There are many different exercises to be found for training the midsection. You will find enough to keep you occupied for years as you train and maintain a six pack without ever having to get too repetitive. Search for a 'Gym Near Me' and get started with your ab workouts!
You also don’t need to target your midsection all that much. If you work set after set of isolation and machine-supported sets in the gym, your core will really be getting very little by way of stimulation or adaptation. However, this is hopefully not how most people train. Most of us use large compound exercises. We use a variety of standing, static exercises (squats, deadlifts, overhead presses) loaded walking exercises (farmers’ carries, waiters’ walks, sandbag carries) and explosive, dynamic movements (box jumps, long jumps, burpees, cleans), all of which put tremendous amount of pressure on the core.
If you’re including these kinds of exercises in your routine (and you should be doing so), a minimal amount of core exercise in its own right will go a very long way.
Your core’s uses
Your core is used for two distinct purposes (it’s actually used for many, but there are two that concern us here).
The first is force transference. Whenever force moves through your body, your core is vital in transferring it. If you’re squatting, the pressure between your legs and the bar is maintained by your core. If you’re throwing or punching, the force generated by your legs is sent upwards, through your core, into your upper body. The first force transference
The second is stability: your core keeps you stable as your body comes under pressure. At a basic level, this means maintaining good posture throughout the day. In the gym, it means resisting forces actively applied to it for training purposes. Static holds like planks, balances like pistol squats, and moves in which they keep your trunk stable, as during front squats and presses, for example, all use the core isometrically.
Any routine designed to give you a six pack needs to bear all of this in mind. It will need to use the core as it is meant to be used.
Your core itself
Any routine designed to give you a six pack will also need to work your full core. You can’t just work the rectus abdominis (the six pack abs) and expect to have a chiselled midsection.
There are four distinct components in your core that will need addressing and training. These are the:
- Rectus abdominis
- Transverse abdominis
- Inner/internal obliques
- Outer/external obliques
Your inner and outer obliques generate rotational power in your torso, as well as resisting torque. Your transverse abdominis is the corset-like structure beneath it all that keeps you upright, braced and stable (this will be doing most of the core work during heavy compound lifts). Your transverse abdominis bends and flexes your torso up and down.
To build a solid, ripped core, you will need to work all of these. As above, you will need to work them all as they are made to be worked. Therefore, you will need a lot of braces and static holds for the transverse abdominis, plenty of twists and side holds for the obliques, and plenty of movements that bring your hips and chest towards one another for the rectus abdominis.
We’ve put together a routine below that will do all of these things. It will fatigue and stimulate every part of your core in the way that the core needs fatiguing and stimulating.
Note that this won’t give you a six pack. It will only build the muscle needed for a six pack. In order to show your abs, you will need to bring your bodyweight down to the high single digits (for men) or the low teens (for women). This will take a combination of diet and exercise, the maintenance of a caloric deficit and a good deal of willpower and patience.
However, as far as the routine itself goes, you can begin straight away, and can begin to make strength and endurance gains immediately.
Work through this whole routine, in order, taking around 30 seconds or so between each exercise. Complete every rep and set of each before moving onto the next. We will begin by working the transverse abdominis, before moving onto the rectus abdominis, and then onto the obliques.
Get into a push up position, round your upper back away from the ground, lift the hips slightly and try to (but don’t actually) pull your feet up towards your hands. This will engage your core brace and work your transverse abdominis. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat for 4 sets.
Now we’re getting into your obliques using another static hold. The side plank will also use your transverse abdominis.
For this, begin in a push up position. Rotate your body to the side, bringing one hand off the floor. Support all your weight in the other hand and the foot on that side, resting on the blade of the foot and raising your other arm towards the ceiling in a straight line. Hold for 30 seconds on one side, then the other. Repeat once, doing 2 reps on each side in total.
This is the first exercise going into your rectus abdominis.
Lie on your back, holding a dumbbell or weight plate across your chest in both hands. If this is too challenging to begin with, feel free to ditch the weight.
Breath in, brace your abs and raise your torso. Then lower it, maintaining tension in your uppers abs throughout. Don’t let your upper back touch the ground until you’ve finished every rep. Go for 12 reps for 4 sets. If 12 reps are too easy, use more weight.
This will round out your rectus abdominis. Lie on the ground with your legs raised off the ground and extended away from you. Keep your arms straight and by your sides, held off the floor. Raise your torso and bring your knees in towards your chest, touching them at the top of the movement.
Lower under control to the start position. Again, don’t let your upper back touch the ground until you’ve finished every rep.
Perform 4 sets of 12-20 reps.
Now we’re going to use your lower rectus abdominis in conjunction with your obliques.
Adopt a crunch position, as above, but with your legs raised and your knees bent at a 90˚ angle. Bring your right knee up towards your chest while raising your torso and twisting so your left elbow comes to meet your knee. Then lower and do the same on the opposite side.
Repeat for 4 sets of 12 reps. If 12 reps are too easy, perform more each set or bring the rest period down.