Abdominal Muscles Are you doing too much? The first mistake a lot of men make is thinking that more is always better. They crank out hundreds of crunches a day and wonder why those squares of muscle aren't developing properly. The reason is that, like any other muscle, the way to build your abdominals is to keep the reps per set fairly low - in the region of 10-12 and increase the resistance when you find it too easy, not the number of reps. That means adding weight when doing crunches or using a cable machine. Are you forgetting something? The other mistake that men often make when hunting for abs is to forget about the layer of fat that covers them. Men tend to store fat around the gut, so you really need to work hard at lowering your overall body fat percentage if you want to see your abs. This means watching your diet and doing plenty of big muscle moves, such as squats and deadlifts, that torch calories. Are you an all-rounder? Your six-pack is actually one sheet of muscle, called the rectus abdominis, which extends from your ribcage to your pubic bone. So any abs-specific exercise will work the entire area, but your rectus abdominis is supported by your external obliques, internal obliques and erector spinae. Together they support and manipulate your spine to form your 'core' - the muscular region that connects your upper and lower body. A strong core is vital for performing any dynamic movements in sport and for preventing back pain. So abs training is not just for show. It will make you stand taller and perform better in all areas of life. Here's a selection of the best exercises for beginners to experts in building a rockhard six-pack, plus variations so that you (and your muscles) don't get bored. Crunch Reverse crunch Oblique crunch Crossover crunch Knee raise Plank Side plank Bench leg raise Jacknife Seated Russian twist Barbell rollout Use these simple dietary shifts from nutritionist Laura Street to reveal your wellearned six-pack. Drink more water ‘If you’re still knocking back soft drinks you’re undoing all your hard work,’ says Street. ‘Stick to water, which has zero calories and helps with recovery, energy and metabolism.’ Aim for a minimum of two litres a day. Ditch beer, drink vodka ‘Beer generates excess oestrogen, which can result in weight gain. A good alternative is to drink clear spirits such as vodka in moderation. And if you drink, don’t do it every day.’ Eat more protein ‘Protein provides satiety, which means you’ll be satisfied for longer and less likely to snack. Evidence suggests that eating protein at breakfast leads to decreased food consumption throughout the day. Include fish, meat, eggs, lentils or beans in every meal or snack.’ Eat good fats ‘Trans fats are found in processed foods such as biscuits and are responsible for the build-up of visceral fat around the abdomen. Replace them with “good” fats. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in avocadoes, nuts, olives and seeds are all good fats, while mackerel is the king of the sea in terms of omega 3 content.’ Earn your carbs ‘If you’re training hard you can afford to moderately increase your carbohydrate intake. If you’re not training, taper your carbs accordingly. And avoid refined carbs such as bread, which can give you sugar cravings and derail weight loss.’ Having a strong core means more than just a six-pack. Balance out your midsection with these key moves. Best for internal obliques: Pallof press Named after the renowned US physio John Pallof, who helped baseball players with back injuries, this move is an ‘anti-rotation’ exercise . Stand side-on to a cable machine with your feet shoulder-width apart, chest out and shoulders back, and hold the cable with both hands in front of your chest. Press out so that you feel the weight pull you to the side, then pull back in. Best for external obliques: bodysaw Assume the plank position with your feet on a small towel. Keeping tension throughout your body, push yourself backwards using your forearms. Pull yourself forward again and continue in a ‘sawing’ motion. Best for the erector spinae: kneeling cable lift This is an advanced version of the cable chop. To do it, kneel on one knee – the knee furthest from your cable station should be raised. Hold the cable in both hands and ‘chop’ it upwards across your chest. Pause, lower and repeat.