If you want six-pack abs, you need to know how to work all of the muscles that make up your core. There are five major muscles that you need to work to get a flat tummy and strong midsection.
Your core is made up of much more than your six-pack muscles. All humans are born with six-pack abs, but for the majority of people they ’re hidden behind a layer of abdominal fat. Working your core muscles with specific exercises will help make them bigger and more defined.
In order to get six-pack abs, I suggest doing a comprehensive exercise routine that effectively burns fat, strengthens your muscle and works the core. I like to say that ‘six-packs are made in the kitchen,’ because good nutrition is essential if you want to display these muscles or any other muscles in your body.
Below are some exercises to work each of the muscles that make up your core complex, as part of your well-balanced fitness routine.
Crunches are a simple, yet effective exercise that will activate the abdominals, the most external of the core muscles. These are the famous six-pack muscles.
How to do it: Lie face up on the floor with your knees up and bent. Begin the crunch movement by contracting your abs to curl your shoulders towards the pelvis. Clasp your hands behind your neck or crossed over your chest. Injury can be caused by pushing against your head or neck with your hands, so be careful to use your abs and not your head to lift your shoulders off the floor. Hold for a second then return to starting position.
How many: 15-20 perfect form crunches, 3-5 sets.
The muscles at the side of your waist are called the internal and external obliques. These muscles are important for stability, especially for movements that involve lateral (sideways) movements.
To activate these muscles, you’ll need to perform exercises that involve side bending or twisting. The bicycle ab crunch is my favorite exercise for working the obliques.
How to do it: Lie on your back on the floor. Stretch your legs out straight and place your hands behind your head. Raise your legs one at a time so that your thighs are perpendicular to the ground and your calves are parallel to the ground. Keep your feet together. Contract your abdominal muscles and touch your right elbow to your left knee. At the same time, straighten your right leg out in front, keeping it several inches off of the floor. Then switch, bending your right leg and straightening your left, like pedaling a bicycle. Use your abdominal muscles to crunch your body forward so that your elbow can reach your knee.
Note: Do not pull on your neck. It’s OK if you can’t quite reach your elbow to you knee.
How many: 30 seconds of bicycle crunches, 3-5 times.
The deep stabilizing muscle that connects the upper and lower body is called the quadratus lumborum. It’s an important muscle for stabilizing the hips and the spine, and it also plays a role with the diaphragm for deep breathing.
This muscle is worked with side bending or twisting movements. My favorite exercise to strengthen this muscle is the side plank.
How to do it: Lie on the floor on your side. Place your hand on the floor under you and straighten your arm, raising the top half of your body off the ground. Raise your other arm straight up, or let it rest on your side. Keep your legs straight, letting the lower half of your body rest on your underside leg.
How many: Try to hold this position for 45-60 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
The hip flexor muscle, called the psoas major, is used for all activities that involve moving your legs. My favorite exercise for working this muscle is the lying down leg raise.
How to do it: Lie on your back on a mat. Place your hands under your butt to stabilize your pelvis. Without letting your lower back lift, pull your knees toward your chest, then straighten your legs back to the starting position. To increase the resistance, try the exercise with straight legs. To increase the difficulty, do leg raises on an incline bench.
How many: Start out doing 10 raises, 3 sets. If your back starts to lift, stop, because you’ll be engaging the incorrect muscles.
What I call the flat tummy muscle, the transverse abdominal, is a deep core muscle that’s responsible for stabilizing your spine and pelvis, especially for lifting movements. The best exercise is so easy you can do it anywhere—it’s called the vacuum.
How to do it: You can do this exercise while sitting up or lying down. It can be done in bed, at the office, or while driving your car. All you have to do is suck your belly in as far as you can and hold. Make sure you’re pulling your abs in as if they’re meeting your back.
How many: Hold your tummy for 10 to 15 seconds then release. Try to continue breathing and don’t hold your breath.
Samantha Clayton is responsible for all activities relating to exercise and fitness education for Independent Herbalife Members and employees. Through in-person training sessions, educational tools and materials, and her blog (www.discovergoodfitness.com), she ensures that the important role of exercise as part of a healthy, active life is understood by all. She also helps create, organize and promote employee fitness programs and activities as an integral part of the company’s corporate wellness program.
A native of Liverpool, England, Samantha initially worked as a consultant for Herbalife for two years and led the Herbalife24-Fit program, the company’s first comprehensive fitness training program and DVD series.
Before joining the corporate ranks, Samantha was a professional athlete. She represented Great Britain in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in both the 200m and the 4x100m relay events. Prior to the Olympics, she won two medals in the Olympic AAA trials – a silver medal for the 200m and a bronze for the 100m – as well as a silver medal in the 4x100m relay during the European Junior Championships in 1997. Her personal records include 11.40 seconds in the 100m and 23.02 seconds in the 200m.
Samantha is a personal trainer and group exercise coach through the American Fitness and Aerobics Association (AFAA) and International Sport Science Association (ISSA).