Attack the following three exercises in order, resting only enough between sets to catch your breath — 15 to 20 seconds at most if it doesn’t compromise your ability to complete the next set.
Hanging Leg Raise
For these, you can either use a captain’s chair (i.e., the upright bench built especially for abs, where your forearms rest on pads and support your body), Ab Slings if your gym has them or you can go old-school and hang from a pull-up bar. To start, let your legs hang down and together, so your body is straight head to toe. From there, contract your abs to bring your legs up in an arc in front of you as high as you can, then slowly lower them back to the start.
If your ab strength is lacking, you can start with knee-ups, where you bend your knees as you raise your legs. As you get stronger, you can add resistance by holding a medicine ball between your feet or knees.
Stand perpendicular to a cable apparatus with a D-handle aligned with your upper abdominal area. Grasp the handle in both hands and straighten your arms out in front of you. Maintaining a shoulder-width stance, rotate your torso away from the resistance until your hands line up with your outside foot. Use your feet as boundaries and keep the movement short from foot to foot.
Considering the major mass builders like squats, deadlifts and presses require a tight, strong torso to do correctly, heavy carries are quite possibly the best exercise you aren’t doing right now. That’s because they ratchet up core strength in a unique way, forcing you to hold your torso solid as you support a heavy weight while in motion. To do it right, simply grab two dumbbells or kettlebells, clean them up to the “rack” position at shoulder level — keeping your elbows in close to your body and in front of you, your core flexed and your torso upright — and go for a walk around the gym.
As you’ll see in the chart, we recommend three to four sets of the first two exercises, and two to three carries, but you’ll want to adjust as necessary — beginners may need more rest and take longer, and in that case you can dial back the sets. There is no “magic number” of sets and reps … it’s all about challenging your muscles and focusing on quality form, and walking away knowing you gave it everything you’ve got.