How to Weightlift Your Way to a 6-Pack

Build Muscle Where It Matters

If your goal was to build your biceps, you'd target those muscles with curls. Why curls? Because you can feel your biceps contracting on each rep. Most guys use the same logic in pursuit of abs: Crunches shorten the muscles, so that must be the best way to work them.

Except it isn't.

A 2008 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that exercises that extend your body while keeping your lower back in a safe, neutral position, work the rectus abdominis—the six-pack muscle—25 percent harder than crunches do.

Try this: Grab a Swiss ball and assume a plank position—your toes on the floor and body straight from neck to ankles—but with your forearms on the ball. Slowly push the ball out and away. Go as far as you can while keeping your lower back completely stiff—that is, the arch in your lower back shouldn't increase or decrease. Pull the ball back, and repeat. Chances are, it'll take a few workouts before you can do 10 reps with a good range of motion. And you may find yourself with sore abs a day or two afterward. But at least you'll know you're truly developing these muscles.

Win the Game of Life

Core training isn't the answer to every fitness question. When researchers try to correlate core stability with athletic performance, the results are underwhelming. But good strength coaches include core training in their programs anyway; they know it's important for back injury prevention, if nothing else.

However, when a Canadian research team looked at specific tests of fitness and longevity, they found that men who scored lowest for abdominal endurance had more than double the risk of death from any cause over the course of the study compared with those who scored highest.

Why? The same reason strength coaches stress core training, even if it's not directly linked to goals or touchdowns. Stability of your lower back depends on the endurance of the supporting muscles. Spinal instability leads to injury. Injury can be a career killer for an athlete, and just plain deadly for an older adult.

Train your abs now and you'll have many more years to enjoy the benefits.

3 Sneaky Ways to Train Your Core

You can turn almost any exercise into one that improves core strength and stability

Single-Arm Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Set a bench to a slight incline. Hold a dumbbell straight above your shoulder with one hand. Rest the other hand on your midsection. Knock out a set of bench presses, and then switch hands and repeat. The unbalanced load forces your abdominal muscles to work harder to keep your torso in a stable position.

Standing Lat Pulldown

Attach a triangle handle to a high pulley cable, step back, and pull the handle to your chest. Standing up forces your lats, lower back, and glutes to work together to stabilize your spine and pelvis.

Offset Overhead Reverse Dumbbell Lunge

Hold a dumbbell straight over your right shoulder. Step back with your left leg into a lunge, and return to the starting position. Do all your reps, switch sides, and repeat. Holding the weight on one side challenges the muscles that keep you upright. Holding it high forces your lats and abdominals to stabilize your spine.

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