Before you go ditching all other workouts in favor of abs-only routines, know that spot training your abs is impossible. "Sure, a guy performing two million hanging leg raises will undoubtedly build great abdominal strength, but if that same guy eats pizza and drinks beer every weekend then those abs will continue to hide under a nice layer of fat," says Mike Krajewski, PT, CSCS, owner of MK Fitness in Nashville, TN. What's more, you need to train your entire body to get rid of stubborn fat—not just your mid-section.
The full-body exercises on the following slides, provided by Krajewski, are great for beginners and seasoned pros alike. A good portion of these moves are advanced, perfect for veteran gym-goers looking to add the finishing touches on their physique. But, there are easier alternatives to the truly tough ones so start with those if you're newer to the fitness game.
Combing the killer core and cardio exercises will help you to effectively shed fat, build core strength, and define your abdominals. Add one or more into your regular routine a few times a week.
Just remember: "Without pairing your strength and conditioning program with a healthy nutritional regimen, you'll constantly be fighting an uphill battle," Krajewski says.
Begin by lying flat on a decline or flat bench and grab the edge of it behind your head with both hands. Create tension through your entire body starting with your traps and working down into your core and legs. From here, swing your feet up until your body is nearly vertical (your shoulder blades should remain planted). Keeping your core tight, slowly lower your legs until they're hovering just above the bench. "Maintain a straight line from shoulders to heels throughout," Krajewski says. (See it here.) If you're a beginner, start with the lying leg raise. As explained here, "Lie on the floor with your hands under your hips and raise your feet until they’re perpendicular to the floor. Use a slow negative (about six seconds) to mimic the difficulty of a dragon flag."
Hanging Leg Raise
Hang from a pullup bar and flex at the hips, raising your legs until they're perpendicular to your torso. Lower your legs down to the hanging position to complete the rep. Too difficult? Krajewski recommends raising your knees until they're bent at 90 degrees. "Focus on strict, slow movement to avoid any swinging," he says.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Cross one foot behind the other and bend both knees to lower into a skater lunge, dropping your back knee until it's directly behind your front heel, Krajewski explains. Load from your (front) outside leg and jump laterally across to your opposite leg. Keep the motion fluid and quick.
Reverse Lunge to 1-Leg Hops
Step back into a reverse lunge then drive that same rear leg up, hopping explosively into the air in one swift motion. Alternate legs as you go, or switch after you've completed the designated number of reps.
Reps: 8-10 per leg (16-20 total)
Begin with a barbell in a landmine attachment or wedged into a corner with small sand bags. Squat down at the free end of the barbell (either start with an empty bar or add weight). Place one hand at the top of the bar (underhand grip) and the other right below the weight (overhand grip). Raise the bar to shoulder-height and press out with straight locked arms. Make sure you rotate your torso and hips as you lower the weight down to the opposite hip. “Now, torque your hips while maintaining straight posture and lock your arms in order to swing the bar up and over your body to the opposite hip,” Krajewski says. Keep rotating back and forth; you'll feel the burn in your obliques.
Reps: 7-8/each side (14-20 total)
Broad Jump Burpees
Perform a burpee by crouching your hands to the floor and jumping back either into a pushup position or a full chest-to-floor position; you can perform a pushup and jump your feet up toward your hands, or haul your entire body off the floor and bring your feet toward your hands—depending on the variation you choose. Now, instead of jumping straight up in the air, jump forward as far as possible.
TRX Body Saw
With your feet in the stirrup straps of a TRX suspension trainer, plank down on your elbows. Pull your toes towards your shins and bring your butt up into the air to form an inverted V. (Imagine there's a string attached to your center, pulling you up toward the ceiling.) Dig your elbows into the ground and bring your body back to the starting position, engaging your core and maintaining control the entire time. Note: If you look and feel like a catepillar, you're doing it right.
Medicine Ball Chest Pass Burpees
While holding a medicine ball, perform a burpee. (Obviously not the variation where your chest hits the floor, but rather the variation where you assume a pushup position.) At the bottom of the movement, hold a plank on the medicine ball before hopping back up to the standing position, Krajewski says. From here, you can chest pass the medicine ball to a partner or bounce it off a wall.
Squat down and pick up the kettbell. "Aggressively contract your glutes without hyperextending your lumbar spine and drive the kettlebell up to shoulder-height (or higher)," Krajewski says. "Focus on maintaining a strong straight back and brace your abdominals on the lowering phase of the swing." You don't want to use your arms during kettlebell swings. You want to hinge at the hips and garner thrusting power from your glutes to drive the weight in a pendulum motion.
Assume a pushup position with your feet wider than hip-width apart and a dumbbell under each hand, supporting your weight. Row one dumbbell up, keeping it close to your side as you push into the ground/opposite dumbbell. “The main focus is to contract your glutes and abdominals in order to minimize any hip rotation while performing the row movement,” Krajewski says. Focus on retracting your shoulder and flexing your elbow at the top of the row.
If this is too difficult or painful on your wrists, eliminate the dumbbells and perform a straight-arm plank; lift one hand and tap the opposite shoulder, trying not to rotate your hips as you alternate sides.
Reps: 6-8/each arm (12-16 total)
TRX Atomic Pushup
With your feet in the stirrup straps of a suspension trainer, assume a straight-arm plank. Perform a pushup, then contract your abs and tuck your knees into your chest. Return to the start position and repeat. Go slowly and focus on engaging the core muscle movers with each motion: your shoulders and triceps during the pushup and your core during the knee tuck.
Slider Mountain Climber
Start in a straight-arm plank position with your feet on sliders. Perform a basic mountain climber and draw your knees to your chest, one at a time. "Sliders can be replaced by using hand towels [or paper plates] on a hardwood floor," Krajewski says. Change up the speed from fast to slow to really challenge your core and keep your muscles guessing.
Medicine Ball Lateral Slams
Lift a large medicine ball overhead, then twist your torso and hips to one side and simultaneously slam the medicine ball to the ground. Catch the medicine ball and repeat on the other side. This move will torch your obliques and help you develop full-body power.
Chest Press Crunches
Lying flat on your back with dumbbells in both hands, perform a chest press. When your arms are pressed up in the locked-out position, crunch up (keeping your arms overhead). "You want to execute this exercise as two separate movements within one rather than simultaneously," Krajewski explains.
With your feet in the suspension trainer stirrups, begin in a straight-arm plank. Pull and tuck your knees into your chest, controlling the movement with your abdominals. "The goal is to elevate your hips higher than your shoulders for maximum abdominal recruitment," Krajewski says. Make the crunches tempo: Take 2 seconds to tuck your knees in, then 2 seconds to bring them back out to the plank.
Toss these bonus ab-shredding and fat-blasting finishers to any routine to burn up whatever's left in your tank.
1. Bicycle Crunches + Situps
Perform 25 bicycle crunches, then 5 full sit ups. Repeat 4x with no rest.
2. Slider Mountain Climber + Tucks
Perform 20 seconds of mountain climbers on sliders followed by 10 seconds of slider knee tucks. Repeat every minute on the minute for 6-8 total minutes.