It’s the pinnacle of fitness: six-pack abs. We all want them. And while it’s tough to get six-pack abs at any age, that challenge becomes exponentially more difficult once you pass 30.
Thankfully, if you’re already reasonably fit, just a few tweaks to your routine here, a few modifications to your diet there, and you’ll be well on your way to shredded stomach glory. To that end, we’ve gathered up the best tips and tricks—expert-approved advice to ensure that, in no time, you’ll have the sculpted abs of your dreams. And for some core-specific moves, check out The Best Workouts For Getting That Summer Six-Pack.
Despite the fact that sit-ups been widely rebuked—everyone from Harvard Medical School to the U.S. Army advises against performing them—you shouldn’t discount the classic move just yet. The sit-up’s “primary function is to work your rectus abdominis, which are those six-pack muscles that most people want,” says Katie Barrett, lead instructor at B/SPOKE Cycling Studio in Boston and a certified personal trainer. “But doing that full sit-up is also going to work your hip flexors and other stabilizing core muscles.” The key is making sure you’re doing them correctly. (And here’s how to do just that).
EAT: Sweet potatoes.
Common knowledge will tell you that, to get six-pack abs, carbs are verboten. Common knowledge is right—kind of. The key is to avoid the wrong carbs, like French fries, and eat the right carbs, like sweet potatoes. These orange goodies are full of carotenoids, which prevent calories from turning into fat; fiber, which helps you stay sated, and ultimately eat less; and Vitamin C, which’ll give you energy (for working out). And for more ab-shredding foods, check out the 10 Healthy Carbs That Won’t Derail Your Six-Pack.
WORK: Your obliques.
When it comes to working the core, many people focus on abdominal muscles, and neglect their obliques (or what you may know as “side abs”). But, says Barrett, these clandestine muscles are just as important: they “keep everything tucked in.” To get a good oblique workout in, head to the pulley machine and start doing some Paloff presses. If you don’t know how to perform the exercise, read our comprehensive guide on mastering the move.
DO: Hanging leg raises.
“Do I have a secret for building a ripped midsection?” asks Gregg Avedon, a certified personal trainer and former male model. “Yes, I do: hanging leg raises.” Whereas crunches and sit-ups hit the top part of your core, hanging leg raises work that hard-to-hit lower ab section, too. To reap the full effect, Avedon does three sets of 30 at the start of every workout. And for more sage advice from Avedon, learn his Best One-Move, Total-Body Workouts Of All Time.
Every beer you drink has about 150 calories. And most of those calories are “empty”—or, in other words, nutritionally useless. If you’re a regular beer drinker, you could be consuming hundreds or thousands or entirely useless calories each week. Those add up fast. A good alternative libation would be tequila, which has less than half the calories per alcohol volume—and zero carbs. If you must throw back a bottle or two, though, be sure you’re drinking any of the 30 Best Post-Workout Beers.
SPLIT: Up your core workouts.
Leg day, arms day, chest-and-shoulders day. You already break up your regular workouts by muscle group; steal a page out of Alicia Vikander’s ab-shredding book and do the same to your core. To get ripped for Tomb Raider, Vikander broke her core workouts into three days: isometric (endurance moves, like planks); strength (sit-ups, hanging leg raises); and oblique-specific (told you so).
GET: A good night’s sleep.
“When we are not getting in the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, your body can build up cortisol, which can accumulate belly fat,” says Ilsye Shapiro, RD, a New York–based dietician. And for great sleeping advice, don’t miss the 40 Ways to Sleep Better In Your 40s.
KEEP: Calm (and carry on).
Stress, as studies have confirmed time and again, is another surefire way to spike your cortisol levels. To keep them low—and banish belly fat, too—learn how to de-stress. For starters, try out the 30 Easiest Ways to Banish Stress For Good.
DO: Interval training.
For a way to incinerate calories and show off the abs under your belly, look no further than high-intensity interval training (HIIT). By engaging in HIIT, you’ll trigger excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (also referred to as EPOC, or “afterburn”), which means you’ll continue burning calories long after you’ve wrapped up your routine.
Here’s a how a standard HIIT routine goes: one minute of strenuous exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest, repeated four to six times. You can do it for anything: sprinting followed by walking; biking full-steam followed by a casual pace; butterfly strokes followed by a doggy paddle. Or, if you really want to turn up the heat on HIIT, try out The Single Best HIIT Workout For Turning Back the Clock.
EAT: Enough calories.
The math is simple: keeping your calories down is a surefire way to keep your weight down. But make sure you don’t dip too low. Eating too little can slow down your metabolism, which can have adverse effects on your body. “It doesn’t know when the next meal is,” says Shapiro. Put another way: when it comes time for your body to burn off calories, it may hold on to them instead. Think of your body like a furnace. It constantly needs fuel intake to continue burning.
DO: Stability chops.
Most core exercises hit a certain part of your core: your rectus, your obliques, and so on. But the high-cable split stability chop is the one exercise that hit your entire midsection. Yes, it’s not as strenuous on each individual fiber as some other moves. But it will hit more spots than anything else, which is why it’s a great exercise to slate in to your routine. Here’s exactly how to pull it off.
TAKE: Creatine supplements.
Creatine works twofold. It helps your muscles retain water, which means they’ll really pop, and it gives you long-lasting energy, which means you can make it through a grueling core workout, no problem. And taking it is effortless: just drop a scoop into your water bottle next time you head to the gym. (Best Life recommends the fruit punch flavor. It’s far and away the smoothest.) And for more great workout-boosting dietary additions, check out the 50 Best Supplements on the Planet.
