Working out how to get a six pack isn't just about looking and feeling good.
Yes, a strong core also looks great and visible abs are highly sought-after: both new gym-goers and experienced fitness fans see a tight core and six-pack abs as a big fitness goal.
However, it's equally important when it comes to our all-round fitness and everyday wellbeing - which makes getting familiar with best workouts for abs a priority.
Your core is a complete set of muscles (comprising upper abs, lowers abs and obliques, the muscles down either side of your middle) that you use every day, whether sitting up first thing in the morning or jogging after work. This means you need the best exercise for lower abs, upper abs and obliques to work your whole core.
One study published in the journal Gerontology (opens in new tab) showed training your core will have loads of benefits in later life. A core exercise programme was revealed to benefit abdominal muscle strength, spinal mobility, dynamic balance and functional mobility in older adults.
It just goes to show these exercises aren’t only for people wanting to look good on a beach: whether you’re somebody worried about staying active in their senior years or somebody looking for an edge on the sports pitch, training your core is an important part of any exercise programme.
So what’s the best way to go about working out your core? Well if you already incorporate moves like push ups or squats into your workout routines, you’ve already started. These moves require you to engage your core as well as working out your arms and legs. However, you can also target your core specifically with exercises like planks, sit-ups and crunches.
The bicycle crunch in particular, is proven to get results. One study from the American Council on Exercise (opens in new tab) revealed the bicycle crunch is the most effective exercise when it comes to recruiting as many muscle groups in your core as possible. But although the bicycle crunch is one of the best exercises you can do, it’s still useful to switch it up with a series of other core-focused moves for an upper and lower abs workout.
Below we've outlined somme key moves that will help you get a six pack. For more inspiration (and daily ab burn!), you could also check out our 30 day abs challenge.
Upper and lower ab workout
After you spend a few minutes warming up, perform each of the following exercises for 12-15 reps, which is called one "set". Then go down the list and move onto the next exercise, resting for one minute between each set. After another one minute rest, you can choose to go through the whole circuit again!
- Lie flat on your back with your fingertips behind your head, your knees bent, your legs together and your feet flat on the floor. Your elbows should be in line with your ears, or just below.
- Raise your upper body until you’re sat upright, or as close as you can get. As you do the exercise, you should feel your abs tighten.
- Don’t push or pull your head forward while performing the sit-up – your hands and arms should remain still throughout.
- Start in the usual sit-up position, with your legs together, knees bent, and fingers behind your ears. Your core should be tight and remain this way throughout the exercise.
- When you’re ready to begin, simultaneously draw your left knee towards you, kick out your right leg and perform a sit-up. As you sit up, twist your body so your right elbow moves towards your left knee.
- Without stopping, straighten your left leg and bring your right knee towards your chest. When the sit-up movement is complete, your elbow should be touching your opposite knee. Simultaneously twist your core and upper body to bring your left elbow towards your right knee.
- Keep up this pedalling and twisting motion for at least 12 reps. Working both sides counts as a single rep.
For more helpful information on form (essential to maximise your workout and avoid injury) see your guide on how to do a bicycle crunch. And if crunches are your thing, see more variations in our article on how to do a crunch.
- Lie flat on your back with arms stretched out behind your head, palms facing upwards.
- Simultaneously raise your arms, legs and torso, as if you are trying to touch your toes. The movement should come from your trunk.
- Go back to the starting position and begin the next repetition straight away.
- Lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides, palms on the floor. Make sure your abs are drawn in and your legs and feet are together.
- Without moving your upper body at all, raise your hips and pull your knees towards your chest, bending them in the process.
- Return to the starting position to complete one repetition.
- Need help? We show you how to do a reverse crunch in detail.
- Get in the ‘plank’ position – that’s the upright ‘push-up’ position – with your arms straight. Try to keep your back, legs and hips as straight as possible.
- Lift your left foot off the floor and slowly bring your knee up towards your chest.
- Reverse the movement, bringing your right knee up towards your chest.
- That's one rep. Alternate between legs for 12-15 reps.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.