Two things are essential to get a six pack – diet to reduce total body fat and exercise to strengthen and develop the abdominal muscles. However, losing your belly fat and getting a six pack is one of the hardest goals to achieve. We have already talked about how to lose belly fat, so here we shall mostly focus on the exercises that best develop your abdominal muscles.
Remember that there are no specific exercises to lose belly fat. Spot reduction, or targeting stomach fat, does not work. You may have been brainwashed by infomercials that abs toning devices will melt away your stomach fat and reveal 6 pack abs, but this is all just a clever bit of marketing. The adverts never show the fitness models drenched in sweat, gasping for breath after an intensive workout. The people that demonstrate ab toning devices do not actually use those devices to get the fit body they have, they really are all just fitness models.
The 10 Most Important Abdominal Exercises
As any bodybuilder knows, building muscle requires lifting increasingly more weight (progressive overload). The abdominals follow the same rules as any other muscle. Generally muscle growth (in terms of size, not functional strength) is most successful when lifting 10-12 rep sets. Therefore, maximum weight is not used, but also the weight should not be so light that you can easily perform more than 12 reps per set.
For this abs training routine you will require some free weights (discs and a dumbbell, plus ankle weights) and a bench that can be set at a slight incline. You can see instructional videos for some of these exercises on Abdominal Exercises to Tone and Strengthen Your Stomach. Here are the most important exercises to do to get six pack abs:
1. Bicycle Crunches
Considered by some trainers to be the most important abdominal exercise. Perform crunches with your hands lightly touching your forehead and as you raise your torso, twist so that your leading elbow meets the opposite knee. Alternate each side.
2. Incline Reverse Crunch
We start on the bench, which is set to its first incline position. Put on your ankle weights, lie back and grab the bench behind your head with both hands. Raise you knees so that they are above your waist, and then lift your hips off the bench, towards your head. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
3. Weighted Crunch
The crunch is the classic stomach exercise. Simply lie back and hold a weight disc to your chest. With your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, lift your shoulders off, hold, and lower. 3 sets of 10 reps.
4. Weighted Russian Twist
Sit upright on the floor with your legs out in front, but legs slightly bent. Lean back approximately 45 degrees while holding a dumbbell in both hands straight out in front of you. Then twist your torso to the left, keeping your back straight, hold for 2 seconds, then return to face forward. Repeat on the right side. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Adding weight should mean that you are working your abs harder, and result in better muscle growth. Do not try building abs with 200 sit-ups every day, do it the proper way with bodybuilders weight training exercises.
5. Hanging Leg Raises
Hanging leg raises target the “lower abs” and are much more effective than laying leg raises, which mostly target the hip flexors. You need good grip strength to perform them as you hang on a high pull up bar and then lift your legs up with knees bent as far as you can.
6. Front Squats
Front squats are performed like a standard back squat, but instead of supporting a barbell across your shoulders you hold a weight tight to your chest. This moves the focus of the squat to the core region, thus creating a good abdominal workout.
7. Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are a great way to combine muscular endurance exercise with cardio. The dynamic swings increase heart rate while working the glutes, thighs and core. They are useful in developing the core region.
8. Side Bends
The classic dumbbell side bend is often neglected these days. However, it was one of the exercises that Bruce Lee performed to supplement his abs routines. The most important rule in side bends is to ensure that you keep your lower body solid and only move your torso. Also avoid leaning forward or backward. Start in an upright position, inhale as you lower the dumbbell along your thigh, then inhale as you lift.
9. The Plank and 10. Side Plank
The Plank and side plank are static exercises. You support your body on your forearms and toes while keeping your body straight and your abdominals engaged. If you are not feeling a burn in your abs then you are not performing the plank correctly. You can also support your weight on your hands and feet, in a classic press up position. Keep the back straight at all times. If the back starts to sag slightly, this is because you are tiring, so stop. Abdominals must be engaged and if you do not quickly feel your abdominals tiring then you are not doing the plank properly.
The side plank can be performed in either a half or full position. The side plant is performed by supporting the body on just one hand, with the feet close together. The other hand is held up vertically. To perform a half side plank, you support the body on one elbow with the forearm on the ground, with the feet together. See the Side Plank Yoga pose for more on this.
Abdominal Muscles Need Recovery
Remember that like your other muscles, the abdominals require adequate rest to ensure that the muscles recover after the exercise. Do not perform these stomach exercises daily. Arnold Schwarzenegger worked his abs everyday, and Bruce Lee’s abs were also training often. However, we do not all have the same genetic advantages, so do not over train. They also had the advantage of being able to take extra care to optimize their nutrition and rest to prevent overtraining problems.
