How To Get 6-Pack Abs Without Crunches or Sit-Ups!
Face it- we all want a flat, atrractive midsection. But for many of us no amount of crunches or sit-ups seems to get the job done. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me the following questions:
“I do hundreds of crunches and sit-ups a day and I still have a flabby midsection. What gives?”
Well, before I reveal your six-pack abs blueprint, let’s first debunk some very important myths about how to get six-pack abs:
Myth#1- Weight loss is the key to seeing your abs
The key to seeing your abs is fat loss, not weight loss. Let me further explain: your body consists of fat mass and lean body mass (water, muscle, bone, organs, etc.). You want to minimize your fat mass and maximize your lean body mass to build a ramped-up metabolism: one that starves fat and builds muscle like clockwork. By improving body composition you will put yourself in the best position to rock that coveted six-pack.
So if you lose 17 lbs on the scale at the expense of losing some lean muscle mass in the process you will end up slowing your metabolism, decreasing performance, and losing that good looking muscle tone. But if you lose 17 lbs on the scale and you manage to keep or gain lean muscle mass you will increase performance, see more visible definition throughout your body, and lose primarily body fat.
The scale has far too many variables to account for that lead to frequent fluctuations such as hydration levels, sodium intake, and for women the menstrual cycle. I firmly believe one should NOT keep a scale at their home- it is such an anchor, particularly for women. Get off the scale and get over the numbers. The true goal is fat loss, not weight loss. Focus on clothing size reduction, digital before and after pictures, and of course the mirror for the most accurate progress tracking.
Myth#2- Do lots of ab work to preferentially burn off stomach fat
Spot reduction doesn’t work. You can’t just work the muscles of a certain area of your body and expect to have the fat in that region go away. Think about it: almost everyone does crunches but proportionately very few people perform total body workouts. So, with all of these crunches, we’d expect to see nothing but people with flat tummies and fat depots everywhere else on their body (arms, legs, etc.). But think of how many people you know and see on a regular basis whom have more than a few inches to lose in their midsection. See what I mean- spot reduction doesn’t work!
See, your body loses fat in a genetically pre-determined way when there is the appropriate caloric deficit AND hormonal environment created by proper eating and training. So your best bet is to focus on burning as many calories during your workouts as possible by engaging your whole body each and every training session (not just your abs). Compound, multi-joint movements like squats, push-ups, lunges, etc. (or better yet, total body exercises like squat to presses) burn a lot more calories than isolation movements like crunches and sit-ups. So be sure to focus on these movements first and then if you have time, you can do some extra core work to please the abs training Gods.
Myth#3- Crunches and Sit-ups are the best exercises for your abs
The scientific term for your six-pack muscles are your rectus abdominis. For years now, we have been conditioned to think that the best way to work your rectus abdominis is by doing endless crunches and sit-ups since these trunk flexion exercises make the muscles you want to see in the mirror “burn.” However, the true function of the rectus abdominis is to prevent hyperextension, not to flex forward over and over again. Anytime you brace your abs (think slight crunch before you get punched in the gut) and pull your navel into your spine you effectively stabilize your spine into a safe, neutral position. And the moment you relax your abs and lose that braced abs position, your back will begin to hyperextend putting you at greater risk for injury.
So, we focus on stabilization exercises in all three planes of movement (saggital- front to back, frontal- side to side, and transverse- rotational) by using pillar exercise variations (also know as planks). Besides training the true “anti-extension” function of your superficial ab muscles, these bridging/stabilization exercises also activate the key transverse abdominus muscles, or your deep abdominal stabilizers, that wrap around your spine and support your internal organs. Strengthening these inner ab muscles is the key to optimal posture and performance in addition to injury prevention, yet another benefit to performing planks over primitive crunches and sit-ups that often cause unwanted neck and back pain.
Myth#4- Do lots of long-duration cardio to burn the fat covering your abs
Both scientific research and real world case studies show that aerobic training for fat loss alone doesn’t work. Total body resistance training is the true foundation of any solid fat loss plan. In addition, interval training, where you alternate between bouts of maximum effort and active recovery, is scientifically proven to burn nine times more fat than ordinary exercise. Please note that you can perform both resistance interval training and cardio interval training to combine the best of both worlds. More on this to come!
Without further adieu…
The Anti-Crunch Six-Pack Abs Blueprint:
Step#1- Lose the fat that is covering your abs so that you can see them
A.) Eat to lose fat and elevate metabolism
- Drink at least 2-4 cups of water immediately upon waking and then drink at least 1-2 cups of water every 2 hours you are awake. Drink 1-2 cups of water for every 15 minutes of vigorous activity.
