I remember the time in my life I was most obsessed with exercise. At 20 years old, home in Los Angeles for the baseball off season, I was at the peak of my training. It was January, and I always started to feel like I wasn’t prepared for the upcoming season at precisely this time. I lifted weights in the morning, then headed to the field to throw, take swings and run in the afternoon. I pushed myself to the point of exhaustion, usually crashing in the early evening.
My brain hadn’t developed as much as my body; I wanted more. Specifically, I wanted abs. I set my alarm for late in the evening, woke up, did a traditional sit-up video routine, ate and went back to sleep.
America has a love affair with a flat stomach or six-pack abs, and it’s one I fully understand. Everyone has a different trick for that elusive ideal. Five minutes on the internet will return suggestions for leg lifts and sit ups, and late night television is filled with infomercials for core machines and diet pills promising instant success.
The formula is actually pretty simple. First, the body fat we carry has to be low enough to see the abdominal definition. This is absolutely a challenge. Second, throw out all of those isolated ab exercises that claim to blast away fat and replace them with one – basic, traditional squats.
I have not done a sit up or leg lift in many moons. I squat regularly and have more abdominal definition than I did at 23 years old.
Think about it logically. What causes the abdominal muscles to contract more, lying on your back and lifting your legs or placing 200 pounds on your shoulders and dropping deeply into a squat, recruiting every muscle in your body (especially in your core) to handle the load to thrust that weight back up?
The squat is the perfect exercise. Moreover, it is extraordinarily beneficial beyond just toning the abs. Squats promote mobility and balance and generally help folks become more adept at performing day-to-day activity.
I suggest starting with body weight and building up to as much weight as you can safely handle over time.
Proper form here: http://www.builtlean.com/2010/07/20/how-to-do-proper-squat-technique/
A great video for demonstration purposes here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbxxs1PErLQ
I do squats, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 5 sets, 5 reps with as much weight as I can handle.
For beginners doing body weight squats, I recommend 5 sets of 25 reps the first time out, gradually adding weight as it becomes safe through experience.