If there’s one question I get asked more than any other, whether by email, online or during radio appearances, it’s this: “what’s the secret to getting a six-pack?” The answer is there is no secret, because sculpting a lean and defined set of abs is entirely possible for anyone. Yes, even you!
The reality is that to sculpt a six-pack is not as difficult as you might imagine, so long as you follow a smart and strategic approach based around a progressive workout plan and structured and sustainable nutrition plan, which are the two core elements of all the New Body Plan suite of fat-loss transformation programmes.
The smart 6-pack strategy
Yet one of the most-often ignored considerations in sculpting a rock-solid six-pack is knowing how to target and work your abs effectively. Yes, adopting a smart diet and doing big lifts, such as the squat, deadlift and overhead press, will make you stronger and leaner, but to develop your abs to their greatest potential you need to hit them directly, from multiple angles and through different rep ranges.
With that in mind, and to help you put the missing piece of your better-body jigsaw into place, I’ve compiled a list of my six favourite abs exercises, including why each one is so good and how to perform it perfectly, so you can start sculpting an impressive set of abs!
1 Crunch reach
Targets: Upper abs
Why? The classic crunch is all well and good, but a simple tweak to turn it into a crunch reach will give you greater abs-sculpting success. The addition of a weight plate or dumbbell increases the workload on your upper abs, while holding the top position ups the time under tension that these muscles must manage and control the weight and keep your torso stable. Do sets of 10 to 15 reps and keep one slow and controlled for maximum impact.
How? Lie flat over a gym ball with your knees bent, holding the weight in both hands with straight arms directly above your chest. Use your upper abs to lift your torso up, keeping your arms straight, to raise the weight as high as you can. Hold this top position for at least a second, then slowly lower back to the start.
2 Russian twist
Targets: Upper abs, side abs, lower abs
Why? I can’t tell you whether this move really does come from Russia, but I do know that when done properly there’s not many exercises better for hitting your entire core in one go. This is a lower-rep set move because the addition of the weight plate or dumbbell makes it tough, and I like to superset them with the crunch reach to fatigue the maximum number of muscle fibres in the shortest-possible time.
How? Lie flat over a gym ball with your knees bent, holding the weight in both hands with straight arms directly above your chest. Keeping your core braced and your arms straight, twist your torso to one side, pause, then twist back to the other side, then return to the middle. That’s one rep. Keep each rep smooth and controlled to maximise the tension on your abs and minimise the stress on your shoulders.
3 Plank toe tap
Targets: Lower abs, side abs
Why? This is a fantastic variation of the classic plank exercise and it works the entire core with extra emphasis on your side abs and lower abs. And by doing each set based on the number of toe taps to each side you can count down the reps, rather than have to watch the clock as is the case with standard planks that are held for time. Remember to keep your breathing controlled and consistent: holding your breath is easily done but will send your blood pressure soaring!
How? Start in a plank position with your feet on a gym ball. With your abs engaged, take one foot off the ball and lower it to touch the floor, then return it. Repeat with your other foot. That’s one rep. Do sets of 10 to 20 reps.
4 Garhammer raise
Targets: Lower abs
Why? The garhammer raise is one of the best exercise for targeting those hard-to-define lower abs because it keeps a ton of tension on them for the duration of the entire set. It’s crucial you keep your abs fully engaged from the first rep to the last, and high-rep sets (more than 15 reps) are best for faster results. Keep your chest up, keep breathing and embrace the burn to blast those lower abs!
How? Position yourself in the machine with straight legs. Brace your core and glutes and with your feet together, draw your knees up towards your chest. From this start position, contract your lower abs to raise your knees up towards your chest then back down. That’s one rep. Keep your abs engaged for the entire set to place the maximum amount of tension on your abs.
5 Cable crunch
Targets: Upper abs
Why? Using a cable machine is a superior strategy to target your upper abs because you can quickly and easily adjust the amount of weight your muscles must manage, and you can hold and control the bottom position – when your abs are under the most amount of tension – to work them far harder than with any bodyweight move. While it’s tempting to try and crunch with a huge weight stack it’s far smarter to keep the weight light and really focus on quality high-rep sets with a long hold at the bottom and controlled return to the start.
How? Kneel in front of a cable machine holding a double-rope handle attached to the high pulley in both hands either side of your head. Engage your abs and, keeping your elbows locked to your sides so your hands stay either side of your head, crunch down as low as you can. Hold this bottom position for a second then slowly return to the start position.
6 Kettlebell plank drag
Targets: Core, side abs
Why? This is another tough variation of the static plank, and as with the top tap tweak already mentioned, there’s a movement element to work your abs harder – but this time it’s your arms that do the work rather than your legs. The addition of a kettlebell means your deep-lying core muscles, as well as your side abs, must fire together to keep your torso stable while rotating back and forth to move the weight from your left side to your right. You’ll hit your abs from every angle, and don’t go too heavy to keep the rep count high per set and reduce pressure on your shoulders. Keep reps smooth and remember not to hold your breath.
How? Get into a straight-arm plank position with your feet together and the kettlebell to the right-hand side of your torso. Engage your core and glutes. Lift your left hand up and grab the kettlebell then drag it under your body and over to outside the left-hand side of your body. Return your left hand to the floor then raise your right hand and grab the weight and drag it back to where it started. That’s one rep. Keep your abs engaged and torso straight throughout, and you can make the move slightly easier by taking your feet further apart.
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