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How Do I Get Abs Without Ever Having to Move My Abs?

Actually, that might be the best — and only — way to achieve that mythical washboard stomach

Many millions of dollars have been transacted by people pursuing abs from machines that suggest that, in isolation, they can somehow turn a fitness noob into a fitness model through infinite repetitions of a single core-friendly movement. But now that the Ab Roller, Ab Rocker, Ab Lounge, Ab Rocket, Ab Glider and Ab Coaster have all disappeared faster than you can say “Ab-racadabra” (see what I did there?), the general public has a clearer sense of what it takes to secure a chiseled midsection — namely, strong muscles and a low body fat percentage. 

On the latter count, the primary failing of every infomercial ab-training device is that none of them effectively contribute to any fat burning, which results in plenty of misinformed consumers forking over cash, ripping off one week’s worth of reps on the new product, seeing no discernible differences in their physiques and then throwing in the towel. 

But what if I told you — Morpheus style — that there were cardiovascular training devices that would help you burn body fat and simultaneously target your abdominals more effectively than any of the abdominal training devices that were shamelessly marketed via TV infomercials during that very dark 10-year period between 1999 and 2009? 

Well, it’s true! Sometimes you really can have it all.

Amazing! So what are these magical fitness devices you speak of and where can I find one?

Allow me to warn you straight out of the gate, both of these machines are rather expensive. However, the good news is that at least one of them can be frequently found at many gyms, usually being underutilized and unappreciated. 

The first is a rowing machine. I personally prefer (and own) the Concept2 rowing machine, which is the accepted gold standard.

I’m confused. I thought rowing was a back exercise.

It is, but the majority of the work during rowing is actually being performed by the legs. In fact, during the driving phase of the stroke, the overwhelming majority of the work is being performed by the powerful pressing of the quadricep muscles in your thighs. Your back helps to stabilize the weight, and then follows through at the end of the movement when you pull the handle backwards and your elbows shift behind your torso. At the tail end of that, there is a strong contraction of the abdominals and obliques.

This is starting to sound more like a total body workout. I’m just here for abs.

Moving on, the skierg machine from Concept2 is another phenomenal abdominal training tool hidden within a cardiovascular training device. When you initiate the movement that mirrors the planting of ski poles in the snow and driving your body forward, you clench powerfully in your abdominal muscles and essentially replicate the muscle engagement pattern of a crunch, albeit in a standing position and through a more functional movement. Even at a very manageable rate of 20 strokes per minute for 20 minutes, you’d be performing 400 core-strengthening repetitions while simultaneously targeting your body fat. At the same time, you’ll be doing impressive work with the muscles of your chest, triceps and back.

There you go talking about other muscles again! I told you I’m just here for the abs!

Well, I didn’t want to say anything, but if you’re going to force my hand, let’s go ahead and have “The Chat.” 

The muscles of your body are configured in a way that’s intended to make logical sense. I’m willing to bet a handsome sum of money that you’ve never seen someone with huge, muscular arms who wasn’t also in possession of powerful shoulders and a strong back. This is because the muscles of your body tie into one another, and muscle imbalances involving a set of stabilizing muscles that are too weak to support the work of the primary movers are a frequent cause of injuries. If you want to develop large biceps and triceps, you’ll have to train your deltoids so that your bis and tris have a similarly strong set of muscles to tie themselves into. Likewise, your shoulders will only grow so much if they can’t link up with strong pectoral muscles in your chest.

It sounds like you’re saying the best way to train my abdominals is in concert with everything else.

That’s precisely what I’m saying! Training your abs in isolation and thinking you’re going to look good as a result of your efforts is like being a point guard with elite dribbling and passing ability on a team where none of your teammates can shoot, and you can’t shoot either. You’re going to fly all around the court, manipulating the ball through an assortment of impressive feats, but in the end, neither you nor your teammates will ever be capable of putting any points on the scoreboard. 

The bottom line is that it takes all of the muscles in your body working in concert, along with the benefits of an acceptable nutrition plan and cardiovascular training program, to unearth an impressive physique — including a prized collection of washboard abs. The two fitness machines I’ve mentioned here can be a bit of a hack inasmuch as they can be a big part of the first and third part of that equation. But otherwise, there’s no such thing as ab-racadabra.