As guys get older, six-pack abs are not a matter of genetics, but of discipline. With hundreds of quick-and-easy solutions being bandied about, it’s hard to know what plan to follow. First, forget the starvation diets or the two hours in the gym every day, six days a week, no one has time for that.
According to Mike Wunsch and Craig Rasmussen from Results Fitness, interviewed by Men's Health, there is a simple, realistic plan for achieving six-pack abs that just takes 30 to 40 minutes a day, three days a week. First, you’ll need to adhere to a diet since abs won’t be visible if there’s a layer of fat above them. Wunsch and Rasmussen recommend eating six small meals a day and eliminating added sugars and processed foods.
Scientists at Georgia State University designed a technique to measure how many calories you're burning versus how many calories you're consuming. They found that if you maintain an hourly surplus or deficit within 300 to 500 calories at all times, you can change your body composition by losing fat and adding lean muscle mass. By maintaining balanced energy levels, you will add lean muscle.
In another study, Japanese researchers found that boxers who ate the same amount of calories a day from either two or six meals both lost an average of 11 pounds in two weeks, yet those who ate six meals a day lost three more pounds of fat and three fewer pounds of muscle than the ones who ate only two meals.
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Second, view your workout as a sum total, don’t just focus on your abs. "Muscle is your body's primary fat burner," Rasmussen says. "Your body has to expend energy to repair and upgrade those fibers after your workout. And a single total-body weight-training session can boost your metabolism for up to two days." That includes legs, which many guys tend to ignore.
"A busy guy's smartest approach is to train his entire body every other day," Rasmussen says. "That allows you to elevate your metabolism maximally all week long, even though you're working out only three or four days a week."
Your workout should incorporate complex, multi-joint movements. "You can do lots of crunches and situps and still have a weak core. We see that all the time," Wunsch says. True core exercises are ones that keep your spine stable, such as side planks, mountain climbers, rollouts, hollow body holds, and pushups.
"We test everything in our gym," Wunsch says. "And we've seen that people achieve far better results when they do core exercises at the beginning of their workout instead of at the end." The reason for this is that by training your core when your muscles are relaxed, you will achieve the quickest gains in strength.
"A weak core is what keeps most men from lifting more weight in the squat and deadlift and just about everything else," Wunsch says. "If we focus on strengthening their core first, they'll ultimately be able to lift heavier weights, which allows them to work more muscle and burn more calories. We're thinking about long-term success."
Wunsch emphasizes the importance of the plank because it teaches guys to keep their core stiff, which is a necessary skill for every exercise. The focus should be on maintaining your spine aligned and squeezing your core and glutes in order to activate your muscles.
Wunsch and Rasmussen also recommend foregoing the cardio. "If you have only 30 to 40 minutes to devote to a workout, then every second has to count," Rasmussen says. "In those cases, our clients do zero running."
Recently, a University of Southern Maine study found that a single set of weight-training exercises burns as many calories as running at a six-minute-mile pace for the same amount of time. Also, resistance training has a much more significant impact on the metabolism than running does.
"Our goal is to pack as much physical work as possible into whatever time our clients have," Wunsch says.
The trainers recommend combining straight sets in which you complete all the sets of an exercise before moving on to the next, alternating sets in which you alternate between exercises that train your body using two noncompeting movements, like pairing an upper-body exercise like a pushup or bench press with a lower-body exercise like the deadlift and circuits in which you do three or more exercises.
By alternating your muscle groups, you can cut your rest time in half, thereby having more time to work out. The idea is that you work a group of muscles with one exercise, but instead of sitting around for a full two or three minutes while that muscle group recovers, you perform an exercise that doesn't heavily engage those same muscles. As a result, you can cut your rest time in half or eliminate it completely.