If you’re in decent shape, you can whip your body from “a little pudgier than I’d like” to “sporting a six-pack” in a surprisingly short amount of time; in fact, you can pull it off in as little as a month if you really put your mind to it.
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Even if you have more serious weight problems, the following steps will help you get closer to where you need to be; you may not get all the way to six-pack in a month if you’re obese or have a slow metabolism, but you can certainly get a body that you’re more proud to show off in a bikini or a pair of trunks.
To make progress in a short period of time, you’ll have to follow a pretty intense regimen, but the results will be worth it.
Burn More Calories Than You Consume
In order to have a six-pack, your muscles need to show, and that means they can’t be covered in a layer of belly fat. The only reliable way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. Diet and exercise are the critical building blocks of getting a six-pack; you can’t drink a miracle shake or powder and expect to get a six-pack overnight.
However, in order to get a six-pack, you need to diet and exercise in a way that isn’t just geared toward losing weight. You also have to build muscle, and that means exercising in the right ways and being smart about what foods you include in and cut from your diet.
Eat A Protein-Heavy Breakfast
A breakfast high in protein is critical for two reasons: it encourages you to eat less, and it helps your body to build muscle tissue. A study by the University of Michigan showed that people who ate high-protein breakfasts were more likely to feel full throughout the day and were less likely to crave fatty, high-calorie snacks.
Protein is also critical in building your muscles, although it’s important to remember that it’s only one part of a balanced diet; would-be bodybuilders often do more harm to their bodies than good when they cut fruits and vegetables in favor of protein. Starting off your day with Greek yogurt, egg whites, or ground turkey can help you pack on protein without all the extra calories and fat.
Drink Lots of Water
Drinking water helps keep your stomach full and even speeds up your metabolism. A 2010 study showed that people who decreased their portion sizes and drank two cups of water before meals lost nearly 50% more weight than the people who only decreased their portion sizes.
What’s more, if you’re drinking water, you’re not drinking soda, energy drinks, or other sugary calorie bombs that will sabotage your dieting efforts.
Combine Weights And Cardio
Some argue that it’s counterproductive to combine weights and cardio; either the cardio will exhaust your muscles and stop them from growing during weight training, or the weights will tire you out and cut back on your endurance training during cardio.
However, a 2012 study showed that you can do cardio and weight training on the same day without one form of exercise hindering the other. Whether you like to do your cardio and weights on the same day or space them out on alternate days, combine the two so you get the best combination of burning calories and increasing muscle mass.
Don’t Spot Train
It seems obvious: to build up a six-pack, you pretty much just want to work your core, right? Wrong. A 2013 study took 11 body-builders and had them perform 1,000 leg presses, three times a week, with a single leg.
At the end of the 12-week study, the participants had lost a significant amount of weight, but the exercised leg wasn’t any thinner or more muscular than the control leg, and the participants lost more weight in their arms and abs than in their legs.
You should definitely include abdominal exercises in your workout – you can’t get a six-pack if you never try to tone your abs – but a whole-body regimen that targets every muscle group will be more effective. Your body won’t get used to the exercises and resist weight loss, and your abs won’t get so worn out from constant exertion that they’re too tired to grow.
Target All Your Abdominal Muscles
In order to get a proper six-pack, you need to work and tone all of your abdominal muscles to make them pop. If you’re only doing crunches, you might work your rectus abdominus, but you won’t be developing your hip flexors or obliques.
Just as you need to vary your whole-body training regimen, you need to vary your abdominal exercises to make sure that your upper and lower abs and obliques are getting a full workout. The last thing you want is a two-pack.
Pick The Right Exercises
Okay, so you need to do several different abdominal exercises. Which ones? Believe it or not, crunches aren’t your best bet. The American Council on Exercise conducted a study in 2001 to determine which exercises were the best for your rectus abdominus (the ab muscles that we usually picture when we think “six-pack”) and which exercises were the best for your obliques, the muscles that help your trunk to twist.
The two best exercises are the bicycle maneuver and the captain’s chair, although crunches on an exercise ball and vertical leg crunches also did well; your regimen should focus on those while also bringing in other exercises from ACE’s list to keep your routine varied.
Bicycle Crunch Like A Champ
Bicycle crunches are the best exercise for your rectus abdominus and the second best for your obliques, and unlike the captain’s chair or crunches on an exercise ball, they don’t require any special equipment.
To perform bicycle crunches, lie flat on your back on an exercise mat with your hands behind your head. Bring your knees up slowly until they’re bent at about a 45-degree angle, and then pull your right knee up toward your chest, and touch it with your left elbow.
Lower it, and then pull your left knee up to your chest and touch it with your right elbow. Your movements should be smooth, like pedaling a bicycle – hence the name.
Crunch Vertically, Not Horizontally
The other equipment-free exercise that made ACE’s top five for both rectus abdominus and obliques was the vertical crunch (although if you have access to a gym or exercise equipment, the captain’s chair was better rated in both areas).
To perform vertical crunches, lie flat on your back on an exercise mat and put your hands behind your head to support it. Lift your legs up at a 90-degree angle to the rest of your body, bending the knees slightly and crossing the ankles.
Lift your torso up toward your knee. If you prefer, you can turn this into a reverse toe-touch by stretching your hands out toward your feet instead of holding them behind your head.