The exercises and focus you need to craft the eye-popping abs you want.
By Adam Clark, CPT
Summer is gone. But, do the memories still linger? Are you one of those people who always wore a T-shirt to the beach? Were you uncomfortable because of your stomach? You weren't the only one. The good thing is a few simple steps combined with some hard work can leave you feeling good about your body and developing those abdominals that you always wanted. Next year will be different!
First, take your focus off your abs and place it more on your core. Abdominals are just one piece of your core and for them to become stronger you need to get with the bigger picture. Your core is what connects your upper and lower halves. If you have a weak core, you’re more susceptible to injury and you won’t be as strong in the upper and lower halves. If you want to develop a carved out midsection, start with nutrition. Ever heard of the expression, “You can’t out exercise a bad diet?” Well, it’s true.
You need to develop the mindset that your body is a Ferrari and ask yourself a couple of questions. Would you put low-grade fuel in a Ferrari? Would you neglect to change the oil or wash your Ferrari? The answers should be a resounding no. If you have something you really care about, you take the best possible care of it. That starts with your body.
Cut out the junk. Forget fast food, processed foods, canned foods and all that junk. Feed your body premium fuel with lean meats such as chicken, healthy fats such as salmon and nuts, good carbohydrates like fruit and vegetables and plenty of water. This is your first step.
Second, how's your cardio game? You can do crunches all day, but you still aren’t going to get a six-pack. There's no such thing as spot-reduction fat loss so you need to have something in your workout regimen that gets your heart rate up. The best way possible is interval training. This includes short bursts of high-intensity work such as sprinting followed by short periods of rest. It's efficient, has strength benefits and is proven to crush body fat.
Next, your workout routine needs to include the basics. Compound moves should be the foundation for any exercise program. These are moves such as squats, presses, deadlifts and lunges. They work multiple joints and target several muscle groups. Compound moves are also essential for your core. Trust me: A person with a six-pack doesn't just do abs workouts all the time. They're doing the work with the big lifts and working in core isolation moves as well.
The Core-Centric Moves
To get a strong midsection that's sculpted and also highly functional for your everyday life, working out and sports, you need to think 360 degrees. The core is the front, side and back. If one piece is lagging, it’s going to throw things off so it’s very important to balance it out.
This move hits nearly every muscle on your body when done correctly and can light your core up. Start in a prone position with your feet and knees together and elbows directly below your shoulders. With your forearms planted on the floor, lift your knees off the floor so you create a straight line from head to toe. Squeeze your abdominals, glutes and quads and remember to breathe during this hold. Aim for 30 seconds for two or three sets.
Need something more challenging? Grab a kettlebell or weight plate. You'll be executing this move on your hands this time instead of your elbows, but the same principles apply. Place the kettlebell or weight plate just below and outside your right hand. Keeping your hips square and plank intact, reach through with your right arm and drag the kettlebell or plate across. Repeat with the other side.
The Side Plank
Much more challenging than the normal plank, the side plank loses at least two points of contact. Lie on your side with your elbow below your shoulder and your legs stacked. Lift your hip so you create a straight line from your armpit to your ankle. Hold this for two or three sets of 20 seconds and remember to hit both sides.
Single-Leg Hip Extensions
A powerful backside is essential for a strong core. Nowadays, lower back pain is quite common and a strong backside can be the cure. Single-leg hip extensions are a great way to target your glutes. Lie on your back with your feet below your knees. Dig your heels in and lift your toes. Lift your hips toward the ceiling, pressing one heel into the floor as the other foot is lifted off the floor. Lower to the ground after you reach full hip extension and alternate sides. Perform 8 to 10 reps for two or three sets and your glutes will become much stronger.
Coined as an anti-rotation exercise, the key is to resist the rotation and, for lack of a better phrase, hold your line. Grab a resistance band or pulley and interlock your fingers. With your side facing the pulley machine or resistance band anchor, sit in an athletic stance with your feet wide and knees slightly bent with an even posture. Bring the handle to your sternum and press the handle straight out until your arms are fully extended before slowly bringing it back to the starting position. The goal is to avoid rotating or moving the midsection. Hit both sides for two or three sets of 8 to 10 reps.
The Farmer’s Carry (with two weights)
If you're just starting out, opt for something a little lighter to test it out before eventually aiming to carry half your bodyweight in each hand for at least 25 to 50 yards. When performing this exercise, have the weights by your sides, assume a tall posture with shoulders back and squeeze through your midsection.
The Suitcase Carry (with one weight)
The challenge is in maintaining an upright posture and not compensating. This will specifically target the side without the weight as you attempt to balance things out.
The Waiter’s Carry (with one weight)
Using one dumbbell or kettlebell, you'll need to tone down the weight a little bit from the previous two exercises as the weight is going overhead. Fully extend your arm and maintain an upright posture as you start walking. Keep the arm fully extended the entire time and your midsection will be on fire.
A Quick Note About the Carry Moves
The goal is to carry heavy weight for as long as you can with the farmer’s carry, suitcase carry and waiter’s carry. Carrying heavy objects is a great way to engage not only your core, but also your entire body while jacking up your heart rate. It’s also highly functional and we carry stuff every day!