The Holy Grail of exercise, and of many of those that partake, has to be a great set of abs. Be it a six, or even eight pack, a toned and shapely midriff is seen as a sign of hard work, success and achievement. But the most important element is the “hard work”. Abs do not suddenly appear, and they will never do so unless you are ready to commit to a healthier lifestyle with changes to your diet and exercise. It will take more than the odd gym day pass to get a set of abs that you’d gladly show off at the beach.
But do not be disheartened before you even begin. Whilst you have to accept that there will be a lot of effort, if you are prepared to do the grunt work, then you’ll reap the rewards. Here we look at the best routines to help give your abs a kick-start. You may not even need your flexible gym membership, but keep it handy just in case…
No matter how hard you train, if your food intake is wrong, you will not see the best benefits. Put another way, you can’t use your gym day pass once a week and then eat unhealthily and expect a six-pack. You will need to modify your lifestyle, change your food intake for healthier options and be more active. Cardio work and diet are the starting points for abs because they reduce body fat, and you cannot see abs through fat. Think also, 500 calories less food is easier than 500 calories spent running, so diet is probably the key factor.
Think of eating small meals often rather than large meals at the end of the day; eat plenty of vegetables and protein, and ensure that your carbs have a low GI level, cutting out those based around refined sugars. Always eat breakfast, it gets your body going and ensures that the engine is fuelled, otherwise the body attacks the stores of protein, i.e. muscles for food. Water is also often overlooked, so ensure you have enough.
We often use weights when we train, but less often for abs. This “resistance” training can be transferred to your ab workout to help improve results:
- Russian Twists
Sit to 45 degrees, legs slightly bent and holding a medicine ball or weight, twist your torso from side to side, at all times engaging your core and keeping your feet on the ground.
Holding a weight or kettelball in one hand above your head, reach down to the side with your free arm as far as possible. Change sides to complete the exercise.
- Leg Raises
Lying on your back, legs stretched out straight, firstly hold them six inches off the floor, then raise to 45 or 90 degrees, thereafter lowering them, but only back down to six inches from the floor. You may support yourself by placing your hands palm down under your hips. Remember to keep your legs straight though as you’ll feel the urge to bend them to make the exercise easier.
You can extend the stretch by doing this on a weights bench or at the top of the stairs to allow your legs to drop lower without having to hit the floor.
- Barbell Roll
You may have seen ab rollers when using your gym day pass, but a barbell works just as well. Kneeling down, place your outstretched hands, shoulder width apart on the ends of the barbell, then roll it out until you feel your abs stretch, and then back. The stronger you get, the further you will be able to roll it forward.
A great exercise for core stability. Get to a press up position, then come to rest on your elbows, hands out in front of you, staying on your toes and keeping your back perfectly straight, without sagging in the middle. Hold for as long as you can – you’ll find a minute a long time to begin with, but stay with it.
You can vary the exercise by doing the side plank which is lying straight on one side supported by one elbow but keeping your body stiff and core engaged. Change support elbows to ensure uniformity.
- Sit-Ups or Crunches
The standard exercise, feet supported or not (harder without), and legs bent slightly (bigger bend means harder), pull up to 45 degrees or lower for crunches, much higher and you will disengage the abs and the effort will be wasted. Always ensure that you concentrate on squeezing the muscles as you crunch up, breathing out at the top and in as you lower back down.
Start with as many as you can do, keep a note, and then keep trying to beat your target. You’ll see an improvement after a short time
These exercises are just some of the many variants available for abdominal muscles. It is always best to work the upper, lower and mid abdominals as well as the oblique muscles. This combination of exercises are great for all round definition. Work out a routine including all of the variants for better results. You may want to focus on one section per workout, or cover each every time you train.
Remember though that you will start off not being able to achieve many reps, but as time goes by you’ll improve the numbers. Do not compare yourself to others though, the only competition should be to improve yourself.
With these great exercises added into your workouts, and with an improved healthier approach to food and your lifestyle, you’ll have the best chance to achieve your goal of seeing your abs. Not everybody completes the full journey, but even working towards it is a great step towards a heathier and happier you.