Six-pack abs: we all aspire to have them. Many spend their entire life in pursuit of this elusive achievement. People spend millions of dollars on videos, gizmos, gadgets, shakes and pills that promise to help you fulfill this dream only to end in failure. So why is it so frustrating and difficult to conquer this Herculean task and achieve abdominal Zen?
I'm going to jump right into question and explain it the best that I can in layman's terms. In addition, I'll share with you three of my favorite core exercises that help me get my abs back when I need a tune-up and to keep them strong.
Many of you who work out have six pack abs right now, but you just can't see them. Yep. To get your abs to pop out, you've got to decrease the amount of body fat that you have covering them. Fat over your abs is like trying to look at your stomach with a sweater on. You're not going to see them. Your diet and what you do/do not eat is about 75 percent of the battle. I've noticed that when my body fat gets lower than 10 percent, my abs start peeking their head out. Of course the lower your body fat--but not below 4 or 5 percent--the more exposed your abs become.
This takes a lot of work, and many times I feel it is not worth it if you are like me and enjoy pizza and beer occasionally. You've got to live. I tell all my clients at Gut Check Fitness to focus on "fitness" and not on aesthetics. Let weight loss be a by-product of getting fit and having fun instead of making it your primary goal.
When I broke the Guinness World Record for fitness, I didn't even have six-pack abs, but could knock out 3,000 ab crunches without a problem. It's your decision: drive yourself crazy trying to look good or have true functional fit abs that you can use daily?
These are my three favorite core exercises. They keep my abs in top-notch performance shape and can be done just about anywhere.
Your abdominals are just like any other muscle. They really need to be challenged to strengthen and grow. Find something to anchor your feet. I like to use a set of heavy dumbbells or something similar. Next, find a heavy object to place across your chest and do sit-ups while holding it as close to your chin as possible. At home I have a set of 77-pound dumbbells, a 115-pound Atlas Stone or 125-pound sand bag that I use. If I go to the gym, I opt for a 150 dumbbell. Of course I can only get about seven to 10 reps, but talk about work! Ouch! I can feel it tearing the abs down only to build them back up even stronger. You don't have to use my silly weight, but find something that works for you. I try to do a couple sets--performed slowly--of about 25 reps.
Hanging Knee Raise
Find a jungle gym or a pull-up bar. Grab hold with both hands and hang from the bars with your arms straight. Pull your knees up to your chest, pause and slowly let them back down. For best results, go slow and avoid momentum.
If you want to make things more difficult, you can try some of the advanced modifications I like to do. The first variation is to grab hold of the bar and pull yourself up until your eyes are in line with the bar. Hold this flexed arm position. Then, bring your knees up to your elbows, bring them back down slowly and repeat. For something even tougher, try raising your legs up until they are parallel to the ground without bending your knees. Try not to swing. These are very tough but very effective. If you can't hold the bar, there are ab straps that you can use to help. I like to hold the bar because it works your grip strength too.
This is the last core exercise to round out my three favorites. I find it to be one of the most old fashioned, but also the most effective. Simply sit on the ground and, again, find something to hook your feet onto to keep you anchored. Lean back until you are in a half-way sit-up position. With your abs tight, rotate from side to side, slowly pausing when you reach the end of each rotation
I like to use a 40-pound dumbbell or a medicine ball when I do these. The added weight makes it more difficult and really works your core. Hold the ball or weight out and follow it with your head rotating your entire torso. Remember to breath and execute slowly. Try to get two sets of 20 reps. If you can, try performing these on an incline bench for a more advanced workout.
A strong core is essential to almost every active endeavor you do. I've used these three core exercises to keep me on top of my game for years. Even though a six pack does look nice, I prefer a strong functional core and enjoy different kind of six pack with a pepperoni pizza. Remember to be real, have fun and stay active!
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