Nothing worth having comes easy. That’s why looking seriously good at the beach this summer requires serious work. The good news? You’re almost there. Over the past few months, M&P has guided you through gaining a final few pounds of mass before starting to slough off all that excess weight in preparation for this very moment. With body-fat levels low, you can turn all your attention to carving out your abs.
What you may not know is that developing beach abs is a two-step process, each requiring its own program. First, you need to train your abs so that they have detail and separation. But, second, you also need to remove any last bits of body fat that sits on top of your abs, obscuring the detail you’ve worked so hard to create. The first step is all about hard work in the gym. The second step is about hard work in the gym … and a fat-burning program of nutrition and supplementation, which work together to remove the muddle in your middle.
Our program is simple and straightforward. All it takes is a little (OK, a lot of) discipline and six to eight weeks to hone and tone your abs for a smokin’ summer.
PART ONE: DEFINE YOUR ABS
Most people approach ab training all wrong. They wonder: What’s the best exercise for developing great abs? The answer is that there isn’t really a best exercise but rather a series of techniques that work together to give you the abs you’re after.
• Choose ab moves that flex your spine.
Here’s the deal: Any exercise that keeps your back flat and aligned works your core, a series of muscles that lie underneath the abs and work to stabilize the body. Having a strong core is absolutely critical to just about every move your body makes, but it won’t give you a six-pack. To achieve definition in the abs, your spine has to flex: Think crunches and reverse crunches, hip thrusts, and hanging leg or knee raises that bring your butt off the vertical bench.
• Focus on getting a deep contraction in your midsection. The way you create detail in your abs is by learning how to contract them. It’s the same as any other bodypart — detail comes from working the target muscle to failure, not from performing as many reps as possible.
• Hold a controlled stretch in your abs. Abdominal contraction is only half the battle. You also have to hold your abs taut as you return to the start position. The stretch, performed correctly, further targets the midsection muscles, helping you reach failure more quickly. Ideally, you should hold your abs tight throughout the entire set, never allowing them to relax, even if it means that you can’t perform as many reps.
• Include a move in your ab workouts that targets your lower abs. It’s great to perform crunches, but the lower abs are often neglected. Moves that develop this region typically involve pulling your lower body toward your upper body (like leg raises or knee-ins) rather than moving the upper body toward the lower (like crunches).
• Include a move in your ab workouts that targets your obliques. The obliques and serratus muscles are located to the side of your six-pack. Working them helps give the appearance of a slimmer waistline, and they help tie your midsection into your other muscle groups. Targeting them involves doing side crunches or twisting movements like twisting crunches.
PART TWO: REVEAL YOUR ABS
This part of your program has three components: nutrition, supplementation and cardio. They work synergistically to uncover the abs you’re working so hard in the gym to build.
Unfortunately, your abs are what you eat. These tips will show you what to put in your mouth to get the best results out of your midsection.
• Reduce calories — moderately. Consume 20 percent fewer calories than you do for maintenance. Too often, people over-diet, cutting calories dramatically, which ultimately works against long-term reduction in body fat because you end up adding more fat than you lost when you return to your normal eating patterns.
Tip: Reduce portions and consume more meals per day, eating smaller amounts more frequently.
• Cut carbs — dramatically. Carbs help fuel activity, but they also help fuel body-fat storage. When you’re trying to reduce body fat, keep your daily intake of carbs to about a gram per pound of bodyweight. Emphasize slow-burning carbs such as yams, brown rice and oatmeal, but cut out sugars and starchy carbs.
Tip: Consume your carbs earlier in the day, eliminating them from your last meal or two before bedtime.
• Increase protein intake. Protein is great for building muscle tissue, and it’s also great for revving up your metabolic rate. If you’re following a weight-training program to add muscle mass, then you should consume at least a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you’re trying to shed body fat, then you should increase protein consumption to as much as 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day while still reducing carbs and total calorie consumption.