Fat Reduction Diet
As we have covered diet already in the article “how to lose belly fat” we do not need to go into detail here. The number one rule is CUT OUT SUGAR. Sugar is the reason why most people are overweight. Ignore all those people that tell you the problem is too much fat. Saturated fat is unhealthy, it clogs your arteries and leads to coronary heart disease. There is no dispute about that. But did you know that sugar also does this? And excess sugar is converted to fat very quickly.
To make changes as quickly as possible adopt a sugar free diet for 2 weeks. It is extreme, but essential. Sugar is everywhere, especially in “healthy” breakfast cereals, white bread and junk food. Are you planning to eat low fat yogurt? Don’t! Low fat yogurt contains additional sugar to make it taste nice.
The second rule is to eat more protein and more healthy fat. These food groups help build muscle and boost your metabolism. Just make sure you are eating healthy forms in all cases. No processed meats, limit red meat and other forms of saturated fat. It is also important to remember that you need to reduce your total calories as well to help weight loss.
Ultimately to lose fat requires a daily calorie deficit by combining a healthy and balanced diet with regular exercise.
Increase Your Metabolism
There are two ways to increase your metabolism: diet and exercise. The longer you go without eating, the more your metabolism slows down. So to counter this effect, eat more often, but obviously eat less. Many professional athletes eat 6 to 8 times a day, with each meal being a small portion of protein, fat and carbohydrate (low GI diet) in a perfect balance to keep fat content minimal while building muscle tissue.
The other way to increase your metabolism is through exercise. Whenever you exercise you start burning calories quicker. Also as you build more muscle, your metabolism also increases. So exercise is essential.
Exercise Like Your Life Depends On It – Because It Does!
Finally, the exercise component. Exercise is essential, and you need to learn to exercise properly to lose weight in the most efficient way. OK, ab exercises will help you get a six pack in the long run, so do not abandon them. But while you have a layer of fat over your stomach you will never see your abs or reduce that fat by just doing ab exercises.
Several years ago someone came up with the idea of the “fat burning zone” which involves working out at a relatively easy pace for a long time. It turns out that this idea was incorrect. However, fitness machines all over the world are still plagued with this “fat burning zone” scale. You need to workout more intensively to effectively lose weight and get fit.
This does not mean that you have to try to exercise like an athlete though, as this is also not going to be possible. Just push yourself as hard as you can for 30-45 minutes every day. 45 minutes is best as 45 Minutes of Intensive Exercise Raises Metabolism for 14 Hours. In short, if you can do 45 minutes of exercise at a reasonably intensive level (more than just walking or a slow jog) then your body will continue to burn extra energy for 14 hours. This is often called the afterburn effect.
So why do we say that your life depends on it? Well, simply, it does. Excess stomach fat is a sign that visceral fat is building up around your internal organs. This fat actively harms you and leads to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is also fast becoming one of the leading causes of cancer. Belly fat reduction is not just about aesthetics, it is about your health and longevity. Learn more about the Health Benefits of Losing Weight here.
The Best Forms of Exercise to Burn Fat
So what workouts should you do? There are really no best exercises for burning fat, the key is to work as hard as you can to increase your calorie deficit so that you start breaking down fat stores. These exercises are all good options:
- Dance workouts
- Martial arts
- Intensive Interval Training
- Compound Weight Training
- Full Body Workouts
- Plus many more!
Many of the old school approaches to exercise are very effective, especially the circuit training exercises and compound weight training sessions. This is why military style boot camps and martial arts classes are so good at helping people get fit and lose weight – they use tried and tested methods that strengthen the body, improve muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness.
However, as good as a particular method of exercise or a new diet designed to aid weight loss is, the real ingredient that is required for success is you. You need to want it, and you need to work hard to get it.
The Science of Burning Fat and Building Muscle
Effect of a 1-Week Diet and Exercise Program on Weight and Limb Girth, by Jerrold S. Petrofsky et al - The Journal of Applied Research • Vol. 4, No. 2, 2004.
This research paper confirms that daily exercise will reduce stomach fat effectively, when combined with a diet plan, and therefore eventually reveal a 6 pack.
Comparison Between an Abdominal Curl with Timed Curls on a Portable Abdominal Machine by Petrofsky et al, The Journal of Applied Research Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall 2003
This paper concluded that abdominal exercise equipment can help increase muscle gain by encouraging subjects to exercise harder – “subjects are forced to work hard with this machine as they fatigue whereas with crunches, as fatigue approaches, people work faster and at less of an angle of flexion“
Core Strength Training by Skip Allen et al, Sports Science Exchange Roundtable 47, VOLUME 13 (2002) NUMBER 1
“Keys to successful core strengthening programs include selecting sport-specific
exercises that overload both anterior and posterior muscles of the trunk and pelvis
and emphasize repeated explosive movement”.