Monthly Archives: September 2015

  • Shortcut to Six-Pack Abs: 7 Exercise Hacks You Need to Know

    Who doesn’t want six-pack abs? For most of us, they’re the visual representation of the pinnacle of fitness and - let’s be honest - sex appeal. And yet they seem so difficult to attain. What’s the secret? What’s the path to sweet six-pack success?

    Well, I’m not going to BS you. It takes hard work, first of all. It takes getting your ass to the gym, and it takes willpower to not shove a bunch of crap food in your face when you’re done.

    But you’ve probably figured that already. You’ve worked yourself near to death in the gym, you’ve been successful in losing weight and getting strong and fit, but those six-pack abs are still oh-so-elusive.

    If you’ve taken the major steps towards six-pack abs, little tweaks might be all you need to hack your way towards a rocking core. Here are seven exercise “hacks” that’ll help you reach that next level and unlock your coveted six-pack abs:

    Hack #1 - Get Your Abs Involved

    Netting a six-pack isn’t all about working your abs directly. In fact, one of the major keys to unlocking the potential of your abs is getting them involved in everything you do.

    This applies especially to the gym. Doing squats? Flex your abs in each rep. Deadlifts? Same thing.

    The reasoning behind this is two-fold. First of all, your core muscles (which include your abs, your obliques, and your diaphragm) are absolutely critical to the stability of your spine. Actively engaging those muscles during exercise will help you stay stable and strong, reducing your chances of injury and keeping you strong through the entire exercise.

    Second, actively engaging your abs and core during these exercises helps strengthen all of those muscles I mentioned earlier - and that’s key to getting a great six-pack.

    So how do you do it? Some people have a tendency to suck their abs in - don’t do that. This actually weakens your core, making you more vulnerable to injury. Instead, flex your abs. Think about how your abs engage when you laugh or cough, and do that consciously. You can even place your hands on your stomach and intentionally laugh to get a sense of what it feels like.

    Plus, everyone can use more laughter in their life, right?

    Make a conscious effort to engage those abdominal muscles during any exercise that requires balance and stability (basically, pretty much every exercise that involves you standing on your feet). You’ll be on your way to a six-pack while also protecting yourself from injury. It’s a win-win.

    Hack #2 - Perfection in Posture

    There are a ton of benefits to this technological age, but one major drawback to our reliance on new tech tools is that we’re all sitting a whole lot more. That has an effect on your posture, as it’s very easy to slouch forward when sitting for long hours - especially if you spend those hours working at a computer.

    When you slouch like this, everything to dips forward - making even strong and lean abs sag a bit. But not only is good posture associated with stronger abs, it also plays into perceptions of your confidence, attractiveness, and authority. And let’s not ignore that better posture protects you from injury.

    So what is proper posture? Well, it changes based on whether you’re standing or sitting. Let’s break it down:

    When sitting…

    • Keep your feet on the floor if possible, and don’t cross your legs
    • Keep your ankles in front of your knees
    • Your knees should be in line with your hips or below them
    • When possible, use a chair with arm rests so that you can keep your forearms parallel to the ground

    When standing…

    • Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart
    • Keep your shoulders back, standing tall
    • Tuck your abs in (don’t suck them in - slightly flex them)
    • Keep your head straight, as if you could draw a vertical line from ears to shoulders to hips to knees

    These recommendations are just for sitting and standing still, but when walking, the same principles of proper standing apply. It all boils down to standing tall and confident. The minutiae of posture will fall into place if you just focus on that.

    Hack #3 - Work It from All Angles

    Now, let’s get into some actual ab exercises and workouts... When it comes to getting a great six-pack, crunches alone just aren’t going to cut it. That’s because really making those abs pop comes down to more than just the surface-level front muscles.

    Your entire core is involved in getting a sexy six-pack. You have your obliques - or “side abs” - and the transverse abdominis, a layer of muscle running behind the “six-pack” muscles. Your hips and lower back are also heavily involved in the strength and stability of your entire midsection.

    What does all that matter? Basically, it means you’ll need a variety of exercises that work your core from different angles and through different planes of motion to score the Baywatch abs of your dreams.

    Crunches do have a time and a place, as they’re a great isolator of your main layer of abdominal muscles. But you’ll also want to work in twists and rotation moves that hit your obliques, in addition to working your abs through different types of motion. Lower back exercises - from deadlifts to back extensions - are also a big help.

    Whenever possible, combine different types of movements as well. Spend some time on the floor with crunches and hip raises, get on your feet for twists and side-to-side moves, and then get off your feet for hanging leg raises and twists. Working a wide variety of core exercises will help get that six-pack to finally pop.

    Hack #4 - To Move, or Not to Move?

    Crunches, full-body twists and other exercises are great, but movement alone isn’t the key to great abs. There are also plenty of effective ab exercises that don’t involve much movement at all. Planks, which involve holding a single position for a set time, are an extremely effective exercise for your abs - especially the transverse abdominis.