Tip: Consume protein every two to three hours to maintain muscle tissue while shedding body fat.
Individual supplements are great for reducing body fat, but you also can find multi-ingredient fat burners that contain these fat-burning ingredients and others.
• Supplement Caffeine: Before you hit the gym, you should consume 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine. Not only will it boost your strength and endurance, but it also will rev up your metabolism so that you burn more body fat. Just be careful not to take in so much or so late in the day that you have trouble sleeping at night.
Tip: To ensure proper dosing, take the anhydrous (supplemental) form over caffeinated beverages.
• Take Green-Tea Extract: Drinking green tea is beneficial for burning body fat, but you get even better fat-burning results from taking green-tea extract. The active ingredient in green tea, epigallocatechin gallate, boosts your metabolic rate. By preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, EGCG helps free up stored body fat.
Tip: Take 200 to 500 milligrams of green-tea extract standardized to 50 percent EGCG three times per day.
• Use Forskolin. Forskolin comes from the mintlike herb Coleus forskohlii plant. It works a little differently than caffeine and green-tea extract, breaking down fat within fat cells. Once fat has broken down within fat cells, it can be pulled more readily from storage, allowing it to be used for energy.
Tip: Look for a product with 20 to 50 milligrams of forskolin, and take it two to three times per day.
• Try hydroxycitric acid. HCA is an extract that comes from the rind of the Garcinia cambogia plant. Supplementing with HCA before workouts helps turn stored fat into fuel, meaning you’ll have more energy available when you’re working out and you’ll burn more fat at the same time.
Tip: Take 500 to 1,000 milligrams of HCA two to three times per day for a total of up to 3,000 milligrams (or 3 grams) per day. To boost fat-burning and weight-training results further, take one of these doses 30 minutes before weight or cardio workouts.
Doing cardio burns calories, which leads to burning body fat. But it’s important to do cardio right so that you don’t burn muscle tissue and spare body fat.
• Keep cardio sessions to 30 to 45 minutes. Yes, the longer you’re on the treadmill, the more calories you burn. Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t necessarily equate to burning more body fat. At a certain point, your body starts burning more muscle mass, sparing body fat.
• Use intensity cycles to boost body-fat burning. On the flip side, revving up intensity really helps your body tap into body-fat stores. Go easy during your warm-up (three to five minutes), then work much harder for one to two minutes. Take it easy until you recover, then up the intensity for another one to two minutes. Repeat this strategy throughout your cardio workout.
Tip: Start with about three intensity cycles and work up to five per cardio workout, boosting the intensity as much as you can while staying within a 30- to 45-minute session.
• Mix up your cardio. You have a favorite type of cardio: running, jumping rope, or working out on the treadmill or some other machine at the gym. Just as you should vary your muscle-building moves, you also should vary the types of cardio you perform when your goal is to burn body fat. Changing up your weight moves creates “muscle confusion.” Performing different types of cardio creates “fat confusion,” allowing your body to burn body fat more readily.
Tip: Shift the type of cardio you perform during your workouts. For example, do 10 minutes on a stationary bike, 10 minutes of jumping rope followed by 10 minutes on the elliptical.
Perform this routine three days a week before you train other bodyparts when you’re working to emphasize abdominal definition. Choose a move from each category for each workout, finding the ones that work best for you. Change up at least one move from one workout to the next. Once a week, you can perform this in a circuit instead of doing all moves for one exercise before moving on to the next.
Here are some example moves for each category that you can use to build your 12-set ab ab workouts.
Basic Moves: Ball Crunches, Floor Crunches, Kneeling Cable Crunches
Lower-Ab Moves: Knee-Ins, Bench Leg Raises, Hanging Leg Raises (using vertical chair)
Hard Moves: Hanging Leg Raises (using arm straps), V-Ups, Knee-In Crunch
Oblique Moves: Cross-Body Crunch, Oblique Crunches, Cable Oblique Crunches
Add these supplements to your regimen to make the path from flab to abs that much easier.