How do you know when things are getting serious? Some pounds gone on the scale—that's a start. Inches magically migrating from the places you don't want them to the places you do—hey, that's great! But the first time you see some abdominal definition where there wasn't any before, everything changes.
Jen Jewell knows this. She's rocked crazy-cut abs in countless photo shoots, in the Bodybuilding.com Built by Science muscle-building trainer, and as the centerpiece of some wild costumes in the WBFF. Just try not to look at them!
So Jen must think abs are there to flaunt, right? On the contrary, she takes a practical approach, and reveres a hard-earned six-pack for the overall strength and symmetry it signifies for its owner. "Make no mistake: A stronger core is essential when it comes to setting new PRs in the gym and being a functional athlete," Jen notes.
Rockin' abs require work and a whole lot of planning. It's all about precision with your plan and determination in your effort. Those are skills that carry over everywhere in life. And fortunately for you, Jen is all too eager to share what got her on the right path, along with one of her favorite workouts!
1 Eat what you know you should eat
No, this doesn't mean you have to live off of gallons of water and boiled chicken. It just means that, more than ever, you have to be aware of what you're consuming.
"Eliminate processed foods ASAP!" Jen says. "Opt for whole fresh foods that don't contain the preservatives and excess sodium processed foods add." Want something sweet? Ditch the sugar and eat fruit, like Jen does year-round. Craving a cocktail? You can have one—every once in a while.
"I'd suggest skipping happy hour for a bit," Jen says. "While I was never guzzling endless amounts of alcohol, the moment I cut my intake to one glass of wine a week or even every other week, my body responded really well, and my abs finally started to pop," Jen explains.
Don't expect to hear Jen telling you to cut carbs—or even calories for that matter. She's well-known in the fitness world for maintaining a consistent nutritional approach both in the middle of winter and when she's days out from a competition. Choose quality, and over time you'll reap lasting rewards!
"I adhere to a balanced nutrition plan year-round, never eliminating carbs or fats from my daily intake," she explains. "If you're choosing whole-food options in lieu of processed foods or refined sugars, you'll be able to see a huge difference without having to resort to harsh extremes."
2 Mix up your ab training
Some body groups can cruise along on a single routine for months. Abs respond and adapt quickly, so constant change is important. "Just as with all of your other muscle groups, make sure you're always keeping your workout fresh and not falling into a rut," she instructs. "If you hit a plateau, make sure that you begin challenging your body in a new way."
Here are Jen's top recommendations:
- Add a yoga class once a week. Yoga challenges your core from all angles!
- Switch up the number of reps you're doing with your go-to movements.
- Try a new exercise. "Don't be afraid to throw in exercises like burpees or med ball slams, as they'll all hit your core muscles very well," she says.
One of Jen's absolute favorite ab moves is to use sliders while doing mountain climbers. "Do this and you'll feel a whole new burn!" she promises.
3 Cut out obvious lifestyle flaws
If you want diamond-cut abs, you're going to have to do more than simply monitor what you do in the gym and kitchen. The impact of your general lifestyle is also a major component.
"As with your health and fitness in general, sleep is essential," Jen explains. You know this. But are you putting it into action? Proper sleep ensures that you aren't oversecreting the hormone cortisol, which can prompt fat storage in the abdominal region.
The same goes for stress. We all know it's there, but do we manage it like we should? "Stress can be such a buzzkill when it comes to etching out that six-pack," Jen says. "Slowing down and taking a bit of 'alone time'—even if it's just 20 minutes a few times a week—can help a ton when it comes to alleviating stress," Jen says.
Remember that yoga class she told you to take earlier? Aside from what it does for her abs, she swears it's one of the best things to ease her mind, body, and spirit.
4 Improve your overall training
Too many people realize too late that flat, defined abs are about more than core workouts. What you do the rest of the time in the gym—and how well you do it—is just as important!
"If you aren't seeing the reduction in body fat that you're looking for, it's time to kick up the intensity," Jen explains. "I'd always rather go a bit harder in the gym instead of having to reduce my calorie intake to see the results I'm after. When it's shred mode, you can bet I'm putting in a bit of extra work at the gym."
So how do you make this happen? One of Jen's favorite techniques is to add cardio bursts to her workout session. Specifically, she'll superset strength movements such as weighted lunges with 30-60 reps—or 30-60 seconds' worth, if you have trouble keeping track of those reps—of burpees, mountain climbers, jump squats, or jumping rope. Repeat this superset 3-4 times, and your body will definitely respond!
"If you haven't tried this approach before, you'll be pleasantly surprised with not only the fat-loss results, but also with how much your endurance improves," Jen says.
5 Get Your Frequency Down
Rid yourself of the idea that you need to train abs daily. If you train hard and your non-ab work is sufficiently intense, you shouldn't be able to hit your abs daily. You'll need the rest time! "Personally, I include ab training 3-4 days a week," Jen says.
Focus on quality and intensity, and give your body the rest and quality fuel it needs. That's the real recipe for abs that pop!
Ready to start training? Here are a few of Jen's favorite ab exercises. To form your workout, select 3-4 of the exercises and complete 3-4 sets. Do this 3-4 days a week.
(decline bench whenever available)
(Shown with exercise ball)