How to Get a Six-Pack—Without Doing a Single Crunch

Updated: Sep. 08, 2019

Killer abs, here we come.

Get your diet in check

Before you tone a six-pack, you’ll need to shed any excess pounds—and that starts in the kitchen.  “Food is everything and exercise is extra credit,” says Los Angeles registered dietitian Ilana Muhlstein, creator of Beachbody’s 2B Mindset program. “You can do 500 crunches a day all you want, but you’ll never see [a six-pack] if you’re carrying extra weight.” To get to a healthy weight, you’ll need to eat fewer calories and replace junk foods with satisfying, nutritious options. Discover how nutrition tweaks can add up more than exercise when it comes to weight loss. 

Top view of female lying on exercise mat doing push-ups with gym equipments.
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Stop making ab moves an afterthought

Six-pack abs require more attention than just tacking a few crunches on to the end of your workout. Spend three days a week focusing on your abs, and push yourself harder than normal, suggests certified personal trainer Dani Singer, fitness director of Fit2Go Personal Training in Baltimore, Maryland. “You should be getting sore from them, at least in the beginning,” he says. But you shouldn’t be feeling any shooting back pain or numbness.

Female working out at home, doing fitness exercise on floor, Paripurna Navasana for upper and lower abs, Full Boat pose. Core training. Top view. Full length

Focus on visible muscles

The key to building great abs is working your rectus abdominis: the visible muscles of a six-pack. To target these muscles, try leg lifts, says Singer. Lie on your back and lift your legs so your feet face the ceiling. Bring your legs down toward the floor, then back up to complete one rep. Do three sets of ten. “Only go as low as you can without arching your back at all,” says Singer. “If you can only go a quarter of the way down, stop there. If you’re going further, you’re working your lower back.” And back off if you feel any pain (other than sore muscles). Form can make or break any exercise: Find out the biggest mistakes women make when doing ab exercises.

Fit women doing plank exercises Top view Fitness sport workout

Resist movements

Your ab muscles’ main function is to keep your trunk straight and sturdy, which is why moves that resist gravity (think: holding a plank vs. bending into a crunch) are so effective, says Singer. Use resistance to your advantage to work your obliques—the sides of your stomach—with a suitcase carry: Holding a dumbbell in your left hand, take ten steps forward. Switch the weight to your right hand, then take ten more steps. Repeat two more times. Start with ten pounds, and work your way up—just don’t be fooled into thinking heavier is better. “Your posture should be as straight as it would be if you were not holding the weight,” says Singer. Make it harder with more reps instead of heavier weights, he recommends.

Sporty female in a fitness gym doing abs workout with a ball
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Upgrade planks

Stepping up your planks by adding movement will help you build a six-pack even faster. “With planks, you’re not applying a lot of resistance—it’s about endurance,” says Singer. “It’s like taking a two-pound dumbbell and doing 100 bicep curls.” Moves like a ball rollout add resistance, plus engage more muscle fibers by changing your center of gravity, he says. To do the move: Start with forearms on a stability ball in front of you, knees bent, then roll the ball forward, moving torso forward and straightening legs as you go (if you find yourself straining during this move, perform it with knees on ground instead). Once you’re out as far as you can go, roll the ball back to the starting position. That’s one rep. If you don’t have a stability ball, start on your hands and knees, then “walk” your hands out in front of you. Do three sets of ten. Check out these other plank upgrades that will reshape your body.

Asian women doing "mountain climber" exercise.
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Move your hips

Core moves work in two ways: either moving your spine (like a crunch) or your hips (like leg lifts). Work another hip movement into your routine with mountain climbers, which are more dynamic. With your body positioned in plank, pull your right knee to your chest while pulling in your abs and pushing back with your left leg. Switch, pulling the left knee up and pushing the right leg back. Keeping doing this to simulate a running motion. “When you change the style of workout, you incorporate more muscle fibers, and you’re working quicker in this move, so you’re working that power,” he says. Discover more ab exercises that don’t require crunches.

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Avoid post-workout treats

One of the most common pitfalls between you and your dream abs is what you eat after a workout, says Muhlstein. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve “earned” a cookie or decadent dinner because you crushed a tough workout—in most cases, you’ll end up eating as many or more calories than you just worked off. (Don’t miss these other myths getting in the way of great abs.) “The best thing you can do to reverse that mindset is to redefine what a treat means,” says Muhlstein. If the pride of seeing the results on your body aren’t enough to motivate you, try treating yourself with something that won’t dent your diet, like buying a nice-smelling face wash to use after a sweat session or infusing your water with strawberries, she suggests.

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Up your protein

When you work out, your body breaks down those muscles, and the process of rebuilding them is what makes you strong and toned. Adding protein to your diet speeds that process along so you get the biggest bang out of your gym time. “Proteins break down into amino acids, and we need those amino acids to then rebuild muscle,” says Muhlstein. “If you don’t repair them, you don’t get the full benefits of rebuilding stronger muscles.” Check out these other foods that help you build muscle.

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Incorporate cardio

Adding cardio into your routine will help you burn fat—and reveal the six-pack underneath—quicker. For the biggest burn, try doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), suggests Singer. The idea is to work as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then let your body rest for another 30 seconds before bursting into your next 30-second spurt. Alternate between walking and running on a treadmill, or do as many jumping jacks as you can for half a minute—any moves that get your heart-rate up will do the trick, says Singer. Learn more about the 15 workouts that burn the most calories.