The secret is cat vomit.
"7-Minute Abs. And we guarantee just as good a workout as the 8-minute folk. . . . If you're not happy with the ﬁrst 7 minutes, we're gonna send you the extra minute free!"
"That's good. Unless, of course, somebody comes up with 6-Minute Abs. Then you're in trouble, huh?"
"No! No, no . . . not 6! I said 7. Nobody's comin' up with 6. Who works out in 6 minutes?! You won't even get your heart goin', not even a mouse on a wheel. . . . It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby."
-There's Something About Mary
"You look like a cat about to vomit." My girlfriend had come out of the shower to ﬁnd me perched on the bed on all fours, stomach heaving.
Taking a huge inhale, I looked up and gave an awkward smile: "Thirty more seconds. . . ."
She tilted her head like a Labrador retriever, observing the oddness for a few seconds, then walked back in the bathroom to dry her hair and brush her teeth. She needed to get ready for my friend's wedding, and my groaning on all fours was far from the strangest thing she'd seen from me. I continued my routine with a degree of glee. For the ﬁrst time in my life, I had reliable six-pack abs. Cat vomiting rocked.
I've never had visible abs. Even when my bodyfat was low enough to show veins everywhere else, my frontal six-pack-the rectus abdominus-showed almost no separation. Damnation. Low bodyfat was necessary but not enough.
I performed conventional ab exercises for more than a decade with no discernible beneﬁt, somehow convinced it was just a matter of time. Albert Einstein would call this insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Things changed only when I began testing basic assumptions in 2009. It took a week to arrive at a reductionist program of two exercises. I performed these exercises just twice a week on Mondays and Fridays after kettlebell swings. In a matter of three weeks, I had my six-pack. There is just one more prerequisite for visible abs: follow a diet that allows sustained low bodyfat of 12% or less. I suggest the Slow-Carb Diet, as it has the highest compliance rate I've ever observed, but other viable options include a ketogenic diet (especially the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet) and intermittent fasting (IF). The latter will be covered in later chapters.
Image above: Drew Baye after more than six months of no direct abdominal exercises. It goes to show how diet is often a determining factor. (Photo: Mike Moran)
I began my analysis by looking for common attributes in exercises that hadn't worked. The shared feature of all the dominant exercises, in particular the ﬂoor crunch, is that they used no more than half of the full range of motion (ROM) of the abdominals. If you were to imagine yourself sitting in a chair, the prescribed exercises all took you toward your knees (crunch, ﬂoor sit-up) or brought your knees toward your chest with a straight back (roman chair, reverse crunch). I decided to ignore that fetal range of motion altogether for eight weeks and focus on the stretched position achieved with full back extension.
The result was the myotatic crunch, so named because it leverages the fully stretched position and the resultant reﬂex (myotatic reﬂex or stretch reﬂex) for a stronger contraction than I had been able to achieve otherwise. It didn't take eight weeks to see a difference. It took three.
Since this exercise is also effective for recruiting the transverse abdominis (explained next), if you have to choose one exercise, choose this one. If a BOSU ball is not available, use a small Swiss ball (45–55 centimeters in diameter) or a pile of ﬁrm cushions. Using a BOSU or Swiss ball, ensure your ass is close to the ﬂoor, usually no more than 6" off the ground.
Then follow these steps:
1. Start with arms stretched overhead as high as possible (I overlap my extended hands as if in a diving position). Keep your arms behind or next to your ears for the entire exercise.
2. Lower under control for 4 seconds until your ﬁngers touch the ﬂoor, the entire time attempting to extend your hands further away from the ball.
3. Pause at the bottom for 2 seconds, aiming for maximum elongation (picture 3).
4. Rise under control and pause in the upper, fully contracted position for 2 seconds. The arms should not pass perpendicular with the ground.
5. Repeat for a total of 10 repetitions. Once you can complete 10 repetitions, add weight to your hands. I tend to use books of different sizes. If female, I don't suggest exceeding 10 pounds in added weight (see "Hourglass" sidebar on page 179).
This exercise is dedicated to my ex-girlfriend. I want only the best for you, Angelina Jolie.
