I’ve seen a recent trend of men and women with low body fat percentages (10-13% for men and 17-19% for women) that still have horrible tone in their midsection. At this low of body fat you should be able to see a good amount of “cuts” in between muscle bellies.
If you want to see your abs (rectus abdominus + obliques), you must increase the density of your muscles which will give you that flexed look when your body is at rest. How do you increase the density? Strength training!
Core movements that apply the principle of strength training are those that you can progressively overload. Progressive overload is when you increase the difficulty of an exercise to add adaptation stimulus to the body. The body’s adaptation is muscle growth OR fat loss (unless you’re a total beginner, then it would be both). Since we are looking for muscle growth, there are three ways to achieve this: (1) time under tension (i.e. holding a plank for a long duration), (2) increase in volume (# of sets and/or repetitions), or (3) increase the internal or external load (i.e. bodyweight vs dumbbells).
My favorite is number 3, for the reason that if you want to create a more dense muscle look, you need to get stronger. Remember, the more advanced you are, the more rapid the results will be. If you cannot perform a bodyweight version of any of these exercises, you have no right to load these up. Master the basics and then progress to loaded variations. The best way to load up your core strengthening exercises is to use slideboards with a weight stacked on top:
Here are my 5 favorite loaded, core strengthening exercises that will help that midsection “pop:”
- Loaded Body Saws
- Loaded Alligator Walks
- Loaded Knees to Chest
- Loaded Side Planks
- Loaded Pikes