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The lower abs can be one of the most difficult muscles to develop, making the acquisition of a six-pack seem like an impossible task. Not only do you need minimal body fat, but you also need strong muscles and it takes some very specific exercises and a lot of hard work to bring these specific muscles up to par.

One of the biggest mistakes that amateur lifters make when training for six-pack abs is to stick to a single exercise, often one that focuses more on single parts of their core and doesn’t give them the complete workout they need to get a six- or even an eight-pack. But by bringing some of these upper and lower ab workouts into your weekly split you can ensure these muscles don’t remain underdeveloped for long.

Three Poses and Nine Exercises for a Six-Pack

There are three main poses through which you can perform most abdominal exercises. These poses are designed to limit the tension applied to your lower back and neck, which means there are no sit-ups. It’s the go-to exercise for anyone looking to build those six-pack muscles, but it’s not the most effective and recent research suggests that performing this exercise regularly will lead to back problems in later life.

So, skip the sit-ups and focus on these three poses and nine exercises instead.

Push-Up Pose

Get into the push-up pose with your arms extended, your back straight and your legs together. From here, there are three effective lower ab exercises that you can do.

  • The Plank: Stay in the position you’re in and work on keeping your body straight and your core strong as you hold the pose for as long as possible. For more results, contract your ab muscles, pulling your navel in. It doesn’t sound difficult, but once you lock yourself into this position you’ll realize just how tough it can be.
  • Alternative Plank: Instead of using your palms to keep yourself upright, use your elbows and forearms. This will apply the same tension to your core—especially if you contract those ab muscles—without putting pressure on your wrists or your shoulders.
  • Raises: This time you need to support yourself with your knees and shins and not your forearms. Keep your arms extended and your back straight, but rest your knees on the floor with your shins and feet extended behind them. From here you need to raise your left arm and your right leg at the same time, tightening those core muscles up. Hold that position and then repeat with your right arm and left leg.
  • The Cobra: This is a yoga pose that feels great to perform and is very effective at stretching your core and working your ab and back muscles. Lower yourself to the floor, bending your elbows so they are tucked into your body and keeping your palms pressed against the floor at chest height. From here you just gradually raise your upper body until you feel a strain in your lower back. Don’t go too far and don’t hold the pose for too long.

How Many Times Should I Exercise my Abs?

Your core muscles can recover quicker than the rest of your body, so you don’t need to limit yourself to 1 or 2 training days a week. But at the same time, you don’t want to overdo it by training your abs every day of the week. 3 days a week of moderate to heavy workouts should be enough to sufficiently workout your abs, but you can also reduce the workload and train them up to 5 days a week.

Sit-Up Pose

The sit-up may not be a recommended exercise, but the initial pose it adopts serves as a great foundation for some of the most effective lower and upper ab exercises that you can do. Just lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms by your side.

  • Leg Raises: Lay your legs flat on the ground, pressing your feet together. Steadily raise your legs  until they are vertical and your backside is slightly elevated from the floor and then gradually lower them again. This will put pressure on your lower back and hips if your body is not properly aligned, so take care to move slowly and practice good form. The slower you go when lowering your legs back to the starting position, the more tension you will apply and the more effective this exercise will be.
  • Figure of 8: This one requires you to get into the same position as the leg raises and to perform a similar movement. The difference here is that instead of simply raising and lowering your legs, you raise them to the position of maximum tension (halfway through the range of motion) and then draw a figure of eight in the air with your feet. This will stretch your abs, applying tension across all of your core muscles.
  • Leg Stretch: Lie your legs flat, elevate your body slightly from the shoulders upwards, and then lift your left leg slowly toward your body, grabbing it with your hands when it passes your hips and pressing it into your abdomen. Hold this pose for a few seconds, release and then repeat with the alternate leg, keeping the other leg slightly raised.

How Much Should I Workout my Abs?

How much you train will depend on where your training is right now. If you’ve never trained your abs before then take it easy, performing 2 to 3 planks until failure and adding 2 or 3 of the other sets mentioned. If you’re hurting for days afterwards then reduce the amount you do in future workouts. If not, then you can think about increasing it.

At most you should be spending 20 minutes on these core muscles at a time. Anymore and you may be at risk of overtraining, especially if you’re performing ab workouts more than 3 times a week.

Standing Pose

As the name suggests, this starting pose simply requires you to stand, albeit with one slight variation in the first abdominal exercise.

  • Ab Lifts: This exercise needs to be performed from a hanging position, preferably with your forearms and elbows resting on a soft surface by your side and your legs dangling towards the ground. There are machines for this exercise at the gym, but you can also use pull-up bars by hooking your arms over your head and grabbing the bar. Once you’re in this position you just need to gradually raise your knees toward your chest. For an additional challenge, keep your legs extended as you raise them.
  • Leans: This is more of an oblique exercise than a lower ab exercise, but all ab muscles are important and definition in one area will help to further define other areas. This exercise can be performed by assuming a teapot stance—one arm by your side, the other pressed against your hip. Once in this position, simply lean sideways, gradually extending your lowered arm down your side and holding this position at the point of maximum tension. Repeat on the other side and perform as many reps and sets as you are comfortable with. By adding dumbbells or wrist weights you can add more intensity to this exercise.

