Have you ever had a six pack? If not, you should change that. Honestly, it’s a simple process. Depending on how much body-fat you have – it may take some time. But the time will pass regardless, so why not just do it. On top of that, having a solid core will benefit you in numerous other ways. For example, one of the leading causes of lower back pain is a weak core (1).
Other benefits include (2):
- Improved balance
- Injury prevention
- Enhanced stabilization during dynamic movements
|Definition: The Core
The core is comprised of more than just your abdominals. It includes the lumbar spine (lower back), pelvis, and hip joint (3). It literally forms the core of your body. But I know you really just want that six-pack, and that is just what I will give you.
How To Get A Six Pack
Abs are built in the gym, and sculpted in the kitchen. – A Wise Man
I do not care what you heard – no specific exercise or magical vegetable will get you a six-pack. You must reach a low enough level of body-fat so that your abdominal muscles are visible. Period. That is the only way. The muscles are always there, they are just covered by a layer of fat for most people. In a future article, I will discuss what a low body-fat diet consists of.
That said, building larger abs in the gym will allow them to become visible at higher levels of bodyfat, but I still do not advocate spending a huge amount of your time in the gym doing ab exercises. It is simply inefficient and your time is better spent on other lifts. The focus of ab work should be on strengthening your core as a whole.
The Only 3 Ab Exercises You Will Ever Need
The simple fact of the matter is that if you are already performing a variety of compound exercises (and you should be!), your abs and core are already being worked and strengthened, albeit indirectly.
For example, your abdominals are a major stabilizer during the squat. A sufficiently strong core is necessary to move any significant amount of weight. Think about it this way – if your core is unable to support the weight you place on your back – your body will simply fold.
However, I still do recommend working your abs directly. Next, I will go over the 3 basic types of abdominal movements, and my favorite exercise for each one. These movements cover all of the major muscles of the abdominal region. Strengthen your abs by progressing in these exercises and you will both reap the practical benefits listed above as well as build stronger, bigger ab muscles, allowing them to become visible at a higher level of body fat.
I suggest doing just 2-3 sets of each exercise per week. You may complete them all on the same day or on separate days. I work out three to four days per week and perform one ab exercise per workout, at the end of the workout.
1. Flexion And Extension: The Hanging Leg Raise
The most common type of ab exercise. You flex and extend your core to work your abdominal region, with a focus on the rectus abdominis (aka. the six pack).
Progression (Advance when you can perform over 10-15 repetitions at a given level)
1. Raise your knees in a dip station, where your back is supported.
2. Raise your knees, hanging from a pull up bar.
3. Raise your extended legs, hanging from a pull up bar (pictured above).
4. Raise your extended legs, with a dumbbell in between your feet.
Other flexion/extension exercises: Decline sit-up, sit-up.
2. Rotation: Plate Twist
Rotational exercises work your whole abdominal region but focus on the obliques (internal and external). Sitting down, simply hold your hands together, or a weight, above your torso, lift your feet off the floor, and move the weight side-to-side, almost touching the floor on each repetition. Progress by both adding repetitions and weight.
Other rotational exercises: Cable Rotation, side dumbbell crunch.
3. Stabilization: Plank
Stabilization exercises work your entire abdominal region, but the stress is placed upon the transverse abdominis – the deepest abdominal muscle that wraps around your spine. This muscle is responsible for a the majority of your overall balance and stability, so it must not be neglected. Progress by planking for longer durations, and then planking on a stability ball.
1. Draw in your navel (ie. pull your belly button towards your spine) throughout each movement. It increases pelvic stabilization and transverse abdominis activation (4).
2. Brace your core (ie. flex/tighten your core/abs). Helps properly recruit and activate the core muscles (3).
Read More: The Romanian Deadlift
1. Hodges, Paul W., and Carolyn A. Richardson. “Inefficient muscular stabilization of the lumbar spine associated with low back pain: a motor control evaluation of transversus abdominis.” Spine 21.22 (1996): 2640-2650.
2. Barr, Karen P., Miriam Griggs, and Todd Cadby. “Lumbar stabilization: core concepts and current literature, Part 1.” American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation 84.6 (2005): 473-480.
3. Arokoski, Jari P., Taru Valta, and Olavi Airaksinen. “Back and abdominal muscle function during stabilization exercises.” Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation 82.8 (2001): 1089-1098.
4. Richardson, Carolyn A., et al. “The relation between the transversus abdominis muscles, sacroiliac joint mechanics, and low back pain.” Spine 27.4 (2002): 399-405.