OK people, it's time to get real. You may have heard this many times before, but until you believe it in your heart and soul, I believe that it is worth repeating:
No amount of weird exercises or machines will magically reveal your abs. The ONLY way to reveal your abs is to lose that layer of fat covering them. Now, the only way to lose the abdominal fat is by consistent dieting and cardiovascular exercise. Period. All those odd hanging, leg twisting, body contorting exercises are no better than simple crunches.
"Abs are made in the kitchen, NOT in the gym!"
The big problem is that intellectually, many people totally agree. However, emotionally it does not click. I know this because day after day I see people doing marathon abdominal work. They do four or five different exercises. They think the more they do, the more defined their abs will become. They try to target the upper, lower, inner and outer, left, right, etc. Give me a break. They do tons of weighted side bends trying to get rid of the love handles.
Here's a news flash -- It won't work. You cannot spot reduce! What I mean by this is that you can't pick and choose the areas that you would like to lose the fat and do exercises that work those areas expecting the fat to just magically disappear in those areas.
Your body does not work that way. The only way to decrease the amount of fat in certain key areas is by lowering your total body fat levels. As you lose fat, it will come off all over your body, not just in specific areas.
It's kind of interesting to watch sometimes. They have the right motivation, but they are doing the wrong things. If they expended 1/2 the energy on their diet as they do doing rep after rep of hanging leg raises, they would already have their six pack. Developing a visible set of abs is simple.
Ab development can be boiled down to a few simple steps:
First, go on a fat loss diet.
If you have a high body fat percentage, the abs won't show no matter how much you work. Once your body fat falls below 8% for men, or 14% for women, your abs will begin to show through.
Your diet should consists higher protein intake, moderate fat and moderate complex carbohydrate. You should cut out all excess simple sugars, lower your dairy intake and eliminate excess saturated fats. The majority of your dietary fat should come from essential fatty acids (EFA's -- omega-6 and omega-3).
To lose fat you need to eat fewer calories. You should create a mild caloric deficit when dieting. In other words, you should be using more calories than you are taking in from your diet. This way, your body has to get the extra calories it needs from fat stores (hopefully). I say hopefully because if you drop your calories too drastically, your body may prefer to use muscle tissue for energy instead of fat. This is why many people who go on fad diets look so soft. They lose almost as much muscle mass as fat those drastic diets.
Second, start exercising aerobically.
Perform some form of cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis -- at least 3 times per week. It doesn't matter what you do (walking, running, cycling, aerobics, stairmaster, etc.), as long as it keeps your heart rate elevated for at least 30-45 minutes. This will speed your fat loss by elevating your metabolism, thus burning more calories.
Finally, work your abs just 2-3 times per week.
Work your abs like any other body part. Training them more than once or twice per week is unnecessary. More is not necessarily better. I typically do only two different abdominal exercises. The first is the simple crunch (yes, crunches) and reverse crunches.
Contraction is everything when working abs. Remember that your abs work like an accordion, not like a hinge. So when doing crunches, you should concentrate on crunching together rather than moving your body upwards. This will maximize muscle tension.
You must concentrate on contracting your muscles as tight as you can. This will cause them to fatigue faster. It does not matter how many reps you can do; the only thing that matters is how hard you can contract your abdominal muscles.
If it takes you 100 crunches before your abs begin to burn, then you are wasting your time. Your abs should be fatigued at no more than 20-25 reps. If they are aren't, you need to add weights to your exercise and work on contracting the muscles tightly for each rep. Don't concentrate so much on "how many" you can do, but instead focus on "how hard" you can contract the abdominal muscles.
Contrary to popular belief (another myth), doing full sit-ups, lying leg raises or hanging leg raises DOES NOT give your abdominals the best workout. In fact, these exercises work your hip flexor muscles (psoas major) much more than your abs!
Remember, the most effective exercises for working the abs must involve a "scrunching" type contraction, like an accordion.
Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent and legs about 1-2 feet apart, or you can place your lower legs up on a bench. Rest your hands either gently behind your head or crossed on top of your chest.
Raise up a few inches off of the floor and stop when you reach maximum ab contraction. Exhale as you curl up and inhale as you slowly lower. The goal of this exercise is to curl your upper torso forward, bringing your ribcage toward your pelvis. Keep the rest of the body stationary and you do not sit all the way up.
If you are getting a sore neck from doing these, you need to work on relaxing your neck muscles. Keep your hands and neck relaxed. They should not be involved in this movement.
This is not a jerking motion. It should be smooth and controlled. You should be working for maximum contraction and burn.
2-3 times per week, perform 4 sets of 20-25 slow reps with a hard contraction at the top of the motion. Rest 90 seconds between each set.
These are like leg raises, except that you are on an incline bench and should keep your knees bent. Lie on your back on a slightly inclined bench and grab the top of the bench. The object of this exercise is to bring your pelvis up and towards your rib cage by contracting your abs. Exhale as you crunch up and then slowly lower your legs as you inhale.
You will not be able to do too many of these, so make them count. Make sure to contract your abs as much as possible at the top of the movement.
Do not swing into position. The motion should be smooth and controlled. Also, don't let yourself slip too far down the bench, or you will be out of proper position.
2-3 times per week, perform 4 sets of 15-20 (or as many as you can do) with a hard contraction at the top of the motion. Rest 90 seconds between each set.
That's it. Nothing "magical", just "smart" training and dieting.