How Long Does it Take to get a Six-Pack?

All the ab exercises in the world won’t get you a visible six-pack if your body fat percentage is too high. You need to reduce your calorie intake, add some cardio to your workout and keep training those abs in order for them to show. Genetics also plays a role, but even if you have poor genetics you can still get a visible six-pack by building your ab muscles and reducing your body fat.

If you’re already skinny but you don’t have the muscle definition, it’ll take just a couple months before you see some noticeable differences—providing you’re eating a diet high in protein and giving those ab muscles all the fuel they need to grow.

Lifting weights isn’t an exact science, but if you head for the gym without the slightest inclination of what to lift or how to lift, then you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage, hindering your goals and making life difficult for yourself. This is true whether your goals are to get super strong for personal reasons, or to become a champion powerlifter.

Take at look at this pro weight lifting advice to get a jump start on those goals.

Pro Weight Lifting Advice: What to Do

Walk Before you Run

When you start strength training you need to avoid pushing yourself too far too early, otherwise you’ll be sore for a week and will struggle to train in that time. The trick is to apply as much tension to those muscles as possible to allow for maximum growth and performance, but not to cross the line that will lead to severe DOMs. The only way to do this is to start small and test your limits. Eventually you’ll reach a point where you can push yourself all the way on workout day without suffering for it the next.

Practice Good Firm

It’s essential to practice good form, even more so if your goals are to build strength or to make it as a powerlifter. Your joints have a limit and you won’t be able to go on forever. With bad form, this limit could kick-in during your 20s, rendering you broken and beaten before your prime. With good form you’ll be able to push yourself into your 30s, 40s and beyond.

Record yourself as you lift or ask a friend to study you, and make sure that your alignment and your movement is perfect. If you’re struggling, take the weights off the bar and practice weightless reps until you nail the form.

Train 2 to 3 Times a Week

Two to three times a week you should be working on building your strength. Make sure that you cover all muscle groups in this time, giving yourself a complete workout and really pushing yourself. This excludes any other workouts you do, so you will also want to make time for cardio and ab work, as well as any sports you play.

You need to think like an athlete. A football player, for instance, will spend several days a week running routes and learning tactics, but they will still devote time to go running, build size, etc.,

Take Time Off

More training doesn’t necessarily mean more results. If you push yourself 6 or 7 days a week, then you’re not giving your muscles time to repair. You grow outside of the gym and when you grow you get stronger, it’s as simple as that. If you really push yourself then whether you’re feeling sore the next day or not, you should still stay out of the gym and wait for at least 48 hours before you get back in.

Breathe Properly

The way you breathe will have a signifiant impact on your strength gains and form. Breathing properly can help you to perform extra reps and even extra sets.

Avoid holding your breath when you lift. This is a beginner’s mistake. The trick is to exhale while you’re pushing through the exercise and to inhale while you’re resetting it. A bench press, for instance, would require you to inhale as you lower the bar to your chest and exhale as you push it up.

Pro Weight Lifting Advice: What Not to Do

Don’t go Fast

Quickly going through the motions may be easier and it may get you through your workout quicker, but it’s not going to stretch your muscles as much as going slow would. The slower you go, the more tension you apply to your muscles and the more results you will experience. You may also reduce injury risks from over-extending and locking your knees and elbows.

Push to Fail

One of the main reasons first-time lifters don’t see results is because they carefully manage their workouts to avoid over exerting themselves. They choose a weight they can comfortably lift for 10 to 15 reps and they scale up slowly so they can do the same reps on the last set as on the first.

You always need to be pushing yourself. Opt for heavier weights and fewer reps and make sure that you push to failure each time. Rather than choosing a weight that will comfortably get you though 15 reps, choose one that you will struggle to lift beyond 6 or 7. And don’t worry about the next 2 or 3 sets, because failure on the first set doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do further sets or even add further weights. It’s a short-term stamina fail, not a long-term one and a short rest is sufficient to get you ready for the next set.

Mix it up

It’s possible to reach a plateau very quickly when lifting weights and this can be enough to put a halt to your goals. Your body will become accustomed to the exercises you’re performing if you’re doing the same ones week after week. So mix it up. Change your split after 2 or 3 months and change your workouts as well.

Don’t begin with shoulder presses and end with bench presses every time. Don’t begin with 100 pounds, move to 120 and finish on 150 every time. Swap exercises and change your sets (throwing the heaviest one in at the middle instead of at the end) to keep your body guessing and stop your workout from becoming routine.

End with a Finisher

A “finisher” exercise is one designed to apply maximum tension to your muscles for a sustained period of time, making sure they are sufficiently worked and allowing for more growth during the recovery phase. These exercises involve holding a specific pose until you can hold it no more and they are best performed when you’ve been training for a few months and understand your limits.

For instance, a “finisher” on your chest can be a dumbbell bench press, with the weights held just above your chest, thus avoiding any strain on your shoulder and elbow joints while still maximizing the tension applied to your pectoral muscles.

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