If, like most MH men — and, admittedly, some MH staffers — you’ve daydreamed about having an iron-cast set of abs, you’ll have also wondered about the most effective six-pack exercises.
Needless to say, there are many paths to tread to get to that final destination of a killer six-pack. Some – like single-digit body fat — are almost a necessity, while others — think doing crunches to the point of nausea — are, inevitably, less so.
In light of the latter, we present to you a crunch-free cheat sheet to finally fashion yourself a set of abs that would make any ardent gym bro jealous.
GETTING YOUR SIX-PACK ON SHOW
Professor Stuart McGill, an expert in spine function and injury prevention at the University of Waterloo in Canada, has shown that repeated crunches and sit-ups can cause serious damage to your spinal discs.
Okay, so they’re dangerous. But they do good stuff, right? Wrong.
We’ve long advocated the benefits of training for function, not form, so crunches regularly come into our firing line as a result. While they isolate your core, crunches actually do nothing when it comes to building the core strength that’s necessary to support the body in a range of movements. Likewise, they only work the surface of your core, meaning that you’re at risk of becoming Mr Superficial, instead of Sir Six Pack.
Similarly, many six-pack-wannabes tend to jerk their neck and shoulders forwards — instead of contracting their abs — during crunches, in order to bring their torso up, meaning more shoulder and neck pain and less #abgains.
But what about the fat-burn? Crunches won’t help with that, either. Fat-loss is impossible to target, so crunching into the early hours for the sake of a slimmer waist is in vain.
A 2011 study in Illinois observed two groups — one doing daily abdominal exercises like crunches, and the other doing nothing at all — and found that, after six weeks, the group doing crunches had made no difference to waist size or amount of stomach fat.
Instead, opt for two sessions a week focusing on high-intensity sprints. Short, 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off bursts at 75% of your maximum heart rate will boost your metabolism and burn more fat all day.
So, you’ve got this far and you now know that you’ve been crunching your time away. No worries, though. With these alternatives, you’ll be turning your body into a blubber-burning furnace in no time at all.
How: Keeping your hips fixed forward, hold a 3-5kg medicine ball, or a stirrup on a cable machine, with your arms fully extended to one side at head height, then power it diagonally down in a wood chop action. Your shoulders should rotate while your hips remain fixed in place.
Why: By accelerating as much as possible through the start of the movement, your core has to work to slow the movement down.
2. PUSH-UPS WITH RENEGADE ROWS
How: Get into a push-up position with your hands on the handles of two dumbbells. Keeping your core tensed, row the right dumbbell up to your abs then return to the start position. Repeat with the left dumbbell and then perform a single push-up. That's one rep.
Why: As one arm raises, your core will be stepping-in as the balancing force, helping you keep your hips and chest raised, while you lift the weights. Keep it braced for maximum impact. Be sure to maintain a plank position throughout.
3. BARBELL DEADLIFT
How: Squat down and grasp a barbell with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart. Keep your chest up, pull your shoulders back and look straight ahead as you lift the bar. Focus on taking the weight back onto your heels and keep the bar as close as possible to your body at all times. Lift to thigh level, pause, then return under control to the start position.
Why: Interestingly, the deadlift is a huge core-booster, as it works extra hard to keep your back flat and body straight.
4. LEG RAISES
How: Lie back on the bench with your legs extended in front of you off the end. Use your hands to grip the bench and steady yourself. Place your hands under your glutes with your palms down or by the sides holding on to the bench. Keeping your legs straight as possible, exhale and raise them until they make a 90-degree angle with the floor. Slowly lower to the starting position.
Why: Through total isolation, it's your core doing the work here and nothing else. To really feel the burn, go for a 3-1-3 tempo – three seconds up, a second's pause, and three seconds down.
5. PLANK (WITH SHOULDER-TAPS)
How: Get in a push-up position but rest on your forearms rather than your hands. Make sure your back is straight and tense your abs and your glutes. Hold without allowing your hips to sag, and – if your plank is strong enough – tap your opposing shoulders while holding the plank.
Why: There should be a straight line between your head, glutes and heels – activate your core to make this happen. Have a partner rest a bar on your back to check your form.
This story originally appeared on Menshealth.co.uk