How to Fast Track Your Six-Pack

Work the hidden muscles behind your six-pack for better definition. Credit: Rytis Seskaitis / Getty Images

Everyone wants six-pack abs. A visible rectus abdominis is a sign that you're fit and training hard. Sets of endless crunches and a strict diet will help those muscles pop. But you'll get even greater results by working the hidden muscles underneath, and with that added strength, you’ll also boost your core stability, posture, and prevent future injuries.

The hidden muscles I'm talking about are your transverse abdominis and inner obliques. These actually wrap all the way around your body and attach to your thoracolumbar fascia (the thick layer of connective tissue at the back of the trunk). Think of them as a girdle that pulls in your waist and provides stability to help keep your body in alignment. Without them you wouldn’t be able to maintain an upright posture or squat or lunge correctly. If they aren’t working properly, you see the effects in your posture, which eventually leads to pain or injury.

The added bonus, of course, is that strengthening the transverse abdominis and inner obliques will give you more definition in your outer abdominals muscles too. Because the internal obliques and transverse abdominis attach to the other abdominal muscles via fascia, once they start to work harder, they pull on those outer abdominal muscles (outer obliques and rectus abdominis) and shape and define them too.

So, ditch the crunches and get to work on making your six-pack a reality. Here, four exercises to make it happen.

Reverse Plank

  • Lie on your back with your legs straight and together. Place your elbows under your shoulders and your forearms parallel to each other on the floor.
  • Squeeze your glutes and lats and lift your hips high off the floor.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can with proper form. Repeat 3 times to failure.

Rotating Side Planks

  • Lie on your right side. Stack your feet left on top of right and place your elbow under your shoulder.
  • Press up onto your forearm and lift your hips high toward the ceiling. Hold your body in a straight line.
  • Reach your left arm toward the ceiling, in line with your torso. Now, reach your left arm across your body and under your right side, twisting your torso simultaneously.
  • Make sure to keep your hips lifted and stacked the entire time.
  • Do three sets of 10 reps; repeat on opposite side.

Side Bending Oblique Crunch with a Twist

  • Stand with your right foot slightly forward, holding a 20- to 30-pound kettlebell in your right hand.
  • Bend your torso and reach your hand down the side of your right thigh, then twist your trunk 45 degrees toward the left, bringing the kettlebell to the front of your leg. 
  • Use your left-side obliques to pull you back up to a straight spine position.
  • Do three sets of 10 reps; repeat on opposite side.

Press With Rotation

  • Anchor an exercise band about two feet off the floor.
  • Kneel with the band anchored to your right and hold one end of the band out in front of your chest with straight arms. It should be under tension, with your obliques engaged.
  • Turn your torso away from the anchor, keeping your arms straight out in front of your chest the entire time. Squeeze your glutes to keep your hips under your shoulders.
  • Do three sets of 10 reps; repeat on opposite side.

David Reavy is a Chicago-based physical therapist who works with NFL and NBA players and everyday guys.