HOW TO GET ABS FAST
A trio of strategies to make your midsection a work of six-pack art
By Myatt Murphy
Sometimes the hardest part about working your abs isn't all the exercise involved; it's figuring out which exercises best meet your momentary needs. We asked our experts for routines that address the most common ways men work out. What they gave us were three that cover the gamut.
STRATEGY #1: THE GYM
So you prefer holding your workouts amongst iron and steel, do you? Then you probably already know there's no need to worry about becoming too bulky by bringing weights into your ab routine. "The abdominal muscles aren't designed for size; they are designed for function," says Fred McDaniel, master trainer and co-founder of the Human Performance Center in Santa Fe, N.M. That means no matter how hard you try, your stomach muscles may get stronger, tighter and firmer, but using weights will never inflate them.
Weights, especially cables, let you work your muscles through a variety of angles by lessening your reliance on whichever single angle gravity allows you. Sticking with the same body-resistance exercises, such as crunches and knee raises, can be counterproductive, especially as you get in better shape. "The leaner you become, the less resistance your muscles get from your decreasing body weight, leaving you with less results in the long run," says McDaniel. Adding weights can prevent this from happening, so your midsection won't suffer from your sleeker appearance.
As for injuries, "the risks involved using weighted abdominal movements are no different than those that come into play using weights for any other muscle group," says McDaniel. "Going slow, maintaining proper form, and always choosing a weight your muscles can handle are the smartest way to lower your odds and improve your results."
You'll need a few pieces of equipment (a high-cable pulley, a chin-up bar and a light dumbbell), but nothing you wouldn't find in any standard health club.
STRATEGY #2: IN-HOME PILATES-BASED
Working out at home may feel limiting to some, but for others, it offers the greatest amount of freedom. Being away from prying eyes can allow you to try abdominal exercises you might otherwise feel too self-conscious to do in public-movements that may look silly, but are guaranteed to put your abdominal muscles through paces most basic ab moves can never touch.
This at-home routine is derived from Pilates, a series of floor exercises that force you to hold specific positions which develop strength, flexibility, posture and coordination. But as esoteric as these movements may seem, "they're actually more rooted to the real-life use of your abdominal muscles than your average exercise," says Ed Morand, A.C.E., N.A.S.M., Pilates instructor at the New York Sports Clubs/Town Sports International in New York City.
Every Pilates move requires a set of tight, strong abs simply to hold yourself in the starting position. The continual tension on your abs keeps your midsection muscles working overtime to maintain your posture, which lets you reap even more six-pack success from every exercise on offer here.
Morand offers three positions for developing abs of steel without needing anything but a mat, a few minutes to spare, and the dedication of a pit bull.
STRATEGY #3: HOME OR GYM PHYSIOBALL
Maybe it's because you only see women using one, or because it looks like something Toys-R-Us puts on sale around Christmastime. Or maybe it's simply because it sounds like something made by men who enjoy yodeling and find Eucalyptus bearable. Whatever your explanation is for being afraid to use a Swiss ball, you're not alone. Seasoned exercisers share your fears, but for an entirely different reason: Nothing puts your midsection through greater, shape-shifting torture.
Exercising your abdominal muscles with a Swiss ball is one of the best ways a guy can jump-start his routine, for what may seem unique to you is actually quite familiar to your muscles. A Swiss ball mimics movements your abdominal muscles typically do throughout the day. "The abdominal wall's greatest job isn't to curl you off the floor; it's to constantly support and stabilize your body in an upright, balanced position all day long," says Jeff Bell, C.S.C.S., N.A.S.M., A.C.S.M., co-owner of Spectrum Wellness, New York City.
Merely positioning yourself on the ball forces all your muscles (especially your abs) to naturally contract before you even start a movement. "Doing crunches on top of a ball also lets you bend back through a greater range of motion to work more muscle fibers along a safe, supported surface," says Bell. "Trying to arch your lower back on a flat surface to achieve the same effect will only compromise the spine instead of strengthen your abdominals."