Here’s the short answer: There is no single best exercise for abs, but we’ll give you three things you can do to lose body fat, improve core strength, and increase muscle definition.
1. Eat Right
Everyone has abdominal muscles. They just aren’t visible on a lot of people. Those who have visible abs generally have lower levels of body fat…and the right genetics don’t hurt, either.
If you’ve heard the saying “abs are made in the kitchen,” I’m here to tell you that’s true. For abs to be visible, you’ll have to eat food that will support your training but not higher levels of body fat. A nutrition coach can help you figure out the best plan to bring out that six pack!
2. Do Full-Body Movements With Free Weights
Some styles of training help you develop a strong core as an “added benefit.” Others don’t.
For example, when using machines for biceps curls, leg extensions or other movements, the working muscles are isolated and you don’t need to use your core much in most cases. Full-body or “compound” movements with free weights force your core to work as you move a host of joints to stabilize the loads. This work is great for building core strength.
Think about it: pressing a set of dumbbells overhead while standing requires you to engage your abs and erectors to hold your spine rigid while your arms work. In a back squat, those muscles work hard to support the bar as your hips, knees and ankles move.
Compound movements often don’t seem like “core training,” but I promise you they are.
3. Do Specific Core Exercises
Most people think of crunches when they think about training the core, but I’ll give you a non-exhaustive list of great movements that work all parts of the core. Here we go:
•Planks (all variations, including side planks)
All these movements will help you create strong muscles in your core—you’ll definitely feel the burn if you do them.
So which exercises should you do? A coach can tell you exactly which ones are best based on your goals, but if you aren’t working with a coach, select a movement for the back of the body (like glute bridges), one for each side of the body (like side bends) and one for the front (like bicycle crunches).
Be careful not to overdo it! Here’s a very general starting point: Do 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps of each exercise 2 or 3 times a week, leaving a rest day between sessions. Balance that will regular full-body weight training and regular conditioning workouts with appropriate intensity. Then refuel with whole foods that are low in sugar and fat.
Remember: No one thing will give you great abs. But a coach can help you earn your abs with a strategy that involves nutrition and movement together.