Though we wouldn’t quibble with Patrick Bateman in the arenas of business card design, his workout needs a tweak. That washboard stomach is in spite of, rather than thanks to, a 1000-crunch-a-day regime that’s more likely to leave him with lumbar problems than a six-pack.
It’s faulty logic that sees a sit-up as the abs version of a bicep curl. It’s an understandable mistake; you curl a weight to pump your guns, so surely it’s the same if you want to get a six-pack? But that ignores two important truths: one, your core is designed to hold you upright, not flex back and forth; two, everyone has a six-pack – it’s just buried beneath your gut.
And we’ll let you in on a little secret: a six-pack is, as the name suggests, not one muscle. So it needs more than one exercise to reap results. “Some of the best six packs I’ve seen in the gym are carried by those who have not done a single crunch in their life,” says Peter Gaffney, founder of PGPT, London’s leading mobile personal training service.
Toes To Bar
Hang from the bar with an overhand grip. Keep your arms straight and engage your abs to lift your legs up, until they touch the bar. Lower them back down as slowly as possible.
Why it works: Your legs aren’t going anywhere without your core muscles supporting their weight. As that burning sensation in your lower abs confirms. The move also recruits your big, fat-burning back muscles, to help torch the spare tyre that’s covering them.
Pro tip: It’s tempting to swing. Don’t. Bring yourself to a dead hang between each rep for the full, six-pack building benefit. “This is all about lever length. Get those legs straight to give your core a proper burn,” Gaffney adds.
Hold a kettlebell – use whatever weight you feel comfortable with and increase it next time if it felt easy – by the handle with your elbows out to the sides, so the weight rests on your chest.
Squat down, keeping your chest puffed out and lowering down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Drive back to standing.
Why it works: Like a barbell squat, this full-body move works every muscle group, for maximum calorie and fat burn. Unlike a barbell squat, loading the weight in front of you puts more load through your core, which has to work to keep you upright.
“This is my favourite go-to exercise in the gym, one I incorporate into most PT sessions. With the weight being at the front of the body it’s the core that keeps you upright without falling over,” Gaffney says.
Pro tip: When returning to the standing position focus your weight on your heels, pushing down through them for more power and better balance.
Hanging Windscreen Wiper
Hang from the pull-up bar with an overhand grip and lift your legs until your feet are just higher than the bar. Keeping them together, lower your legs to one side by 90 degrees.
Return to the top position and repeat on the other side. That’s two reps.
Why it works: This brutal move keeps your core under tension throughout and works it in different directions, to recruit more six-pack-building muscle. “This gets the body moving in a transverse movement. It’s not a common movement so your core – unless it’s very strong – will really struggle with endurance on this,” Gaffney adds.
Pro tip: Too hard? Hang from the bar and twist your hips to one side while keeping your upper-body facing forward. Bend your knees and raise them to your chest.
When you can comfortably do 10 reps of these, you’re ready for the real deal.
Lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides and legs extended. Keeping both straight, lift your heels and hands off the ground and hold for 15 seconds.
Why it works: This is a seemingly innocuous move that actually works every core muscle. All gymnasts have superhuman six-packs. All gymnasts do dish holds. Enough said.
“I like to throw this into most workouts. If you are hitting 60 seconds then your core is on fire. Again, the exercise can be progressed and regressed due to hand positions and legs. It is a ‘must’ for a solid burn at the end of a workout,” says Gaffney.
Pro tip: Don’t raise your arms and legs too high. That position that makes your whole body vibrate with tension? That’s the (horrible) sweet spot you’re looking for.