There are thousands of trainers and infomercials hawking quick, effortless programs that are guaranteed to give users abs in mere minutes a day — as long as they buy an expensive piece of equipment or DVD set, of course. For some people with impeccable genetics or bulletproof diets, that might just be enough to make their core ripple with muscle. But most bodies just aren’t built that way.
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders down, and your abs drawn in. Hinge forward at your waist and inch forward, walking with your hands into a top-of-the-pushup (or plank) position. Hold plank for three seconds, being sure to keep your chest lifted and your belly button drawn into your spine. Your body should form a straight line from your ears to your ankles. Then, perform one pushup by bending your elbows to the sides and lowering your body towards (but not touching) the floor, maintaining a straight spine.
"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.
To do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Bring both arms overhead and hold onto the bottom of couch or a heavy medicine ball (as shown). Cross your right ankle on top of your left knee. Exhale and lift your legs in (in the same cross-legged position) as close to your chest as possible, lifting your hips and lower back off the floor. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Try for up to 15 reps with the right leg, then repeat on the left.
Why it made the list: This harder version of the Russian twist works the obliques while requiring the upper abs to contract isometrically. To recruit the obliques, you either need lateral flexion (bending to your side), trunk rotation (twisting), or sucking in your belly. Doing your twists works the trunk-rotation function of the muscle, so really focus on the contraction. Try to get a little crunch on either side after the rotation to up the ante.
Despite the fact that sit-ups been widely rebuked—everyone from Harvard Medical School to the U.S. Army advises against performing them—you shouldn’t discount the classic move just yet. The sit-up’s “primary function is to work your rectus abdominis, which are those six-pack muscles that most people want,” says Katie Barrett, lead instructor at B/SPOKE Cycling Studio in Boston and a certified personal trainer. “But doing that full sit-up is also going to work your hip flexors and other stabilizing core muscles.” The key is making sure you’re doing them correctly. (And here’s how to do just that).
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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.
Lie on your back and bend your knees, placing a Swiss ball across your hips. With your hands on top of the ball and your body crunched forward as demonstrated, push your arms down as hard as possible for six seconds. The harder you push, the more the ball will resist you, giving your abs an intense stimulus. Exhale, relax for a few seconds, and then repeat.
Body Recomposition — This essentially refers to losing body fat and building muscle at the same time. Now, conventional wisdom dictates that you cannot do both at the same time . This however, is not entirely true. You can lose fat and build muscle at the same time if you are in a positive nitrogen balance (I just take this to be sufficient protein intake) OR you’ve never trained with weights before. When you first start lifting, your body is not used to the amount of wear and tear (shock) resistance training causes to your muscles. Because of this, your body amps up it’s testosterone (muscle building hormone) production to make sure it can keep up, resulting in some awesome newbie gains. These are highly accelerated periods of muscle growth right after you start training. It’s often said that the muscle you gain during your first 1–2 years of training is more than all of the muscle you can pack on in subsequent years combined. Seeing these quick gains is great as it’s extremely satisfying and motivating as a newbie.
A University of Southern Maine study found that a single set of a weight-training exercise torches as many calories as running at a 6-minute-mile pace for the same amount of time. So for every second you spend lifting weights, your body is expending high amounts of energy. Add high intensity interval training (HIIT) principles to your workout, and you could see even more gains.
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.)