“There’s no such thing as spot-reducing fat, and a six-pack is indicative of overall health and whole-body fitness, not just the state of the core muscles,” says Kendra Coppey Fitzgerald, founder of Barefoot Tiger in-home personal training services in NYC and LA. “If there’s too much fat on top of the ab muscles, you’ll never see them, no matter how much core work you do.” That means eating healthily and doing cardio plus heavy weight training to lean down and build muscles to lose weight overall. (Bummer, we know.)
Then, when it comes to sculpting those abs of your dreams, it’s not as simple as doing endless crunches. “Developing a six-pack requires more than just working the ‘pretty’ muscles that you can see,” Fitzgerald says. “The deeper, transverse core muscles must be strengthened first to create a strong, solid base—without that, only doing crunches can actually make your belly stick out more. Nobody wants that.”
Better news: By doing the types of routines here that strengthen from all angles and focus on function (how your body moves in real life) rather than flexion (crunches), you’ll look good and have a stronger core and less risk of lower back injury. “Not only will you see better gains faster, it’s also the quickest way to take inches off your waistline,” says Fitzgerald.
Directions: Begin each of these workouts with a five-minute warmup, or go through the moves after you’ve done your usual cardio or strength training when you’re already warm. Each should also begin with 20 reps of what Fitzgerald calls “transverse pullbacks”—where you pull your navel toward your spine, as if bracing yourself against a sucker punch—as a way to activate the muscles for the work you’re about to ask of them. You’ll also need some dumbbells for some of these moves.
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