    Exercises where you move are called isotonic exercises, while those that are all about holding a position are called isometric. Use both in your workout to build stability and strength, and to ensure you hit all the different muscles that make up your core.

    You don’t just have to use planks (or side planks) either. You can work isometric “squeezes” into different exercises. Doing hanging leg raises? Every other rep, hold your position at the top of the movement, holding it as long as you can before lowering your legs. With crunches and Russian twists, you can do the same, holding at the top, or most “flexed” part of the movement for five to ten seconds, and then lowering back down.

    Hack #5 - You Can Rest When You’re Out of the Gym

    “You can sleep when you’re dead!”

    Ever heard that phrase? Well, you can use a similar strategy when training your abs: you can take those big rest periods once you leave the gym.

    A major key to training abs and getting the most out of your core workouts is taking short rest periods. These come in two forms - rest between exercises and rest between sets. Let’s create a sample ab workout that puts this concept into action:

    Start with four exercises, back to back:

    • A: Bicycle crunches - 30 seconds
    • B: Russian twists - 10 reps per side
    • C: Hanging leg raises - 8 reps
    • D: Plank - 45 seconds

    Work in the following rest periods:

    • 15 seconds between exercises
    • 30-60 seconds between sets (between exercises D and A)

    Basically, between exercise A and B, you rest 15 seconds; same between B and C, and between C and D. Then, once you finish D, you rest for up to a minute and start over at A. Repeat the whole circuit 2-4 times.

    These short rest periods are integral to getting the most out of your abs. As I said earlier, your core muscles are postural muscles - key components of posture, balance, and stability. They’re frequently used even when you aren’t actively engaging them and, as a result, they recover quickly.

    Take advantage of that quick recovery time and work your abs hard with short rest periods, a variety of exercises, and multiple sets. Don’t settle for a few sets of crunches at the end of your workout. Work your abs and core just as hard as you do every other muscle group.

    Hack #6 - Eliminate the Middleman

    One thing you might notice as you get closer to that coveted six-pack is that you tend to get the top “four-pack” before anything else. The lower abs just don’t want to cooperate.

    There are some exercises that put a greater emphasis on your lower abs, like hanging leg raises, lying leg raises, and hip thrusts. But even if you’re doing a ton of them, you still might not be getting the last portion of your six-pack. Why is that?

    Well, you may have a middleman getting in the way of your abs actually being activated and engaged. That middleman - technically, middlemen - are your hip flexors. These muscles are the key to raising your legs and bending at the waist - two major movements involved in ab exercises.

    If you’re working your abs early in your workout, your hip flexors may be blocking the way for your abs and core to get the most out of your workout. Here’s how to cut out the middle-man:

    • Start your workout by stretching your hip flexors. Use stretches like the seated butterfly and hip bridges to engage your hip flexors and prime them for activity.
    • Then, work your hip flexors with exercises like lunges, squats, and deadlifts. Do those early in your workout, after stretching, and you’ll be able to exhaust your hip flexors early.
    • Work your abs near the end of the workout. With your hip flexors engaged and exhausted, many of your core exercises will be more challenging, but you’ll also actually engage your core and lower abs more effectively - training the muscles you want instead of the middlemen.

    Keep these tips in mind, and you should start seeing those lower abs pop into definition, finally filling out your four-pack into a six-pack.

    Hack #7 - Exhale Completely… and Then Exhale Again

    It sounds crazy, but one final aspect of your ab and core training you may be falling short on without even realizing it is breathing. I mean, we’re all pretty much pros at breathing, right? How could something so simple be messing up our ab workouts?

    While breathing is important for all exercises, it might be the most important for your ab exercises. Since your abdominal muscles are located in front of your diaphragm, lungs, and rib cage, your breathing has a huge impact on the way your abdominal muscles contract during exercise.

    So, how should you breathe during ab workouts? Let’s break it down:

    • Exhale at the start of each rep
    • Exhale throughout the rep, but breathe out forcefully, as much as possible
    • At the “top” or most contracted portion of the rep, hold for a second, and breathe out even if you think there’s no air left in your lungs
    • Lower back down to your starting position, inhaling as you go

    This type of breathing serves two purposes. First of all, it protects you from injury by keeping your rib cage down and protecting your spine (an important function of your core muscles).

    But it also helps activate your abdominal muscles better. Since these muscles sit in front of your diaphragm, having a full tank of air when trying to contract results in your stomach pushing out - limiting the amount of engagement you’ll get out of your abs. The more you exhale, the less air there is behind your abs, letting them flex and contract more completely.

    So there you have it - seven high-level tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts to give you the edge you need to attain that sexy six-pack. Don’t just use one or two of them - take advantage of the entire set. From rest periods to exercise variety to breathing to posture, all of these strategies work together with your diet and exercise plan to get you the abs you’ve always wanted, faster than you ever thought possible.

    Put these strategies to the test, and then let me know: what’s been most helpful for you in pushing your abs to the next level? Leave a comment below with your thoughts and recommendations:

    Images: Wikimedia CommonsFlickrWikimedia Commons, Flickr

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