I often get asked what the best ab exercises are for developing a 6-pack. If you’ve ever been a teenager (which I’m assuming most of us have…or are), you’ve probably asked this question yourself. Maybe you’ve even asked it recently to someone you saw at the gym with a set themselves.
While the question itself is much deeper than a simple list of exercises (hint: you can’t spot train), it brings up another common issue that many people have. Training your abs for the sake of having a 6-Pack can lead many people to having issues because of the type and volume of exercises that are used. Training the core in a more functional way, on the other hand, will not only move you more efficiently towards a 6-Pack, it will also help with proper back function and overall body development.
When most people think of ab exercises, they think of things like crunches, situps and Russian Twists. And although these are, in fact, exercises that work the abdominal area, they won’t actually develop your core to work in the way it is meant to work.
You see the core musculature is made up of more than for your abs. It also includes your obliques (side abs), lats (outer back muscles), multifidus (inner back muscles) and glutes (butt muscles), as well as a few others. Crunches, situps and Russian twists don’t incorporate most of these muscle groups. They are focused predominantly on the rectus abdominis (6-pack) and secondarily on the obliques (side abs)
The second problem we run into with normal ab exercises is the actual function of the abdominal musculature itself. The core muscles listed above help connect the upper body to the lower body. It is literally the canister that holds your body together and allows you to walk, run, jump, bend and squat. The function of the core muscles if very simple. If you look at 99% of the movements that humans perform on a regular basis, our core muscles are there to help brace or stabilize. What does that mean? It means that, when you pick something up off of the floor, your core muscles have to stabilize your mid-section in order for you to pick the object up without drooping to the ground. Common abdominal exercises don’t incorporate stability and therefore aren’t properly training the muscles to function the way they should.
The third and final reason that the most commonly used ab exercises won’t move you towards your 6-pack quickly is energy expenditure. How tired you, really, after doing a set up crunches? Go ahead, drop down to the floor, do 10 crunches, then tell me how tired you are. Actually, do 20. Are you out of breath? If you are, you need to get up and down off the floor more often. If you’re not (which most won’t be), it’s because crunches don’t require much energy to perform. And if you’re not expending a lot of energy, then you’re not burning a lot of calories. And if you’re not burning a lot of calories, your likelihood of burning fat decreases.
So now that we know that, in order to efficiently move towards having a 6-pack, we need to utilize ab exercises that use all of our core muscles, help our abdominal musculature function the way it’s supposed to, and actually burn calories, we need to figure out exactly what we can do to make this happen.
I’m a big fan of loaded carries. This is a group of exercises that is truly underappreciated and underutilized. It’s also a group of exercises that will literally take your strength, muscle gain or fat loss to the next level. The loaded carry the we use the most at TF, and also where we start everybody, is the suitcase carry.
When used right, the suitcase carry knocks all 3 of our problems above out of the park. This is the ultimate in functional ab exercises. It uses every core muscle that you have in order to keep you stable and upright, it teaches your abdominal area to function the way that it’s supposed to, and, when loaded correctly, it burns tons of calories, especially when grouped with other exercises.
Use the suitcase carry liberally in your workouts. A couple times a week won’t hurt anything. You want to shoot to walk for about 100 feet on each arm. Start with a weight that is about 25-30% of your current body weight in pounds. For some of you, this will be too light. For most of you, this will be just right. Maintain your posture and act like you’re walking down a right rope (this is key). And don’t be afraid to move up in weight as things get light.