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.
First up is the diet. This will become your most important component because it takes the most discipline, and if you’re not getting rid of the fat and water, then your abs are going to seem more like a two-pack. With the diet, don’t drastically cut carbs—instead burn them. Keep carbs constant until your abs are truly ready to be seen, then a quick cut will rip out the final drops of water. This is the biggest mistake I’ve seen, dropping carbs too fast and too much, which reduces energy and forces “skinny fat” syndrome instead of good fat burning. Increase your protein to an additional 50-60g per day and amino acid intake to 10-20g per day of supplementation; do this while increasing your veggie intake, so that you can get your calorie count where it needs to be to shed the excess poundage. To reduce excess water weight, add natural diuretic-based products that have dandelion and green tea extract and uva ursi and cranberry. Also, make sure to hit a fat burner that cooperates with your gut, and keep tabs on your indulgences. When you’re out, resist the urge to consume heavy or sugary drinks and fatty foods. Lastly, eat several smaller meals each day to maintain fuel and curb appetite.
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.
Progressive overload with bodyweight training is different. You don’t want to increase your body’s weight (unless you want to get fat). You can increase the number of reps you do (up to a point) but it’s only a temporary strategy because you’ll see that if you train for a while, the number of reps you can do for each exercise will soar rather quickly.
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.
The reality isn't that simple, experts say. The answer to whether it's possible for someone to develop abs without adhering to a diet or by simply cutting back on calories is "maybe," says Evan M. Chait, a clinical nutritionist, physical therapist and acupuncturist based in Ramsey, New Jersey. He's a co-founder of the Kinetic PT and AcuWellness America centers. Anyone can cut calories and lose weight, Chait says. Dropping fatty pounds from your midsection can reveal the abdominal muscles that everyone has. "Six-pack" isn't a physiological term; rather, it's a shorthand way to refer to the rectus abdominus, the outer band of stomach muscle connecting the rib cage to the pelvis.
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To do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with the barbell on the back of your shoulders. Lower your body toward the floor, sending your hips back and down and bending your knees. Push through your heels to return to start position, keeping your back flat and head up throughout the movement. Try to do 8-10 reps for 3 sets (resting 45-60 seconds between sets).
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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.
Pre-Workout [Morning — 6.30AM, Evening — 6.30PM] — ½ scoop of Whey. This ensures you don’t lose muscle mass during your workout. On Cardio days, I consume nothing else but on Weight Training days, I have 1 slice of brown bread spread with Unsweetened, Natural Peanut Butter topped with 1 banana. It’s a solid combination of complex carbs and fruit sugar to fuel your workout.
“For me, getting a six-pack was about paying attention to what I was eating and lifting heavy weights at CrossFit. I do have a semi-strict diet, and I loosely count macros (focusing on daily carbs, protein, and fat intake rather than blindly counting calories) to stay balanced and on track. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Eventually, it just became a part of my lifestyle, and it’s something I enjoy doing. I even started a custom meal-plan business based on macros because I had such great results!” —Tina Haupert, @carrotsncake