There’s some good news and bad news about building your abs. The good news is, you truly can build strong ab muscles working out five minutes at a time, several days a week. The bad news is, abs start in the kitchen—no one will see your abs of steel if they’re covered by flabs of veal.
To create a six-pack, you need both muscle and definition. Muscle is easy to create. Definition comes when your skin outlines your muscles, rather than covering it as it stretches with fat.
Further complicating things is the fact that you can’t spot-target fat burning. Walking on a treadmill won’t burn just fat in your legs, just as lifting dumbbells won’t burn only the fat in your arms. You burn stores of fat throughout your body as you exercise, so a full-body cardio workout that has some resistance, combined with a sensible diet and regular ab workouts are what you need to create a marvelous midsection.
Two Types of Ab Exercises
To build your abs, include exercises that move you forward and backward, as well as side-to-side. This will help you work your rectus abdominis (six pack) and obliques (on the sides of your stomach).
You don’t need any equipment to build awesome abs, but there are a number of items that will add variety to your workouts and help you exercise.
•Ab Wheel – You can buy these for as little as $10 at any sporting goods resale store or cheaply on the Internet.
•Medicine Ball – Buy a 1- or 2-pound medicine ball to help work your abs or substitute a milk jug filled with water. A gallon of water weighs more than 8 pounds, letting you increase the weight you use as your build strength without having to buy more equipment.
•Bench – If you can perform situps or crunches with your legs raised, you’ll increase the benefit. Use any board on a raised platform if you don’t have an exercise bench.
•Kettlebell – A kettlebell looks like a bowling ball with a handle. Because of the handle, the weight is unstable and you must recruit your core muscles to stabilize yourself during exercises.
Crunches – Crunches are like situps, but you keep your shoulders off the floor the entire time to keep tension in your stomach. Lay flat on your back and cross your arms across your chest. Raise your knees until your feet near your buttocks. Raise your shoulders off the ground.
Move your head slowly toward your knees using only your core muscles. Hold for two seconds, then slowly lower yourself using muscular effort (don’t let yourself drop). Don’t let your shoulders touch the ground after you lower yourself. Perform 10 to 12 reps per set and perform three sets during your workout.
You will not move as far as you do during regular situps. With crunches, a little movement goes a long way.
Reverse Crunches – Reverse crunches require very little movement, but provide an intense ab exercise. Get in your crunch starting position, keeping your shoulders off the floor. Place your hands behind your neck, similar to a situp. Raise your feet off the floor, bringing your knees toward your chest. Move your knees toward your chest, using only your core muscles — don’t pull yourself forward with your hands. This will maximize your ab use and help reduce neck and back strain. Here’s a video to show you how it’s done.
Bicycle Kicks – After doing 10 to 12 bicycle kicks, you’ll understand why it’s possible to build ab muscles without spending hours on the floor. This exercise is fun but intense, and gives you the side-to-side movement that works your obliques.
Assume your reverse crunch starting position with your shoulders and feet off the floor, then reach with your right elbow toward your left leg as you kick your left leg forward. Return to your starting position and reach for your right leg with your left elbow. “Pedal” this way for one minute—if you can.
As you tire, don’t pull yourself forward with your hands behind your neck or you’ll strain your back. Use your abs only to do this exercise. Here’s a video to show you how it’s done.
Ab Wheel – Start on your knees as you build core strength, moving to a full plank position (like a pushup). Keep your body in a straight line as you roll forward, pause, then roll yourself back, using only your core muscles. Roll to the left and right to work your obliques. As you build strength, move from your knees to your toes to a standing position.
Russian Twists – Sit on the ground and hold a weight at arms’ length. Without leading with your shoulders, turn to one side, hold for two seconds, then return to center, using only your core muscles to turn and return you. Repeat on the opposite side. Perform 10 to 12 reps per set. You can also perform this exercise standing.
Kettlebell Swings – Kettlebell swinging not only help build your abs, but also raises your metabolism and is a great cardio workout.
Stand with your knees slightly bent and the kettlebell between them. Holding the kettlebell in both hands, stand up, thrust your hips forward and swing the kettlebell up to your chest, shoulders or higher. Let the ball come back down to your starting position and repeat this swinging motion.
Be careful not to hurt your back doing this exercise. Use your legs, hips and core to swing the weight, not your back. Before you buy a kettlebell, practice with a gallon milk jug filled with water. If the full gallon (8 lbs.) is too difficult, drain half the water. Use the 4 lb. weight as a gauge as to what weight kettlebell you should buy. You can also try the exercise with one dumbbell.
Here’s a great list of ab exercises with quick photos to show you how to do them.