The Single Greatest Flat-Abs Exercise You’re Not Doing

It's time to ditch the foam mats and head to the cable cross.

The Single Greatest Flat-Abs Exercise You’re Not Doing

Everyone wants abs. But here’s a little secret: You already have them. Everybody does. You just have to make them pop. And to do so, all you need is a simple combination of fat-burning cardio—like these 10 high-intensity routines—and core-shredding exercises. The key, however, is picking the right exercise—which means ditching the foam mats and heading straight to a cable cross pulley machine.

“Most of the time, [when] people think of abs exercises, they think of planks and crunches and sit-ups,” says Katie Barrett, lead instructor at B/SPOKE Cycling Studio in Boston and a certified personal trainer. “Not a lot of people think of going to use a pulley machine.”

Barrett recommends a maneuver called the paloff press. In addition to working your rectus abdominis—those are the defined muscles you know colloquially as a “six pack”—the paloff press also shreds your obliques—or what you may call “side abs.” (Obliques are also the muscles that, in other words, “keep everything tucked in,” notes Barrett.) Here, she walks us through how to pull this move off. And once you’ve mastered this, be sure to incorporate the 10 Healthiest Carbs That Won’t Derail Your Six-Pack into your diet for maximum gains.

gym pulley cable machine paloff press

Set the pulley.

Set the pulley machine at chest height. Attach a handle to it—a short-strap one, if possible: Shorter straps have less slack, keeping the cable more level to your chest throughout the exercise.

setting weight obliques paloff press

Set the resistance.

Of course, weight resistance will differ from person to person based on individual fitness levels. “But you could probably [start with] 10 to 20 pounds,” says Barrett.

paloff press

Step back.

“Step back about three feet from the pulley,” says Barrett. This will give you enough room to perform the paloff press.

paloff press obliques

Position yourself.

Turn your body 90 degrees away from the pulley machine, so you’re perpendicular to it, and brace your feet hard against the ground. Pro tip: “It helps to bend your knees slightly, like a mini squat,” says Barrett.

paloff press-1


Hold the handle with both hands; it should be lined up with your sternum. Push it out from your chest and bring it back. Do 10 to 15 reps. (This video, from St. Catherine University Athletics, is a good demonstration of proper form.)

paloff press abs

Switch sides.

Now, turn around: Do the same thing on the other side.

paloff press abs woman


To start, do two to three sets on each side.

abs paloff press

Slowly build.

As your muscles get stronger—don’t fret, this is inevitable—and you progress, start doing four to six sets. (It might take a couple of weeks to get to this point.)

protein for your abs, profile mistakes

Put a twist on it.

Once can do those four to six reps no problem, consider upping the difficult of the paloff press by turning it into a wood chopper. “A wood chopper is basically the same as a paloff press,” explains Barrett, “[except] you would set the pulley at the floor and coming up diagonally across your body.” So, if the pulley is at your right foot, you’d bring it up and over your left shoulder and back down—and vice versa, if the pulley’s at your left foot.

kettlebell paloff press obliques

Now, put a twist on the twist.

You can also do the wood chopper with a dumbbell or a kettlebell.

ab workouts

Enjoy your new abs.

Combine the paloff press with the best ab workouts of all time and you’re sure to be rocking a six-pack in no time.

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