- Eat immediately upon waking and then every 2-4 hours after that for a total of 6-8 feedings per day (3 meals, 3 snacks- half the size of your meals, workout nutrition)
- Focus on a wide range of organic lean proteins, natural fats, and fruit and veggies
Sample One-Day Menu:
Breakfast- Scrambled Eggs, Greens, and Turkey Sausage or Bacon
Mid-Morning Snack- Mixed Nuts and Fruit/Veggie of Choice
Lunch- Chicken, Salmon, or Shrimp Caesar Salad
Mid-Afternoon Snack- Cheese and Fruit/Veggie of Choice
Dinner- Turkey or Beef Meatballs and Spaghetti Squash
Pre-Bed Snack- Protein and Flax Shake
- Take a daily multi-vitamin for your gender and an essential fatty acid (EFA) supplement
- Use The Carb Reduction Blueprint: Use the following step by step process in the exact order listed to breakthrough any plateaus in your six-pack abs quest
Step#1- Replace all white carbs with 100% whole grain carbs and all refined sugars with natural sugars
Step#2- Limit all whole grain starch and natural sugar consumption to within 1-2 hours post-workout or immediately upon waking for breakfast
Step#3- Replace all starches and sugars with fruits and veggies
Step#4- Replace all fruits with green veggies
Step#5- Use strategic carb and calorie cycling to take your body to next level (my clients and I have had great success with this along with the Zone, but it is beyond the scope of this article)
B.) Train to lose fat and elevate metabolism
- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday- Perform Total Body Circuit Strength Training
Sample Total Body Circuit Strength Workout- 20 Minutes (not including five minute warm-up and cool-down)
50-10 Interval Five Exercise Total Body Circuit- You will alternate between 50 seconds of work and 10 s of rest for each exercise in the following five-exercise circuit. Perform this 5-minute circuit up to four times for a 20-minute total body workout:
Exercise# Exercise Category Exercise Variation
1 Double-Leg: Bilateral Hip-Dominant Hip Extensions
2 Push: Horizontal Push Push-up Variation
3 Single-Leg: Unilateral Knee-Dominant Single-Leg Wall Sit
4 Pull: Horizontal Pull Body Weight Rows
5 Core: Linear Stabilization or Trunk-Dominant Upper Body Twist Variation
- Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday- Perform Cardio Interval Training
Sample Cardio Interval Training Workout- 20 Minutes (not including five minute warm-up and cool-down)
30-30’s- You will alternate between 30 seconds of maximum effort and 30 s of active recovery. You will perform this 1-minute round up to 20x for 20 total minutes. You can perform this workout on your cardio machine of choice (airdyne or spin bike, running, etc.) or by alternating between the following body weight cardio exercises for the ultimate in-home workout:
Exercise# Body Weight Cardio Variation Body Weight Cardio Exercise
1 Linear Locomotion Emphasis- Stationary Running
2 Lateral/Rotational Locomotion Emphasis- Jumping Jacks Variation
Step#2- Train your abs based on their true function: STABILIZATION
Below is one of my boot camp client’s favorite (and most hated) core workout. It involves no crunches or sit-ups by using all plank stabilization exercises. Once you master these killer moves and follow everything else I previously listed above, you will have a sweet pair of rock hard abs to show for it… I guarantee it!
The Power to the Plank Workout- Tabata Style
This 20-minute total body core workout focuses entirely on pillar stabilization. The pillar collectively consists of your shoulders, hips, and core. It is your body’s powerhouse, foundational to all movement.
For each exercise below you will alternate between 20 s of work and 10 s of rest. You will repeat this 30-second sequence eight times for four total minutes followed by a one minute rest and transition before moving on to the next exercise listed.
For maximum benefits, you must seek to maintain a tight plank position during all movements by actively pulling your bellybutton to your spine, engaging your glutes, and maintaining a straight line from the heels through the shoulders. The following coaching cues work really well for my clients:
“Suck in your gut – give yourself a wedgie – be flat like a diving board.”
Exercise#1- Front Plank Variation (static or dynamic)
Exercise#2- Left Side Plank Variation (static or dynamic)
Exercise#3- Right Side Plank Variation (static or dynamic)
Exercise#4- Reverse Plank Variation (static or dynamic)
Core Workout - Level I (Beginner)
Core Workout - Level II (Intermediate)
Core Workout - Level III (Advanced)