A 7-Day Kickstart Plan for Abs That Pop

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The most effective core exercises are those that focus on strengthening all layers of your abs, plus your hips and lower back.
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You can make a surprising amount of progress toward the ever-elusive goal of rock-solid, sculpted abs in just a week, with the right diet and exercise. No, you won't magically build a six-pack in seven days, but you might see some visible lines and notice your middle's gotten leaner.

That said, there's no such thing as spot training, so if you want to lose belly fat or pesky love handles, you're going to have to shed body fat from head to toe. This means incorporating more fat-burning and muscle-building workouts — like high-intensity interval training (or HIIT) and resistance training — into your routine, in addition to core-focused exercises.

Also crucial: You're going to need to strengthen your entire core, which includes your abdominals, hips, pelvic floor and lower back.

"To get the core strong, you have to think about the trunk as a whole unit, not just the abs," says Ramsey Bergeron, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer in Scottsdale, Arizona. "If you have strong abs but the rest of your core is weak, you may be setting yourself up for a variety of injuries, including ruining your back. All the muscles in the core play a part in your mobility and wellness."

Why a Strong Core Is So Important

Building a strong core is about more than just seeing chiseled abs. A solid midsection comes with a range of benefits, including improved balance, reduced risk of lower back pain and better posture.

Even if you don't see signs of Instagram-worthy abs just yet, you'll find that everyday tasks, like lifting heavy groceries off the ground, lifting your kiddo overhead and opening doors, are a lot easier. And hey, let's be honest: In real life, nothing beats being able to move better and feel stronger.

Below, Bergeron shares a simple seven-day plan for sculpting a stronger, more defined core, from the superficial rectus abdominis muscle, to the deep transverse abdominis to your obliques on the sides of your torso.

This kickstart plan will also strengthen your shoulders, glutes and quads, so you'll build muscle all over. Plus, we include some expert diet tips that'll really make your abs pop.

Although you might not see more defined ab lines in a week, the changes you'll make to your diet and exercise routine will improve your body composition over the next four to six weeks.

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Start With These 3 Exercises for Sculpted Abs

The foundation of Bergeron's ab-training plan is the plank, one of the best exercises for better overall core functionality and strength. Here are the core exercises you'll do this week.

Move 1: Forearm Plank

  1. Stack your shoulders over your elbows and extend your legs behind you to form a straight line from the top of your head to your heels.
  2. Tuck your pelvis in and squeeze your quads and glutes to make your plank rock-solid.
  3. Aim to hold a forearm plank for 30 seconds — or 10 seconds at a time for three rounds.

Tip

If you start to feel some strain in your lower back, raise your hips slightly to keep them aligned with the rest of your body and to take the pressure off the lumbar spine. That's why it's so important to tighten your entire body, including the quads and glutes, in a plank. This will help prevent muscle compensation and keep your body in a straight line throughout the movement, Bergeron says.

Move 2: Side Plank

  1. Lie on your side and prop yourself on your forearm, stacking your shoulder above your elbow and your top leg over your bottom leg.
  2. Keep your head and neck in a neutral position by focusing on a point in front of you, not down at your feet.
  3. Aim to hold a side plank for 30 seconds per side.

Tip

The key to a strong side plank is to keep your hips and shoulders square throughout the entire movement, not allowing them to rotate. Just like the forearm plank, you should be able to draw a straight line from your feet to the top of your head.

Move 3: Mountain Climber

  1. Start in a high plank with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists and your legs extended behind you with your feet about hip-width distance apart.
  2. Drive your right knee toward your chest and kick it back out, immediately following it with your left knee.
  3. Keep your hips low and in line with your back as you alternate driving your knees up toward your chest. Be sure to also fully extend your legs behind you as you bring each leg back out into a plank.

Your 7-Day Kickstart Plan for Abs That Pop

Try adding dynamic planks, such as plank jacks, into your ab routine to increase the intensity of your workouts.
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In case you're wondering why there aren't any crunches or sit-ups in sight on this plan, it's because the plank activates multiple muscle groups at once, which in turn burns more calories and builds more muscle throughout the body.

By building more muscle, you'll burn more calories and fat. That's because muscles are metabolically active, meaning they burn calories even at rest, according to the American Council on Exercise. Aim to complete at least two full-body strength-training sessions this week, per the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Make sure you're also getting at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise spread over the next seven days, per the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. That amounts to five sessions of at least 30 minutes each.

