Whether you’re looking at Jackman or Hemsworth, McConaughey or MBJ, no superhero physique will ever be complete without a super-chiseled set of abs.
But is acquiring a superhero six-pack as simple as doing countless crunch variations for endless numbers of reps? That’s what Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel C.S.C.S., sought out to discover in the latest Elite Personal Trainer series, when he picked the brain of top celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson on the secrets to obtaining abs like a big-screen superhero.
And as expected, there are no real secrets, according to Peterson. Your approach should be fairly straightforward, he tells Samuel—being on point with both your diet and cardio conditioning is a good first start.
However, one oft-neglected focus to developing a six-pack is hitting your core from different angles and planes—with no crunches required.
“You have to think about how the abdominals work in the body,” Peterson says. “You have to think about different planes of motion, static planks, moving planks, and you have to think about extending your ab workout and going into extension versus just flexion.”
Here are four moves Peterson and Samuel demonstrate as not only alternatives to popular core training techniques, but the missing ingredients to building your own set of superhero-worthy abs.
Most of us think of a side plank as a sagittal plane (front to back)-focused exercise. Peterson says you can incorporate a frontal plane (side-to-side) emphasis to this movement in a variety of ways. One way is placing your elbow on an unstable surface (like a towel or balance pad) to allow you to focus on maintaining core stability. Another option is to hold a weight—like a hammer Peterson uses—while focusing on keeping your head, hips and heels lined up to also bring shoulder stability into the drill. Eight to 15 reps works for this.
Resistance Band Core Rotation
Adding this athletic rotational move can allow you to hit the transverse plane (rotational movement) in your abs workout. Using a band allows you to add rotational strength from an infinite number of angles and points. Stepping forward or backward can increase or decrease rotational tension.
Offset Load Carry
Life happens in the vertical position, Peterson says, therefore you have to train your abs for everyday functionality as well. And that’s where offset load carries are so beneficial, as they hit several different core and conditioning targets. Holding one kettlebell overhead and the other in the rack position while staying tall and straight while walking for 20 steps forward—even backward or laterally for advanced exercisers—you’re getting shoulder stability as well as focusing on posture and working anti-rotation.
Think about training like an athlete by adding this extension move. Roll out as far as possible while keeping your toes engaged as to avoid counterbalancing and rocking. Also be aware of maintaining time under tension by not rolling completely back to start—think of finishing in a cat pose position before rolling back forward.
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