Man training get six-pack abs

The best way to get six-pack abs

Is a daily routine of crunches and other core exercises the fastest way to get six-pack abs? Or is there a smarter approach to build lean, hard and defined six-pack abs? Here’s New Body Plan creator and Men’s Fitness cover model Jon Lipsey on what you need to know to build the body you want!

When someone asks me how often they should train their abs, it’s not because they love doing planks and hanging knee raises. It’s because they want to fast-track their fat loss and get six-pack abs.

The first thing you need to know is this: when you want to build six pack abs, more isn’t always better. Read on to get my expert view on how often you should do abs exercises as part of your workout. And how you can best weave them into your training plan.

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Do crunches burn belly fat?

No. That’s because, in simple terms, fat loss happens when you use more energy (calories) than you consume. Doing crunches and other direct abs moves only burns a very small number of calories. That means they’re not the most effective use of your time when it comes to burning stomach fat.

It’s also impossible to “spot reduce”body fat. That means you can’t lose fat from a particular bit of your body – your belly, for example – by doing exercises that work that body part.

Where your body stores fat is largely determined by your genetics (your genes determine which of the three main male body shapes you have) and your hormones, including the primary male hormone testosterone.

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What exercises are best to get six-pack abs?

If fat loss is your priority then the bulk of your workouts should be made up of compound (multi-joint) exercises. Great examples include barbell squats, deadlifts, and overhead shoulder presses.

Why? Because these multi-joint moves allow you to move significantly heavier weights so you burn the maximum number of calories. And they also require your entire core region to work hard to keep your torso stable. This “indirect” abs work is an important part of how you can get six-pack abs. You should also keep your weight-lifting workouts intense. That means only having short rest periods between sets and exercises, because this will keep your heart rate high to burn even more calories.

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Should I do direct abs work to get a six-pack?

Just because you can’t sculpt a six-pack by doing hundreds of sit-ups it doesn’t mean that abs exercises are useless. In fact, there are a number of reasons for doing direct abs work, including:

Direct abs work shapes your six pack
They can’t do much to remove the fat covering your abs but direct abdominal exercises will help to increase the size and strength of your six pack, so that they stand out when you do remove the fat that’s covering them. 

Direct abs work gives you a stable base
Doing abs and core work will strengthen your stabilising muscles, particularly the ones around your spine, which will improve your posture and help to prevent injury when you’re doing heavy lifts.

Direct abs work removes weak links
Your body is only as strong as its weakest link. If you have strong legs and a weak core and you try to perform a heavy barbell squat, it is likely that you won’t have the strength to maintain the abdominal brace required to power the lift. You may find that you collapse at the chest which, at best means you miss the rep and at worst means you’ll end up injured. 

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Can I train my abs every day?

You can train your abdominal muscles more frequently than you can train other body parts. For example, if you tried to train your legs every day then you’d soon get fatigued to the point where the weights you’re lifting are well below your capability because you’re so tired. You’ll end up doing ‘junk’ reps and you won’t make progress. You can, however, safely train your abs multiple times per week or even on consecutive days. The important thing is that you get the timing right. 


When should I train my abs?

You should leave your abdominal exercises until the end of your session. What happens if you do them at the start of a session? When you then move on to a big and heavy compound lift your abs may be too tired to support your torso. This could place too much strain on your spine and cause injury. That’s why doing direct abs work at the end of your workout is the smart and safe approach.


What’s the secret to getting six-pack abs?

That quality trumps quantity when it comes to abs training. You are much better off training your abs two or three times a week and doing it properly than you are training every day but failing to effectively recruit and engage the muscles.


How to train to get six-pack abs

Follow these quick tips to get more out of every rep and get the six-pack results you want!

Control your reps to get six-pack abs

They key to abs training is effectively applying tension to the muscle and being in complete control of the rep. A big mistake people make when doing crunches, for example, is to focus on crunching up and then switching off on the way back down.

If you let your torso just fall back down to the floor, you’re missing a massive opportunity to grow your abs. You need to be in control and lower slowly, ideally for a count of three or four seconds, to make sure that you’re applying tension to the muscle for the duration of the set. Never jerk or use momentum to cheat a rep. Take your time and stay in control. 

Add resistance to reveal your six-pack

One of the most common mistakes people make when training their abs is doing too many reps. If you do an exercise frequently, you’ll soon become good at it and you may find that you can easily do 50 reps of your favourite abs exercises.

But if you’re working in that rep range then you’re increasing muscular endurance rather than adding size. So once you can do 15-20 reps of an exercise, it’s time to make the move harder, either by adding resistance (you could do a crunch while holding a weight plate) or by finding a more challenging variation. 

Work your abs from multiple angles to get six-pack abs

Crunches will do wonders for your upper abdominals but they won’t do much to bring out your lower abdominals or your obliques (side abs). You’ll need to use a variety of different exercises if you want to sculpt an impressive six pack and we’ll guide you through the best way to do that in the tips below.


How to structure a six-pack abs workout

Here’s how you can create your own six-pack sculpting session by adding this abs mini-circuit to the end of any workout!

Step 1: Choose your exercises
There’s no perfect way to do this but a great approach is to choose a range of moves that work different parts of your abs:

Upper abs
Any move where you’re raising your torso while lying on the floor, such as crunch variations, will work your upper abs. 

Lower abs
Any exercise where you raise your legs or hips, whether you’re lying on the floor or hanging from a bar, will work your lower abs. 

Side abs
Any move that involves some kind of trunk rotation, such as bicycles or crossover mountain climbers, will work your side abs. 

Core
Any static exercise, such as plank variations, will work your core. 

Step 2: Choose your reps or work period
If you want to grow your abdominals then you should work them just like any other muscle and focus on the hypertrophy (muscle growth) rep range. That’s going to be about 10-12 reps, although you can do slightly more or slightly fewer than that and you’ll still get a muscle growth effect.

Doing very high reps, such as 50-rep sets, will develop your endurance rather than your muscle size. An alternative is to do your abs exercises for time. Do between 20-40 seconds per move if you’re doing the exercises back-to-back in a mini circuit. Record how many reps you do and aim to beast the number next time you do the workout. 

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How to structure a six-pack abs workout

Step 3: Choose a rest period
Your rest period should be just about long enough for you to go again and complete the next circuit without your form failing. Doing four exercises back-to-back for 30 seconds each? Then you’ll need a minute of rest between circuits. If you’re only doing three moves for 20 seconds each then you may be ready to go again after 30 or 45 seconds. 

Step 4: Choose your sets
Doing three sets for each move is a god place to start. It will allow you to do a good amount of work and fatigue the muscles. As you progress you could increase to four or five sets per move. Once you get to five sets per move you’re better off trying to make the move harder. How? By adding resistance or by performing a more challenging variation of the exercise. 

Step 5: Train smarter
Remember, training your abs every day isn’t necessary – or even desirable – to get six-pack abs. Doing two or three 10-minute abs circuits at the end of your main workout session will give you the results you’re looking for!

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