If you envy strong, cut ab muscles, you won't achieve them simply by doing sit-ups. 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. Sit-ups strengthen muscles that lie under fat but don't do anything to help you lose the padding keeping those muscles hidden.
Include Sit-Ups as Part of Core Training
Add exercises that target your entire core to your regular workout three to five times a week to build your six-pack. Sit-ups can be part of this regimen.
Keep in mind, though, that sit-ups 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 sit-ups, some won't.
A comprehensive core workout that builds strong and defined muscles includes moves that flex, rotate and side-bend the trunk.
- Sit-ups 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 like 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 sit-up to more intense variations, such as sit-ups on a stability ball, weighted push sit-ups and incline sit-ups.
Strength Train Regularly
Sit-ups 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.
Losing fat in your middle requires refocusing your diet to eliminate most processed food, sugar and refined grains.
Most meals should consist of a lean protein, such as chicken breast, with a small serving of whole grains and a generous amount of vegetables. Snack choices include fresh fruit, nuts and low-fat cheese.
Precisely timed and portioned meals, including post-workout fuel that includes both carbs and protein, minimal restaurant meals and little to no alcohol are also part of the strict dietary regimen necessary to achieve a sculpted middle.