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.
The rectus abdominis is the muscle you think of when you think "abs." It's the outermost abdominal muscle, and runs vertically along each side of your abdominal wall. The transverse abdominis is the deepest muscle of the abdominal wall, which means it's closest to your spine, and basically wraps around your torso between your ribs and your hips. The oblique muscles run along the sides of your torso, and there are two sets: internal and external. The internal obliques lie above the transverse abdominis, and then the external obliques are on top of those (they're the most superficial of the bunch). There's also a handful of other smaller muscles in this area—what we call the core—that work to stabilize the spine and allow us to bent and twist and lift without hurting ourselves.
Let's come clean from the start: We're not here to sell you on the single "best ab exercise ever." Too many organizations and authors have tried that, and the profusion of "winners" out there can make it confusing—especially because the studies backing them are always limited in one way or another. A few years ago, it was the bicycle crunch. Then it was the traditional crunch. Then it was the pike, the plank, the roll-out... We could go on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Do it: With your feet shoulder-width apart, lift a barbell off the rig, centering it evenly across your shoulders. (This version of the squat targets the core, not the legs, and so you should be using far less weight than you would for a traditional back squat.) Send your glutes back like you’re lowering into a chair, bending at the knees as deeply as possible. Press through your heels to return to the starting position for one rep. Do 12 reps for one set.
How to: Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Lower your forearms to the floor with elbows positioned under your shoulders and your hands shoulder-width apart. Your arms should form a 90-degree angle. Maintain a straight line from heels through the top of your head, looking down at the floor, with gaze slightly in front of your face. Tighten your abs and hold. Do 15 reps.
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly (or more if needed) and place both hands flat on the ground. Keeping your legs extended and your feet planted, walk your hands away from your body, as far past your shoulders as you can, until you are in a full plank position. Hold for one count at the furthest point, and then walk your hands back to your feet and slowly return to standing. That’s one rep. Repeat up to 10 times.
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.
The next time you're at the gym, take a stroll. "The dumbbell farmer's walk may be one of the most underutilized exercises, and it's also one of the simplest to do," says Jack. Besides making it easier for you to carry heavy things—like luggage or those cases of beer for this weekend's party—the ab exercise challenges your core muscles to endlessly stabilize as the load shifts with each step. Plus, it will strengthen your grip, forearms, deltoids, and trapezoids—areas often neglected during workouts.
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.
Regular cardiovascular exercise should be an essential part of your plan. I recommend you try and get in three to five cardio workouts per week. If you find you’re not losing as much fat as you’d like then shoot for five sessions a week. If your progress is good then you might be able to get away with just three sessions a week. Adjust appropriately based on your rate of progress.
Bicycle: This exercise works your obliques as well as your rectus abdominis. Lie on your back, hips and knees bent at 90-degrees, chest curled over ribs, hands behind your head. Extend the left leg out while bringing the right knee in towards the chest and rotating the left shoulder toward the right knee. Keep the arm from crossing the face. Rotate from the trunk through the center to the other side without dropping your chest. Move in slow, controlled movements without shifting your hips.
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Eat carbs. "There's this notion that carbs are bad and that you need crazy amounts of protein to be lean and fit," says Alcantara, who disagrees, and eats just as much carbs as protein, although the ideal ratio varies based on your goals. "Whatever you eat to get the results you want has to be sustainable, otherwise you're going to end up right back where you started with the same habits that got you there."
"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