DO: Inverted pulsating abs.
Think of this high-level move like a supercharged crunch. On a decline bench, keep your back straight and arms at your side, then lift just your head, neck, and shoulders off the bench by two inches. Hold for two seconds. Do 20—three times.
“If you need a small treat and indulgence per day, to keep you from overdoing it on the weekends,” says Shapiro, go for it. Just be sure to “stick to about 150 calories or less.” It’s a small trick to help you stay on-track. For a good sweet treat, consider dark chocolate (that’s a bar with a 70 percent or higher cacao rating). According to a study in Circulation Heart Failure, the flavanols within can slash your risk of heart disease by more than 30 percent.
Bananas are high in potassium, which, in addition to being a good nutrient for slashing blood-pressure levels, can also help reduce belly bloat. And for more ways to healthily optimize your diet, learn the 40 Heart Foods to Eat After 40.
For every pound of muscle on your frame, you’ll burn 6 additional calories an hour without doing anything at all. We’re not suggesting you bulk up to Avengers status. But adding a few pounds to your frame can help you melt calories—and unwanted fat—with zero effort.
EAT: Lean proteins.
Fish, chicken, pork—these meats are high in protein and low in fat, meaning they’ll build muscle and boost energy, all without throwing your macros out of whack. And if you must eat beef, spring for grass-fed only; it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, which, according to research in PLoS One, can help reduce waist size.
DO: Bicycle kicks.
Lie on your back, arms behind your head, like you’re in a crunch position, with legs raised and bent at a 90-degree angle. Kick your legs back and forth like you’re riding a bike. While you do that, alternatively twist the upper part of your torso in tandem with your legs. For maximum toning, do this for as long as you can take it. Once you master this move, you’ll never forget it—it’s just like riding a bike!
“By putting your hands behind your head and pulling yourself into the sit-up,” explains Barrett, “you get a lot of neck issues and can even strain your neck.” If you injure yourself, ab workouts will become painful, and you’ll do them less frequently. And without ab workouts, you’ll never see a shredded midsection.
DO: Stretch during every workout.
On that same note, be sure you’re stretching at the start of every workout. Ab exercises tend to use spine movement and, as such, it’s easy to pull your neck or lower back. By staying limber, you reduce the chance of injury—and increase the chances of regular exercise.
A cross between a leg raise and a crunch, the V-up is championed by personal trainers and #fitspo influencers alike. It hits both the top and bottom sections of your ab muscles, granting definition in those hard-to-hit spots. Here’s how to do it. Lay flat on the ground, arms raised over your head. Raise your legs, keeping them straight, toward the ceiling. At the same time, try to touch your toes. (You don’t have to fully get there.) Return back to a flat position. That’s one rep. Do as many as you can. Once you can effortlessly do four reps of fifteen, start adding a medicine ball for increased resistance.
EAT: Oatmeal for breakfast.
Instead of starting your day with sugar-loaded cereal or a time-consuming egg dish, make yourself a boat of oats. It’s a dish loaded with fiber, so you won’t feel the need to snack, and each serving comes with 10 grams of ab-toning protein.
DO: Side planks.
You’re likely well-acquainted with the regular plank. But the oft-overlooked side plank is a great way to shred those obliques. With your body perpendicular to the floor, lift your body off the floor, and support your torso on your forearm. Clench your abs. Shoot to hold for a minute, then do the same thing on the other side.
WALK: After your workouts.
“While [exercise] helps boost a short release of adrenaline and cortisol,” says Ariane Hundt, a nutrition coach and fitness expert, “walking reduces the stress effects and allows body fat to be burned off.”
EAT: The right power bars.
You may think of power bars as protein-loaded snacks that are perfect pre- or post-workout. And while you’re not entirely wrong, you’re not entirely wrong, either. In addition to high protein levels, many power bars are surreptitiously loaded with sugar, which will bring any ab-seeking efforts of yours screeching to a halt. So, if you’re going to reach for a bar, be sure to check the nutrition facts first. Many bars—like the offerings from ONE or thinkThin—only have 1 gram of sugar for 20 grams of protein (and still taste delicious, to boot).
SIT: On a Swiss ball.
Instead of your go-to office chair, swap it out for a Swiss ball. According to Jim Youssef, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Durango Orthopedics, this easy swap will force you to work your core throughout the day, so you’re still toning your abs even when you’re busy doing what you do most: work.
Like beer, each soda has about 150 calories. What’s worse, however, is that soda is generally loaded with processed sugars, which will surely derail any attempts at toning your core. And if you think that drinking diet or zero-cal stuff is fine, think again. According to a study in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, folks who drank diet soda regularly actually end up gaining more weight than those who drink regular soda. In other words, if abs are your goal, steer clear of the stuff entirely.
TRY: The 80-20 rule.
One of the best tricks for getting six-pack abs is to lose some weight, even if it’s just a few pounds. And one of the best ways to lose weight is to adhere to the 80-20 method. Since it takes your brain about 20 minutes to “catch up” to your stomach and realize that, hey, you’re full, oftentimes, you’ll eat more than you need to. So eat 80 percent of what you’d normally eat, then wait 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry, eat the remaining 20 percent of your portion. But chances are, you won’t be hungry one bit. And for more great ways to lose weight, master the 20 Techniques Successful Dieters Share.
You’ve been doing them for years, and for good reason. Crunches are one of the best exercises for toning the top of your abs—or the part that, when defined, more than any other part of your body, really makes it look like you have a magazine-worthy midriff. So don’t stop doing them now.
“Ultimately, it’s not rocket science,” says Avedon. “[Just] be consistent and workout at least three times a week.”
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