Great abs are the ultimate sign of fitness on both male and female physiques. With countless fitness experts out there, you’d think getting great abs would be down to a science at this point. Instead, competing voices and conflicting information can be confusing to the person who just wants to rock a 6-pack. Beyond genetic factors you can’t control, the keys to getting phenomenal abdominals are the same as they always were: simple, and within your reach.

Key #1: Work All Your Abs

Crunches and sit ups are probably the two most over-used ab exercises. These moves work the upper portion of the ‘rectus abdominis’ (6-pack abdominals), but don’t do much for the obliques or transverse (deep) abdominals. Some people also find crunches and sit ups very uncomfortable, especially for the lower back. Does that mean you should never do a sit-up again? Certainly not. But just like any other muscle group, the abs need to be worked both jointly and separately from different angles to achieve balance in strength and tone. Besides, it’s easy to get bored if you’re doing the same movement over and over again. Here are a few ways to work more than just one portion of your abs:

To engage the exterior obliques (sides), try C-position core twists, standing side crunches and side planks. Do core twists with a weighted ball or dumbbell to get even more work in both the upper abdominals and obliques. If you hold your legs up, you’ll also use the lower abdominals.

To engage the interior obliques (lower abs) and transverse (inner) abdominals try yoga and Pilates-based moves. Pilates and yoga strengthen the core because they require stability and balance, and target the lower abdominals with variations of leg lifts. Moves like the plank, Teaser, the One Hundred, Scissor, and Boat are great moves for increasing lower abdominal strength and tone. Pilates also strengthens the inner abdominals (the layer of muscles underneath your 6-pack that hold everything together) with its forced breathing techniques. The great news is you don’t need to go to a pricy studio to practice Pilates or yoga-inspired moves: the Web is full of tutorials on individual moves you can do at the gym with only a floor mat.

Key #2: Integrated Exercises and Fat-Burning Interval Training

Isolating the abdominals isn’t the only way to strengthen them. You use them for many whole-body moves and exercises, such as reaching for an object on the floor. To get toned abdominals, you need integrated exercises – that is, dynamic moves that recruit multiple muscle groups at once. The higher the intensity the better, which is why everyone is raving about HIIT (high intensity interval training).

HIIT is about maximum effort for a certain number of seconds (20-60) followed by timed rest intervals. Fitness experts and personal trainers have created dozens of HIIT-style routines you can choose from. They key is to find a routine that meets both your current level and fitness goals. Because of the ‘after-burn’ effect, you’ll still be burning fat long after you leave the gym, and when you burn off that fat, you’ll find a sleek 6-pack below.

Key #3 : Eat Clean

If you have weakness for junk food and prefer sweating the layers off your midsection to dieting, the last thing you want to hear is the cliché touted by most fitness experts: “abs are made in the kitchen.” It’s true, nonetheless. You can crunch, plank, and do burpees all day, but if there’s a layer of fat covering your abs, you’ll never see all that hard work. You may be fit, but not ripped.

There isn’t just one magic diet for great abs, but the key to fat loss is eating clean, not necessarily less. Body builders go on a ‘cut’ diet when they’re preparing for a physique competition, and part of it requires ‘cutting the crap’ out of their diet. You don’t have to go extreme to get results, but you will need to reduce your consumption of processed foods –just about everything in the middle section of the grocery store. Stick to lean meats, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and healthy fats in appropriate servings, and drink plenty of water.

You Can Have Great Abs

Forget the gimmicks: if you want great abs, you have to work for them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean sit ups. Challenge all of your abdominal groups with some new exercises you’ve never tried, incorporate HIIT circuits, and clean up your diet. Follow these three keys, and there’s no doubt you’ll get great

by Bernie Caplan