How to Get a Six-Pack—Without Doing a Single Crunch
Killer abs, here we come.
Get your diet in check
Before you tone a six-pack, you’ll need to shed any excess pounds—and that starts in the kitchen. Countless studies have shown that diet, not exercise, is the key to weight loss. One 2014 analysis of past studies found that exercise didn’t have any effect on the first six months of a weight-loss program, but participants who ate well and worked out lost the most pounds after a year. “Food is everything and exercise is extra credit,” says registered dietitian Ilana Muhlstein, creator of Beachbody’s 2B Mindset program. “You can do 500 crunches a day all you want, but you’ll never see them if you’re carrying extra weight.” To get to a healthy weight, you’ll need to eat fewer calories and replace junk foods with satisfying, nutritious options.
Stop making ab moves an afterthought
Six-pack abs require more attention than just tacking a few crunches on to the end of your workout. Spend three days a week focusing on your abs, and push yourself harder than normal, says certified personal trainer Dani Singer, fitness director of Fit2Go Personal Training. “You should be getting sore from them, at least in the beginning,” he says.
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Focus on visible muscles
The key to building great abs is working your rectus abdominis: the visible muscles of a six-pack. Leg lifts are even better than crunches at working the lower abs, says Singer. Lie on your back and lift your legs so your feet face the ceiling. Bring your legs down toward the floor, then back up to complete one rep. Do three sets of ten. “Only go as low as you can without arching your back at all,” says Singer. “If you can only go a quarter of the way down, stop there. If you’re going further, you’re working your lower back.”
Most ab exercises work by bending and twisting your core, but those muscles’ main function is to keep your trunk straight and sturdy, which is why moves that resist gravity (think: holding a plank vs. bending into a crunch) are so effective, says Singer. Use resistance to your advantage to work your obliques—the sides of your stomach—with a suitcase carry. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand, then take ten steps. Switch the weight to your right hand, then take ten more steps. Repeat two more times. Start with ten pounds, but work your way up if that’s too easy—just don’t be fooled into thinking heavier is better. “You should be as straight as you would be if you were not holding the weight,” says Singer. Make it harder with more reps instead of heavier weights, he recommends.
Stepping up your planks by adding movement will help you build a six-pack even faster. “With planks, you’re not applying a lot of resistance—it’s about endurance,” says Singer. “It’s like taking a two-pound dumbbell and doing 100 bicep curls.” Moves like a ball rollout add resistance, plus engage more muscle fibres by changing your centre of gravity, he says. Sit up on your knees, with your forearms on a stability ball in front of you. Roll the ball forward, straightening your back as you go. Once you’re out as far as you can go, roll the ball back to the starting position. That’s one rep. If you don’t have a stability ball, start on your hands and knees, then “walk” your hands out in front of you. Return to the start for one rep. Do three sets of ten.
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Move your hips
Core moves work in two ways: either moving your spine (like a crunch) or your hips (like leg lifts). Work another hip movement into your routine with mountain climbers, which are more dynamic. “You’re working quicker, so you’re working that power,” says Singer. “When you change the style of workout, you incorporate more muscle fibres.”
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Avoid post-workout treats
One of the most common pitfalls between you and your dream abs is what you eat after a workout, says Muhlstein. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve “earned” a cookie or decadent dinner because you crushed a tough workout—in most cases, you’ll end up eating as many or more calories as you just worked so hard to burn off. (By the way, you can eat large portions and still lose weight—here's how!) “The best thing you can do to reverse that mindset is to find a workout that in and of itself feels like a treat or redefine what a treat means,” says Muhlstein. If the pride of seeing the results on your body aren’t enough to motivate you, try treating yourself with something that won’t dent your diet, like buying a nice-smelling face wash to use after a sweat session or infusing your water with strawberries, she suggests.
Up your protein
When you work out, your body breaks down those muscles, and the process of rebuilding them is what makes you strong and toned. Adding protein to your diet speeds that process along so you get the biggest bang out of your gym time. “Proteins break down into amino acids, and we need those amino acids to then rebuild muscle,” says Muhlstein. “If you don’t repair them, you don’t get the full benefits of rebuilding stronger muscles.”
Adding cardio into your routine will help you burn fat—and reveal the six-pack underneath—quicker. For the biggest burn, try doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), suggests Singer. The idea is to work as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then letting your body rest for another 30 seconds before bursting into your next 30-second spurt. Research shows that HIIT burns more fat than steady-state cardio such as a 20-minute run. Alternate between walking and running on a treadmill, or do as many jumping jacks as you can for half a minute—any moves that get your heart-rate up will do the trick, says Singer.