If you envy strong, cut ab muscles, you won't achieve them simply by doing situps. The move can be part of your training strategy, but it also takes comprehensive core training, cardio and total-body strength workouts — plus dietary discipline — to reduce your body fat so your abs pop. A six-pack usually appears when you achieve a relatively low body fat level of 16 to 19 percent as a woman or 6 to 9 percent as a man. Situps strengthen muscle that lies under fat, but don't do anything to help you lose the padding keeping those muscles hidden.
Include Situps as Part of Core Training
Add comprehensive core exercises to your regular workout three to five times a week to build your six-pack. Situps can be part of this regimen. Keep in mind, though, that situps train just a small part of your abdomen and don't build function in the supporting muscles of the back. Aim for five to 10 different core exercises at each session; some sessions will include situps, some won't.
A comprehensive core workout that builds strong and defined muscles includes moves that flex, rotate and side-bend the trunk. Situps count as flexion, but so do crunches and hanging leg raises. Rotation exercises include the Russian twist and the Pallof press. Side planks and side bends train the obliques that laterally flex the torso. Moves such as plank, back extensions and bird dogs strengthen core stabilizing muscles to improve posture to really show off a six pack.
Change up your core routine every two to four weeks to keep challenging these muscles. Graduate from the standard situp to more intense variations, such as situps on a stability ball, weighted push situps and incline situps.
Strength Train Regularly
Situps are limited in the muscles they target. To lose fat and show off a six-pack, you must burn fat and train the major muscle groups of your whole body. Strength training helps your body preserve and build lean tissue. Work every major muscle group three or more times per week, leaving at least 48 hours between muscles worked to allow for recovery and growth. Big, dynamic moves, such as barbell squats, chest presses and deadlifts, work multiple muscle groups at once. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions of every exercise performed for one to three sets using weight that feels heavy by the last couple of reps. Circuit training — during which you do a set of eight to 12 exercises in quick succession, rest and then repeat — can also be effective in building strength and burning fat.
Do Cardio Almost Every Day
Cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging or cycling, helps burn calories to prompt fat loss. Fat is stored in fat cells in a pattern influenced by genetics and hormones. The only way to slim down is to burn more calories than you consume, so your body reaches into these stores so you slim down and reveal your abs. You can't direct your body to lose weight in a specific place, but know as you lose weight, your abs will slim down as a result. At least 250 minutes per week of cardio leads to significant weight loss, says the American College of Sports Medicine.
Once you've built up stamina, add high-intensity intervals to these workouts to boost fat burn. High-intensity interval training involves alternating bursts of all-out effort with short periods of recovery. This type of workout accelerates your body's rate of fat burn, which is what you need to reveal your six pack. Aim for two or three interval workouts per week, and keep the steady-paced cardio on most other days. Do give yourself one day off per week to recover.
Read More: First steps to take to lose weight