Day 1

  • 30-second forearm plank x 3 sets
  • 15-second side plank x 3 sets per side
  • 20 mountain climbers (10 per leg) x 2 sets

Day 2

  • 30-second forearm plank x 6 sets
  • 15-second side plank x 3 sets per side
  • 20 mountain climbers (10 per leg) x 2 sets

Day 3

  • 45-second forearm plank x 4 sets
  • 30-second side plank x 3 sets per side
  • 20 mountain climbers (10 per leg) x 3 sets

Day 4

  • 45-second forearm plank x 6 sets
  • 30-second side plank x 3 sets per side
  • 30 mountain climbers (15 per leg) x 2 sets

Day 5

  • 1-minute forearm plank x 3 sets
  • 30-second side plank x 4 sets per side
  • 30 mountain climbers (15 per leg) x 2 sets

Day 6

  • 1-minute forearm plank x 3 sets
  • 30-second side plank x 4 sets per side
  • 40 mountain climbers (20 per leg) x 2 sets

Day 7

  • 1-minute forearm plank x 3 sets
  • 45-second side plank x 3 sets per side
  • 40 mountain climbers (20 per leg) x 2 sets

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Up the Intensity

After a week of these plank exercises, try adding more variations into your routine to challenge yourself and target even more muscles.

Tip

"If you are really up for a challenge, make it a contest with yourself," Bergeron says. "Every time there is a commercial break during your favorite TV show, get down on the floor and start planking. See how long you can go. I tell my clients that when they can hold a plank with good form for at least three minutes, their core is strong."

Variation 1: Plank Jack

  1. Start in a high-plank position with your feet together and your shoulders stacked above your wrists.
  2. While maintaining a straight line with your body, hop your feet away from each other until you're in a wide-legged plank.
  3. Hop them back in to the starting position.
  4. Continue hopping your feet in and out as you increase your speed.

Tip

Make sure to keep your back and hips aligned throughout the entire movement.

Variation 2: Plank Reach

  1. From a forearm plank, reach your right arm straight out in front of you for 20 seconds.
  2. Return your right arm to the floor and reach your left arm straight out in front of you for 20 seconds.

Tip

To help you balance on three limbs, widen your feet. Avoid rotating your hips and shoulders to one side while your arm is lifted off the ground.

Variation 3: Plank Reach With Leg Lift

  1. Start in a forearm plank.
  2. Simultaneously reach your right arm straight out in front of your and lift your left leg a few inches off the ground.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.
  4. Return both limbs to forearm plank position.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Variation 4: Push-Up

  1. Start in a high-plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your legs extended behind you.
  2. Keeping your body tight and in a straight line, lower your chest and hips to hover above the floor, bending your elbows and pointing them back at 45 degrees.
  3. Press through your hands to push yourself back up to the starting position.

Tip

If full push-ups are too challenging, do a modified push-up on your knees or standing with your hands on a wall.

Adjust Your Diet

Although core-building exercises will help you build strength, you'll need to tweak your diet to truly make abs pop. You want to follow a diet that will help lower your overall body fat percentage and increase your muscle mass.

Looking at meals for a week is a good way to kick off healthy habits that will help you bring down body fat, according to Kristen Smith, RDN, a registered dietitian for Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Your exact meal plan will look different depending on factors like your age, activity level and overall health, but there are some general guidelines to follow for losing belly fat. Here's what Smith recommends:

  • Track your calories: To lose a pound in a week, you'll need to burn roughly 500 more calories than you consume per day, according to the Mayo Clinic. Download the MyPlate app to understand how much you're eating and how to serve yourself appropriate portion sizes.
  • Focus on fiber: Adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet is a boon not just for the amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they have, but also for the fiber content. "Foods with increased fiber can help slow digestion and keep you feeling satiated for longer periods of time," Smith says. "That can help with fat loss overall, including the belly."
  • Pack on protein: Getting plenty of lean sources of protein, such as chicken, fish, grass-fed beef, eggs, dairy and beans, will help repair muscles and make them grow bigger and stronger.
  • Get gut-healthy: Foods that improve digestion — like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented foods — can help cut down on bloating, which will help reveal your abs more.

Over time, following these dietary changes and pairing them with daily exercise and core-specific moves will start to add up in major ab gains. In just a few weeks, you'll really start to see your abs pop and notice how much stronger you feel performing everyday movements.

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