- Exercises like weighed sit-ups and lying leg raises can help build defined abs, physique coach Cliff Wilson said.
- You should train the abs like you train any other muscle by adding resistance, he said.
- To lose fat, it’s important to be eat in a calorie deficit and be patient.
Resistance-based ab training, a well-balanced diet, and patience are the three key factors to nail if you want to sculpt a six-pack, according to bodybuilder and physique coach Cliff Wilson.
Wilson, who has worked with dozens of professional physique athletes and competed in bodybuilding shows himself, told Insider that his three favorite exercises for abs are weighed sit-ups, cable crunches, and lying leg-raises.
However, your abs won’t be visible if you don’t shed fat by eating in a calorie deficit, and it’s important to give yourself lots of time and remember that genetics play a big role, he said.
Adding resistance to ab exercises is key
Wilson recommends these three ab exercises for sculpted and strong abs:
1. Weighted sit-ups
Weighted sit-ups are a great exercise, according to Wilson.
If you can do 20-30 bodyweight sit-ups, start holding a weight on your chest to increase the resistance, he said.
2. Lying leg-raises
Lie on your back with your legs stretched out. Lift your legs, keeping them straight and together, until your bum lifts off the floor. Keep your back flat to the ground. Slowly lower your legs back down and repeat.
Wilson is a fan of lying leg-raises for engaging the lower abdominal muscles. If these are too easy, try hanging leg-raises, as recommended by bodybuilder Sunny Andrews.
3. Cable crunches
Cable crunches are one of Wilson’s favorites because it’s easy to add resistance, he said.
“Kneel in front of a cable machine facing away, hold the rope on your shoulders, and crunch downward,” Wilson explained.
While many weight lifters employ progressive overload, which means gradually increasing the weights or reps, on most exercises to build muscle and strength, Wilson said that often people forget that abs should be trained the same way.
“Abs are just like every other muscle group in that they respond well to added weight,” he said.
Wilson says some people add more and more reps which can lead to an hour-long ab routine, when you only need 15-20 minutes for a great abdominal workout.
“If you are providing sufficient resistance and intensity, it doesn’t need to be that complicated,” he said.
Training is only one part of building visible abs
While building the muscle of your abs will help them show, Wilson said “training is only a small part of the picture.”
Revealing abs is more about losing the fat on top, he said.
To do this, he recommends counting calories to ensure you’re in a deficit, eating plenty of protein, and taking your time, because most people underestimate how much fat they have to lose on their stomach, he said.
Spot-fat reduction is impossible, and you may lose fat from other body parts first, Wilson said.
“We have fat on a lot more areas of our bodies than people realize,” he said. “You have fat on your hands, wrists, head, neck, feet. And sometimes when we’re dieting, our body will take it from those places, not necessarily from our abs right away, so give yourself plenty of time to lose it.”
Genetics play a big role
People have different storage patterns for body fat.
“Some people will store more in their legs, some people more in their glutes, some in their hips and some in their abdomen,” Wilson said.
If you carry more fat on your stomach, it doesn’t mean you can never have visible abs, but you’ll probably have to diet for longer, and it may not be sustainable, he said.
“It might be a look to get to for summer, and then you’re going to have to let it go if you want to feel your best and perform your best in the gym,” he said.