The key to a sculpted midsection is using smart and effective stabilizing moves. But if your body fat is too high, it won’t matter how wisely you work your abs—they won’t show. That’s why you need to add those moves to a full-body strength and cardio routine that will boost your metabolism, blast fat, and finally uncover those abs you’ve been working so hard to develop.
And while the exercises can be thrown into your workout at random, that tactic will get you just a fraction of their benefits. For full value, work on progression.
Here’s how it works: After a 10- minute dynamic warm-up, do the first two moves as instructed, then finish with a total-body workout. Do this three times a week on nonconsecutive days for two weeks, then go to the next two moves. Repeat the pattern over eight weeks until you’ve done all eight moves.
Your Core Curriculum
For a whittled middle, commit these four rules to memory.
1 Your spine is already flexed—don’t make it worse.
If your day is spent hunched over a computer or a steering wheel, your spine is in a constantly flexed position, leading to poor posture and a weak core. So why would you worsen the problem with spine-flexing exercises like crunches? The moves in this program help prevent or correct misaligned posture.
2 The terms core and abs are not interchangeable.
Crunches work your abs, but for the biggest benefits, you need to work your entire core, which is made up of the four layers of the abs (rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and transverse abdominis), hip flexors, spine extensors, hip adductors (inner-thigh muscles), hip abductors (including gluteus medius), and multifidus.
3 Move more and often.
Consider this stat: Each 10 percent rise in sedentary time is associated with a 3.1-centimeter larger waist circumference. Researchers found that, of the subjects they studied, the waist measurements of people who got up most often were more than two inches smaller than those of people who got up the least.
4 It’s not just about gym time.
A study found that while a group’s average weight loss after a 12- week fitness program was about eight pounds, individual results ranged from a loss of 32 pounds to gains of almost four pounds. So although exercise is key for shedding belly flab, weight control still comes down to calories. To drop weight, you have to burn off more of them than you take in.
1. Plank With Leg Lift
Sets: 2 • Reps: 60-90 seconds
Get into a modified pushup position with your weight resting on your forearms and toes, elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from your neck to your ankles. From that position, brace your core and lift one foot off the floor. You can hold that position for the entire set—60 to 90 seconds—and then do the second set with the other leg raised, or switch legs halfway through each set.
2. Plank With Feet Elevated
Sets: 10 • Reps: 10 seconds • Rest: 10 seconds
Position your toes on an exercise bench and your forearms on the floor, with your weight resting on your forearms and toes, elbows under your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from your neck to your ankles, which means your head will be angled downward slightly. Brace your core and hold for 10 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this pattern a total of 10 times.
3. Stability-ball Mountain Climber
Sets: 1 • Reps: 10-12
Place your hands on a stability ball, roughly 18 to 24 inches apart, and extend your legs behind you in a pushup position, with your body forming a straight line from your neck to your ankles. Raise your right foot off the floor and slowly bring your right knee up toward your chest, then lower it. That’s one rep. Repeat with the left leg, and continue alternating until you’ve done 10 to 12 reps with each leg.
4. Suitcase Deadlift And Lateral Step-up
Sets: 2 • Reps: 5 • Rest: 60-90 seconds
Stand to the right of a step with a heavy dumbbell in your right hand and squat until the weight is at your shin. As you stand, step to the left to plant your left foot on the step, quickly followed by your right foot so that you’re standing on the step. Return to start. That’s one rep. Do five, then switch sides and repeat. Rest for 60 to 90 seconds, then repeat for a total of two sets.
5. Side Plank
Reps: 2 • Rest: 30-45 seconds
Lie on your left side with your legs straight and your right leg stacked on your left. Position yourself so your weight is resting on your left forearm and the outside edge of your left foot. Your elbow should be directly beneath your shoulder, and your upper arm should be perpendicular to the floor. Align your body so it forms a straight line from your neck to your ankles, and place your right hand on your hip. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.
6. Side Plank With Knee Tuck
Reps: 2 • Rest: 30-45 seconds
Lie on your left side and set up in a side plank, with your legs straight and your weight resting on your left forearm. Align your body so it forms a straight line from your neck to your ankles and put your right hand on your hip. Lift your left leg and bend that knee, bringing your foot next to the inside of your right knee. Your body weight is now resting on your left forearm and the inside edge of your right foot. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
7. Side Plank With Row
Sets: 1 • Reps: 10-12
Position yourself next to a low cable machine (or attach a resistance band, with or without a handle, to a secure low object) and get into a side plank position facing the cable. Grab the handle with your free hand, palm facing the floor. Brace your core and, without allowing your torso to lean forward or backward, pull the cable until it’s at or near the side of your rib cage. Slowly return to the starting position, again keeping your core still and moving only your arm. That’s one rep. Do 10 to 12, then repeat on the other side.
8. Dumbbell Overhead Off-loaded Farmer’s Walk
Sets: 2 • Rest: 60-90 seconds
Grab a dumbbell in each hand, one about 10 pounds heavier than the other, and hold them overhead, palms facing each other. Keep your core engaged and slowly walk forward 10 to 20 steps, moving from heel to toe as you step. Switch the weights and repeat. Rest for 60 to 90 seconds, then repeat for a total of two sets.