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The best plan for a strong core? Focus elsewhere. – By Lou Schuler. Pic by Ian Maddox.
You look in the mirror and fail to see what you want: six symmetrical mounds of contractile tissue bisected by a narrow strip of fat-free skin. So you do lots of ab exercises, like crunches and situps and anything else that feels like it hits those muscles directly. This approach to training abs seems to make sense. If you want bigger biceps, after all, you do biceps curls. But for 99 percent of us, the goal isn’t to make our midsections bigger. We want to shrink our waists, so we need a different method. As Shawn Phillips, who’s been building his ripped midsection for nearly four decades, puts it, “Training your abs to get a six-pack is like typing to become a celebrated author.”
Translation: Abs are less a result of targeted training and more a byproduct of working hard to get lean while building muscle.
Here, four things to keep in mind if you want to carve a better six-pack
Burn Off The Bad Fat
“If the goal is to see your abs, you can do that without directly training them,” says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. He specializes in fat loss, but not from hours of cardio. Cosgrove builds around relatively brief but tough strength workouts. It initially seems counterintuitive: If you look at total calories burned, endurance exercise is ahead of strength training and intervals. Your heart rate stays elevated longer as you inhale more oxygen and exhale more carbon dioxide, signs that you’re burning calories swiftly. Strength sets and intervals make you breathe much harder for shorter periods, with recovery time in between. Nonetheless, Cosgrove says he sees better results with clients who focus on these types of sets. Studies show three major ways that high-intensity strength and interval training do more than you’d expect to get you lean.
Engage More Muscles
Exercises that use a lot of different muscles, like squats, burn more calories than ones that isolate smaller muscles, like crunches. Cosgrove enhances that effect by using unbalanced loads, which force muscles in the shoulders, core, and hips to act as stabilizers. He increases the amount of unbalanced work by using unilateral moves, like lunges. So while you’re doing 8 reps per arm or leg, your stabilizing muscles are doing 16 per set. You’re draining energy that you’ll need to restore after the workout. And you’re shifting work to your abdominals—targeting them “accidentally on purpose,” Cosgrove says.
Work Those Muscles Harder
Muscle fibers come in different sizes, and your body activates the ones it needs. Your goal is to activate the biggest fibers, which use more energy and burn more calories. You can do that two ways: First, increase the load, because you utilize bigger fibers when you lift heavier weights. Second, you can move the weights faster, because that’s more demanding than moving them slowly. Don’t take either mechanism to the extreme, but work hard. As Cosgrove says, “It won’t work if you don’t work.”
Make Yourself Uncomfortable
Novelty seeking may not go over well with the wife, but it works in the gym. Unfamiliar exercises burn more energy because you’re not efficient at them, so your body uses extra energy to learn the required coordination. They’re also intimidating, activating adrenaline. That increases your heart rate, releasing fat from fat cells. And they create more muscle damage, triggering the calorically expensive process of rebuilding. The effect of all these processes—restocking energy, rebuilding muscles, restoring oxygen—adds up to lots of calorie burn. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Cosgrove says. And it works:
The more fat you lose, the more your abs will come into focus.
Originally published on menshealth.com