When it comes to getting a toned set of abs, noted gym rat Albert Einstein was all over it. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Yet this is the type of insanity that prevails in gym culture every day. Folks still think fat-free is healthy, protein overdosing is going to jack them up, and laying on their back doing a million crunches is the recipe for perfect abs.
Let dinosaur methodologies be gone. If you want a lean midsection, these 10 exercises work your abs plenty, and without a single sit-up.
1. Kettlebell swings
The kettlebell swing is a near gym-perfect exercise because it works your heart, legs, core, and back. Swings are an explosive, compound movement that produce lean muscle from head to toe.
2. Farmer's walk
Grab a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell with one arm, and take it for a walk. The farmer's walk is like a moving plank that tests your grip, legs, trapezoids, and abdominal strength all in one go.
3. Single leg push-ups
Had enough of the bench press? Tone your chest while utilising many other muscles, including your core, with push-ups. A challenging variation of the traditional push-up is to simply raise one leg off the ground. Instability with proper form means your abs are taking on the load and doing even more work.
I dare you to run 200 metres with 100 per cent intensity. Walk back, and repeat nine times. Usain Bolt doesn't drop for 200 sit-ups to get his toned body – he just keeps running with his core engaged, hard. And high-intensity sprints guarantee you'll be burning calories long after you stop working out.
5. Side planks
Everybody is planking, but don't forget to side plank. Your obliques are important, and side planks provide the isometric movement to strengthen them. To side plank, lay on your side with legs extended, placing your elbow under your shoulder to prop up your torso, then hold.
A full body exercise that's functional, twisting, and tones the abs is the woodchop on a cable mountain. It starts with two hands grabbing a cable's rope, then pulling and twisting in a downward motion. Using cables is superb, as they make the concentric and eccentric phases equally challenging.
7. Clean and press/jerk
Olympic lifts aren't just for athletes bound for Rio. The clean and press/jerk is a full body (including abs) exercise just like all other exercises where weights are lifted overhead. From the legs, glutes, core, and shoulders – all must be engaged to hold a significant mass for any time above the head.
8. Barbell ab rollout
This is an advanced exercise using a barbell with 10kg plates on each side. On your knees, place hands on a barbell, then slowly roll it out until your body is semi-parallel to the floor with arms extended. Pause, then roll back to the starting position, and repeat.
I said no sit-ups, but I didn't say anything about burpees. Sure, they suck, but they also work the entire body and are especially good for promoting lean, toned abs. In a quick, fluid motion, lower into a squat position then put hands flat on the floor in front. Kick both legs back into a push-up position. Perform a push-up. Spring both legs forward, then stand up and jump.
10. Mountain climbers
Like 'standing high knees', mountain climbers are similar but only when parallel to the ground. From shoulders and arms to legs and abdominals, climbers are a cardio treat to slim and tone while engaging most of the body's muscles.
More than just abs
The beauty of all these exercises are not that they'll deliver abs, but even better:
1. It's about posture.
All day you sit at a computer and hunch, hunch, hunch. Then you go to the gym and crunch, crunch, crunch. Strengthening in the foetal position is dangerous. It's not only an awkward look, but a hunched-over posture (kyphosis) affects breathing and overall health.
2. It's about compound movements.
The exercises above aren't singularly about abdominal work. They're full body movements that work a variety of muscles. That's how you get lean, strong, healthy, balanced. That's how you get abs.
And if you think it's all about crunches in the gym? Working off a triple cheeseburger with sit-ups is as wise as gifting your bulldog a saxophone. It's insanity. Everybody's got abdominal muscles, but it's what you do in the kitchen that provides a window to see those abs.
The next time you lay down to do some ab work, remember this – putting new rims on a rundown '78 Holden still has you walking to work. In other words, isolating your abs won't give you a new torso. Spot reduction is the king of the gym myth castle. Don't wrongly assume if you work one spot, fat reduction will come in time.
Wise up, and sit up less. Old mate Albert and I demand it.
Is your ab game strong? Let us know your secrets in the Comments section.
Passion for lifestyle change is the cornerstone for everything Michael Jarosky does. A Sydney-based personal trainer, he cajoled thousands of Executive Style readers to undertake his 'Cut The BS' diet, and champions a charity weight-loss event, Droptober.