Unless you purchase a corset at the same time, doing crunches will not pull your abdomen in. The muscle ﬁbers of the six-pack (rectus abdominis) run vertically. The muscle you want to target instead is called the transverse abdominis (TVA), the deepest of the six main abdominal muscles, which is composed of ﬁbers that run horizontally like a belt. The TVA is nicknamed the "corset muscle," and if your abs have ever ached from laughing or coughing, you've felt it working.
Unfortunately, laughing repeatedly in the gym will get you a straitjacket or a plate to the head, so here is the alternative:
1. Get on all fours and keep your gaze focused either directly under your head or slightly in front of you. Don't arch your back or strain your neck.
2. Forcefully exhale from your mouth until all air is fully expelled. Your abs should be contracted from this forceful exhale. Full exhalation is necessary to contract the transverse abdominals, and you'll use gravity to provide resistance.
3. Hold your breath and pull your belly button upward toward your spine as hard as you can for a target of 8–12 seconds.
4. Inhale fully through the nose after the 8-12 second hold.
5. Take one breath cycle of rest (exhale slowly out the mouth, inhale slowly through the nose), then repeat the above for a total of 10 repetitions.
There you have it: the myotatic crunch and the cat vomit exercise. Heave, groan, and be merry.
Square obliques are unattractive on women, and using common progressive resistance exercises can create them. Fortunately, the myotatic crunch and cat vomit exercises, as described, are not such exercises. Loss of the feminine hourglass shape is sad and leaves some women looking bloated under clothing, even when they have low bodyfat. Not good.
If you want additional abdominal exercises as a woman, stick with timed planks instead, which also strengthen the gluteus medius on the hip. Just as The Kiwi in the last chapter prescribed, start with 30 seconds on the front, then 30 seconds on each side, working up to 90 seconds maximum per set. One set per angle per workout is all that's needed.
Last but not least, to avoid the small potbelly look so common among women, even ﬁtness competitors, ﬁx your pelvic tilt with hip ﬂexor stretches. The following can be performed once a day for 30 seconds on each side. Before kettlebells is perfect, as it will also help with hip extension.
Hip ﬂexor stretch (illustrated for left side)
Hold in this position for 30 seconds.
Even if you ignore the two exercises in this chapter, don't rely on the plain-vanilla crunch. It's utterly ineffective.
Here's how it stacks up against other exercises when rectus abdominis activation is measured with electrodes and an EMG (electromyography machine). Google each exercise if curious.
The traditional crunch is given a value of 100%.
Bicycle crunch - 248%
Crunch with heel push - 107%
Captain's chair - 212%
Ab roller - 105%
Exercise ball - 139%
Hover - 100%
Vertical leg crunch - 129%
Traditional crunch - 100%
Torso track - 127%
Exercise tubing pull - 92%
Long arm crunch - 119%
Ab rocker - 21%
Reverse crunch - 109%
BOSU Balance Trainer (www.fourhourbody.com/bosu) The BOSU looks like half of a Swiss ball with a ﬂat plastic base attached to the underside. I use it for myotatic crunches and the torture twists featured in "Effortless Superhuman."
GoFit Stability Ball (www.fourhourbody.com/stability) If preferred to the BOSU, this 55-cm "stability" ball (usually referred to as a "Swiss" ball) can be used. It's less than half the cost of a BOSU, but I found such balls hard to store in the home and less versatile.
Crazy Hitchhiker from There's Something About Mary (www.fourhourbody.com/hitchhiker) The classic scene that inspired the title of this chapter. "It's Brie time, baby!"
We believe the body is a gadget. Here's how to hack it.
Timothy Ferriss, nominated as one of Fast Company's "Most Innovative Business People of 2007," is an angel investor (StumbleUpon, Digg, Twitter, etc.) and author of the number 1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek, which has been sold into 35 languages. Tim has been featured by more than 100 media outlets–including The New York Times, The Economist, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, CNN, and CBS–and has been a popular guest lecturer at Princeton University since 2003, where he presents entrepreneurship as a tool for ideal lifestyle design and world change.
The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman is available from Amazon.com.