To ever have a chance of seeing your six-pack, you need to keep a healthy diet and do the right kind of training. What ‘the right training’ actually looks like, however, goes against pretty much everything we’ve ever been told about working our abs. Here’s exactly how—and how often—you should work out in order to make that six-pack pop.
Your Abs vs. Your Core
When you think of the coveted six-pack, you probably picture a group of muscles called the rectus abdominus, which cover the front of your mid-section. However, these six-pack muscles are just one piece of your core. The collection of all of the muscles that surround your trunk, your core also includes the internal and external obliques (which run along your sides), the erector spinea (which covers the length of the back), the transverse abdominus (beneath the obliques), and the quadratus lumborum (beneath the erector spinea in the low back). So, before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight: Though the words ‘core’ and ‘abs’ are used interchangeably all the time, they’re not the same thing.
Abs Workouts vs. Core Workouts
If you really want a ripped middle, you’ve got to train more than just your abs! Not only should you be training all five core muscles together, but you should be doing so in all three planes of motion (forward-and-backward, side-to-side, and rotational), says Brooklyn-based coach Keita Minakawa C.S.C.S., FRCms. And that means doing a variety of exercises—not just a crazy-long plank or a hundred crunches. “Human beings move through three-dimensional space and our muscles need to be able to support the movement,” he adds. Here’s what a proper 360-degree core workout might look like:
- bear walks (forward-and-backward plane)
- side planks (side-to-side plane)
- wood-chops (rotational plane)
When you train all your core muscles in all planes of motion, not only do you develop a more functionally-fit body, but a more visible six-pack, too. The more muscles you train, the more calories you burn and the more muscle mass you can build.
Training For A Six-Pack
Before you even think about doing full-on core workouts, make sure your overall training program focuses on big, compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. These full-body moves fire up all of your major muscle groups, including your core, and should be considered your core strength foundation.
In addition to these foundational moves, Minakawa recommends also doing two or three core-specific exercises three days per week. (Do them before hitting the barbell for your big lifts.)
Like with any other muscle group, give your core muscles at least 24 hours of rest in between workouts that include these core-specific moves, adds Dallas-based trainer and dietitian Tim McComsey C.P.T., R.D.
Also like any other muscle group, you can’t expect your core to grow stronger (or bigger) without following the principle of progressive overload. To continually challenge your muscles, rotate in new core exercises, increase the resistance, and/or churn out more reps as you’re able.
To make your training more effective, watch out for what Minakawa calls ‘abdominal hollowing,’ when you suck your stomach inward while exercising. Not only does this take the emphasis off your core muscles, but it can put undue pressure where you don’t want it, like on your spine. Instead, imagine you’re about to be punched in the stomach and brace your core. “Abdominal bracing engages all of the core muscles at once,” he says.
The Cardio Factor
Of course, showing off visible abs requires whittling down your body fat percentage. In addition to strength and core-specific training, you’ll need to commit to regular cardio to drop body fat and reveal that six-pack, says McComsey. Start out with three or four days of 40 to 60 minutes of steady-state cardio at about 65 percent of your maximum ability. From there, add in 10 to 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training two to three times per week. “If your body fat levels are stuck, HIIT will really turn the burn up a notch,” he says.