Ask most men which body part they most wish to improve and we’re confident getting lean, hard abs will be high on their list. A six-pack not only looks good, it proves you know what you’re doing in the gym and helps you perform better on the pitch or court. But acquiring abs of steel requires more than cranking out countless crunches. These muscles, like all muscles, need to be worked directly from a variety of angles and with a challenging amount of resistance to maximise muscle growth. Yes, heavy compound lifts – squats, deadlifts, overhead presses – are great six-pack builders that require your core to work hard, but to develop really impressive abs you need to dedicate more training time to hitting them directly. We’ve picked six of the most common abs moves that aren’t actually as effective as people think and suggested alternative move upgrades that do a better job of hitting specific parts of the core, and more besides. They’ll put you on track for a solid and strong six-pack.
Upgrade The Plank To Plank With Toe Tap
Why It can be easy to “switch off” when doing planks so your hips drop and your abs muscles disengage – particularly since you do them for time, which can really drag. Adding a foot movement keeps the hips high, the lower abs engaged, and means you can count reps, rather than seconds.
How Get into the plank position, supporting yourself on your forearms with your elbows underneath your shoulders. Engage your abs, then raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Without letting your hips sag, lift and move one foot out as far as you can to the side. Tap your toe on the floor, then bring it back in and repeat with the other foot.
Upgrade The Sit-Up To Weighted Crunch Reach
Why Sit-ups are the most popular abs move but probably the least effective, because the muscles aren’t exposed to much tension. But the crunch reach, with added resistance, keeps the upper abs firing to keep your torso stable.
How Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, holding a dumbbell or weight plate in both hands with your arms straight. Use your abs to raise your torso, keeping your arms straight, and lift the weight as high as you can into the air. Pause and hold this top position for one second, then slowly lower your torso back to the start.
Upgrade The Lying Leg Raise To V-Sit
Why Lying leg raises do hit the lower abs hard, but not if you have any lower back niggles, while they can be quite uncomfortable to perform well. V-sits keep your lower abs engaged constantly, and work the upper abs too.
How Lie flat with your arms by your sides, legs straight and feet together. Keeping your arms straight, raise your torso and your legs simultaneously so that your fingertips go past your knees towards your shins. Slowly reverse the movement to the start, keeping your core tight and engaged throughout.
Upgrade The Reverse Crunch To Gym Ball Pike
Why Unless you already have very strong lower abs, reverse crunches will end up as a rocking movement rather than a muscle-engaging one. In this upgrade, though, the abs must fire throughout.
How Get on your hands with your toes elevated on a gym ball and raise your hips so your body forms a straight line. Keeping your abs engaged, raise your hips as high as you can so your body forms an inverted V-shape. Hold this position for a second, then lower your hips to return to the start.
Upgrade The Bicycle Crunch To Weighted Russian Twist
Why With bicycles it’s easy for the abs to “switch off” as you jerk up and down and then side to side, but the addition of a weight creates resistance that needs to be managed for the duration of the set. This forces your upper, lower and side abs to be fully activated to keep your torso and feet elevated as you rotate back and forth.
How Sit on the floor holding a dumbbell or weight plate in both hands, with your knees bent and feet together raised off the floor. Holding the weight with straight arms, rotate your torso to one side while moving your knees in the opposite direction. Make sure your head follows the line of your arms. Reverse the move to the start, then rotate your torso and knees in the opposite directions, keeping your abs engaged throughout.
Upgrade The Dumbbell Side Bend To Alternating Ankle Tap
Why Holding a too-heavy dumbbell in one hand then bending to the side isn’t the most effective way to work your obliques (side abs). Ankle taps target these muscles more effectively, and bring the upper and lower abs in to boot.
How Lie flat on your back with straight legs and arms by your side. Crunch your torso up and bend your knees to bring your feet closer. Keeping tension on your abs, move one hand down the outside of that leg to tap your ankle, then reverse the movement and repeat on the other side. Keep reps smooth without letting your torso or feet move towards the floor.
Photography: Glen Burrows; Model: William Goodge@WModels