick to the actual weight.
Demoing the moves below are Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City; Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies; Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; and Rachel Denis, a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York state powerlifting records.
Let’s take push-ups for example. The maximum number of push-ups you can do in a training session will increase quickly from, say, 20 to 30, 30 to 50, 50 to 100 in a matter of weeks. What will you do next to achieve progressive overload? You can’t increase your reps of push-ups forever. Who wants to do 300, 400, or 500 pushups in a single training session? That would take too much time. Luckily, you don’t have to do that. Once you hit a reasonably high number of reps, you will stop adding reps and start shortening the time it takes to complete those reps.
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.
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.
Eat similar meals every day. "I pretty much eat the same thing, or substitutions that are very close to my normal meal plan, every day," Yobe says of her daily food intake, which includes a protein bar before her morning workout, a protein shake afterward, and two meals including chicken or fish, veggies like a green salad or bok choy, and a carb like rice, pasta, or potatoes. She also snacks on rice cakes with peanut butter, carrots, celery, and nuts. Although she admits this can be boring, the approach makes it easier for her to get all the nutrients she needs while remaining satisfied throughout the day.
On hardwood or tiled floor, place feet on two sliders and assume a high plank position (hands under shoulders, soft bend in elbows, butt and core engaged). Pull feet in toward chest, bending knees until you’re in a bear plank, knees below hips, but still lifted off floor. Slowly push feet back to high plank. Continue to repeat. To make it easier, move one leg at a time.
7. Don't be disappointed if you can't achieve a well-defined six-pack. Because of your genetics and age, you may not be able to get the six-pack you want, but you can still be healthy, Hagensick says. "To be healthy, you have to have a certain percentage of fat. Some people simply have more fat than others around their midsection, but they can still improve their overall eating habits and exercise routine."
To do it: Kneel with your elbows bent under your shoulders on top of a stability ball. Draw your abs in tight, keep your weight in your arms (chest lifted off the ball), and extend both legs out straight behind you, feet about hip-width apart. Maintain a straight line from your head, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet. Once you are stabilized on the ball, slowly roll the ball away from your body to increase the lever length and add stress on the abdominal region. For safety, go slowly and start with short movements in and out for 10-15 reps. When you feel ready, you can progress how far away you reach and your number of reps, Richey says.
Thankfully, if you’re already reasonably fit, just a few tweaks to your routine here, a few modifications to your diet there, and you’ll be well on your way to shredded stomach glory. To that end, we’ve gathered up the best tips and tricks—expert-approved advice to ensure that, in no time, you’ll have the sculpted abs of your dreams. And for some core-specific moves, check out The Best Workouts For Getting That Summer Six-Pack.
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.
Reverse Crunch: Lie flat on the floor with a neutral spine, with knees at a 90-degree angle, feet a few inches off the floor and legs together, hands by your sides (behind your ears if you're more experienced). Focus on contracting your abdominals to lift your hips up and in toward your rib case. Exhale as you contract; inhale to return to starting position. Done correctly, this exercise isolates the lower half of the rectus abdominis and the transverus.
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.
Bent-Elbow Plank: This exercise works the whole trunk, particularly the transversus abdominis. Start by lying on your belly and then lift yourself up onto your toes and forearms (elbows in line with shoulders) while contracting your abdominals and keeping your back neutral. Hold that position for five seconds, then rest and repeat. Ultimately, strive to hold the pose for 90 seconds without any rest -- for one set. If you're more experienced, you can also do this exercise on your hands and toes. (As a beginner, start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine and simply contract the abdominals on an exhale without moving your back.)
To do it: Start seated, then lean back, resting your weight on your forearms (bending your elbows behind your body, fingers facing forward). Extend both legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee into a ‘passé position’ by pointing your right foot and pressing the inside edge of your right foot along the inside of your left knee. Draw your abs in tight and lift your legs off the mat and towards the chest (maintaining passé position). Bring your right knee all the way up to the right side of your chest and then lower your legs (still in passé) back down, about two inches from the floor (or as low as you can). Repeat 8 times and then switch legs. Try to do 8 reps on each side, for up to 2 sets.
"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