1. Step 1.
Understand the anatomy of the abdominal muscles. Your abs are located in the midsection of your body. They are made up of the transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, internal obliques and external obliques. The transverse abdominus is a deep muscle. It wraps around the entire abdominal area and helps to stabilize the trunk. The internal and external obliques are located along the sides of the rectus abdominus, and assist the body with lateral, or bending and twisting, movements. On top of the transverse abdominus and in between the obliques is the rectus abdominus. As you can see from the illustration, it is divided into right and left sides and is in sections. It is a well-toned rectus abdominus that creates that six-pack look.
Having well-toned abs is not just important for appearance: Strong abdominal muscles help you maintain better posture and balance, and prevent back pain and injury. Your abdominal muscles are the core of your body. If your center is strong, it will support you as you move through daily activities and recreation.
2. Step 2
Avoid common misconceptions. Performing situps is not the only requirement for obtaining flat or defined abdominal muscles. While doing exercises targeted to the abdominal muscles can make them stronger, you cannot spot-reduce. It is also important to do a variety of movements. Since the abdominal muscles are large, you can not effectively train the entire muscle or create that six-pack look by doing just one exercise. You must have a routine that takes your abdominal muscles through a variety of movements to fully sculpt and train them.
Also, to develop that six-pack look you must be within a healthy weight range and have a low percentage of body fat. Your body fat needs to be at 10 percent or lower for men, and at 15 percent or lower for women. So unless you fall into this category, six-pack abs are out of reach. There are many home scales that will measure your percentage of body fat, and many health clubs and gyms offer this service. If you purchase a home model, make sure you follow the directions exactly to get accurate results. These scales are not 100 percent accurate, but they will give you a basic measurement, and you can use them to track your progress.
In addition, with any form of strength training, results are usually not seen for 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the intensity of your training routine.
If you are at the required body-fat percentage and you have been working out regularly for some time, and you are doing a well-rounded abdominal workout, you may be able to see some definition happening in 2 weeks. Otherwise, there are steps you need to follow to develop that six-pack look. It takes time and effort to get there.
3. Step 3
Reach a healthy weight and body-fat composition. If you are not currently within the required percentage of body fat, you first need to shed those extra pounds. That means controlling your food intake and getting regular cardiovascular exercise for 40 to 45 minutes at least 5 days per week. This can include using equipment like a treadmill, elliptical machine or bike, or participating in activities like swimming, running or aerobic-exercise classes. It is not recommended that you lose anymore than 2 lbs. per week unless you are under the supervision of a doctor. Weight loss greater than this is not healthy, and shocks the body. Losing weight slowly allows the body to adjust, and the weight tends to stay off. Losing weight is hard, and it is difficult to do it alone. Joining a gym or working out with friends or coworkers makes you more likely to stick with it. There are also programs like Weight Watchers that can guide and support you in reaching your weight-loss goals in a healthy, effective and safe manner.
4. Step 4
Perform crunches. Typical abdominal crunches should be included in your routine. They can be done on the floor, a weight bench, a physioball or a machine. However, you do not need equipment to get six-pack abs. If you have some weights, a physioball and a basic weight bench, you can get the abs you always wanted. If you are new to exercise, start with a basic crunch like the one shown in the video in the Resources section. This is a very safe and effective exercise.
Many people complain about neck pain when first attempting to do crunches. It is not the exercise that is the problem; it is because they are doing the exercise incorrectly. You must keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your back flat against the floor. You want to keep the elbows back and open, and not pull on the head or neck to come up. It is common to see people clasp their hands behind the head and then bring the elbows together as they lift up. This will create neck pain, and will actually prohibit you from effectively isolating and shaping the abdominal muscles. This is especially true if your abdominal muscles are weak. Weak abdominal muscles cannot lift you up, and many times, people pull themselves up, which stresses the neck.
For a more advanced version, try this exercise with a weight resting on your chest, or on a bench where you can do decline sit ups, as in the photo shown here. The higher the incline, the more difficult the exercise. If you are really advanced, you can do this exercise with a weight as well.
5. Step 5
Incorporate reverse crunches, another exercise that is necessary to obtaining a sculpted set of abs. Follow the link in Resources for a video of a basic reverse crunch. As with the regular crunch, you can do this exercise on a declined bench or with a physioball to make it more challenging. You can do the exercise shown in the video while holding a physioball between your ankles to make the exercise even harder. Try passing the ball to your hands, and lower both the arms and legs toward the floor at the same time. Then bring them back up and pass the ball back to your feet. Lower both arms and legs again. You need to keep your back flat on the floor and the abdominal muscles contracted to protect your back from injury.
6. Step 6
Add some oblique exercises. The last part of your six-pack ab routine should include twisting movements to target the obliques. The photo here shows a good basic exercise. You can work your oblique muscles by lying on your back as shown here, lying on your side and lifting up, twisting while standing and sitting, or lying on an inclined bench . As with all of the above exercises, you can add weights and a physioball to take them to the next level.
7. Step 7
Limit the number of repetitions. You do not need to do hundreds of ab exercises to get six-pack abs. You need a variety of exercises like the ones described above, done properly. If you are really working your abs hard, you only need to do two to three sets of each exercise for 12 to 20 repetitions per set. If you feel that you need to do a lot of crunches, this usually means the exercise you are doing is not hard enough, or you are doing it improperly. The more repetitions you do, the more likely you are just using momentum and poor form. If an exercise is effective, as you do a set, you should really be feeling it after 12 to 20 repetitions. Follow the links in Resources for exercise ideas and routines.
8. Step 8
Work with an experienced trainer. If you are new to exercise, working with trainer or taking a class can help get you started. The trainer can make sure you are doing the exercise properly, and can help you add variety to your routine. Since getting those six-pack abs is hard work, it may be tough to stay motivated and on track. Having to meet your trainer or show up for a class can help you establish a regular routine and get the results you are hoping for.
Tips & Warnings