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.
Kneel on a mat on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders. Stretch your legs back one at a time to come into plank position (the “up” part of a push-up); engage your ab muscles. Your body should be long and straight; don’t let your hips sag or lift your butt too high. Imagine there’s a seat belt tightening around your waist, drawing your lower-ab muscles inward.
Why it made the list: It turns out the ball is good for more than just sitting and waiting for your partner to finish his set! A research team from California State, Sacramento demonstrated that the pike movement is one of the most effective total-ab workouts. It topped their EMG list for upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. This movement may be the heavy hitter that's been missing from your daily routine. While not exactly the same, the pike can also be done using a TRX system with similar results expected.
What's the fastest way to sculpt a rock-solid core like Rocky Balboa's? Slow it down. "Your muscles can handle more weight on the eccentric, or lowering, phase of a lift," says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, California. So decreasing the pace of that phase—like you do with this slo-mo ab exercise from Rocky IV—forces your muscles to work harder, accelerating your gains.
Even though your rectus abdominus is the muscle you want to see when you look in the mirror, your inner core muscles, including your internal obliques and transverse abdominis, are the foundation for your six-pack. “You would not build a mansion on a weak foundation, so don’t try to build a six-pack on a weak core,” Cary says. This is when you’ll want to try out some more creative core workouts like planks, dead bugs, core twists, and farmer’s walks, he says. All of these tap your core’s ability to stabilize, rather than crunch, your core.
Exercise also can't erase a couple factors beyond your control, experts say. "I think age plays a critical role in how easy or hard it is to get 'six-pack abs.' It's all about hormones – when we are younger, we have more circulating androgen hormones, which affords us the ability to not eat clean and yet continue to be shredded," Chait says. Our androgen hormone levels decline after we reach age 27, he says. (Testosterone is an androgen hormone in men. In women, a primary purpose of androgens is to be converted into female hormones known as estrogen.) After that age, "we need to focus more on dietary adjustments to maintain a lean body," Chait says.
Sure, the obvious benefits that you think and know are all there. I’ve noticed a definite change in the way people interact with me, increased attention and an incredible surge in confidence. What really matters is that I proved to myself I could achieve anything I wanted to if I truly put my mind, heart and soul into it while setting the right precedent for more ambitious things in the future.
“Unless you’re naturally gifted or a child, six-pack abs are always going to be a challenge. But remember, muscles have memory, so once you achieve a six pack once, if you lose it, it’ll be easier to get it back later. These days, I can get six-pack abs pretty quickly because I have such deeply ingrained muscle memory from my teenage years as a gymnast, when I was practicing in the gym five hours a day, six days a week.
We put this on the list because of how easy it is to manipulate the degree of difficulty. If a regular plank is too easy for you, lift an arm, or a leg—or an arm and a leg. Put your feet into a TRX and give that a whirl. Still too easy? Take your feet out, and put your forearms in. Each one of these progressions leads to a greater training stimulus to the abs.
To do the V-sit, start in a seated position on the floor, contract your abdominal muscles and core, and lift your legs up to a 45-degree angle as pictured. Reach your arms straight forward or reach up toward your shins as you are able. Maintain good core posture and a strong spine while you hold the position for several seconds. Rest and repeat several times. As you get stronger, hold the position longer.
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.
No matter how strong your core is, you aren’t going to see a six-pack if your muscles are hiding behind a big layer of fat, says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia. “Each individual is going to be slightly different, but the ideal range of body fat in men is eight to 20 percent,” he says. Get below six percent and you could compromise your health.
Do it: Think of this as an upside-down dead bug. Start in a tabletop position, with your shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Engage your core while simultaneously lifting your right arm and left leg. Your foot should be flexed as you kick back, and your palm should face in towards your body. Pause for one second when your arm and leg are at the same height as your torso, and then bring your elbow and knee to touch underneath the body. Repeat on the other side for one rep, and do five reps for one set.
For training, you need to set a serious pace for when you hit the gym. Standing around your overloaded squat bar that you were going to do quarter reps on every five minutes won’t cut it. Start serious volume short-rest training by laying a smackdown on your muscles. Building mass comes at the price of getting lean, so maintenance and permanent pump will be the strategy—the results will be worth it. For training you’re going to do 4 exercises at 4 sets and 12 reps minimum per body part approach. It’s encouraged to do 5 or even 6 sets, and if you’re not struggling with those, then go further. When it comes to abs, slow and steady wins the race. I know it sounds cliché, but large range-of-motion reps with added weight for your 12 reps will produce far deeper cuts than doing 50 crappy situps. Give yourself at least a 4-count per rep on your abs.
“I alternate between all-out effort sprints (30 to 60 seconds) and walk/jog as a recovery until I feel fatigued. Intensity is key. Abs work as stabilizing muscles during a sprint, so the harder I push myself the harder my abs will work! Plus, there’s no equipment required, and I get a high calorie burn and full-body workout done in very little time. (I tell myself I can do anything for 30 seconds.) Depending on how I feel, I’ll either add this to the end of a routine or make it my entire workout, two to three times a week.” —Suzanne Cover, @suzannecover
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.