Attention to workout rest and recovery, as well as nighttime sleep, is also critical to promote muscle growth and hormone balance. You may find much of your time is spent working out or meal prepping — your social life, hobbies and downtime will likely be compromised. Don't forget, you must also keep up these regimens not just to achieve a six-pack — but to keep one.
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.
To make sure you stay safe, put one hand underneath the small of your back, crunch your head and shoulders up just a handful of inches, hold for about 10 seconds, and release back down, advises Stuart M. McGill, Ph.D., director of the spine biomechanics laboratory at the University of Waterloo. This move basically ensures that you aren’t rounding your back so that your weight doesn’t drop into your low spine, per McGill.
Start by placing your heels on a low bench and holding two light dumbbells (begin with 3 pounds). Place a rolled-up towel under your lower back to increase the range of motion of your upper abs. Point your toes. From this start position, raise your upper body to the position shown in the second photo. Breathe normally. Now press the weights overhead. Keeping your arms straight, press your heels hard into the bench, then lower your upper body and allow the weights to arc behind your head.
To do it: Lie on your back with your arms out to each side in a ‘T’ shape, palms facing down. Position a stability ball between your feet and extend both legs up towards the ceiling, just above your hips, knees slightly bent. Gently squeeze into the ball, draw your abs in tight, and press your ribcage into the floor as you carefully move the ball to the right, lowering both legs towards the floor (only go as far toward floor as you can without dropping to the side). Press the ball back up to the ceiling and repeat to the left, alternating sides for one minute.
Lie face-up and place your lower legs on a Swiss ball. Extend your right arm overhead and bend your left arm at a 90-degree angle; then grasp the upper portion of your right arm so you form a cradle for your head. Flexing your toes and holding the ball in place by contracting your hamstrings, crunch forward to the finish position. In this position, increase the tension on your abs by attempting to pull the ball towards you with your hamstrings. Return to the start and exhale. Your rectus abdominus can flex only about 30 degrees (strictly), so when you perform this exercise it may not be necessary to lift your shoulders off the floor to achieve peak contraction. You can make the exercise more difficult by pulling harder with your hamstrings, maintaining peak contraction longer and by holding a weight in your free hand.
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.