Every new year begins with a new slate. Once the calendar hits January 1, you have the opportunity to develop different habits, find engaging hobbies, and instill different attitudes for how you go about day-to-day life than you did the year before.
For most people, this focus on the "new" falls apart after just a few weeks, and things fall back to how they did before the ball dropped on the previous year.
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But in 2021, we're giving you the guide to add at least one new habit to your daily life that will have a big payoff. If you follow this 30-day program through its end, you'll have a stronger core and, at the very least, the beginnings of a formidable set of abs.
The 30-Day Abs Program Setup
Unlike other 30-day challenges, which assign exercises to days seemingly at random or only challenge you to repeat the same series of movements week after week, this program is designed with intention for the entire month. You'll have a new exercise to challenge you on the daily—but the framework of the program remains the same from week to week to keep you progressing forward. Check out this structure below:
The plank is one of the most basic, effective total core exercises you can do which helps you to reinforce the muscles that help to keep your spine in a safe, neutral position. Whenever you plank in this program, make sure you focus in to create full-body tension for max results. The exercise is also eminently scalable for new challenges—which is what you'll do as the program progresses.
- Day 2: Abs/Glutes Work in Tandem
Your core isn't just your abs, and you should be taking on an abs challenge for more than purely cosmetic purposes. You'll look, move, and feel better when you get the biggest muscle in the body, your glutes, in on the action.
The hollow body position is beloved by gymnasts, for good reason: You'll build stability and strength when you implement it into your routine since it challenges all the parts of your core (abs, obliques, lower back/glutes) to work as an integrated unit to brace against rotation. Adding new elements to the hollow position throughout the 30 days will ratchet up the program.
Put everything together by expanding your focus to include more than just your midsection. Isolation exercises are great, but you'll be in a better position to get fitter on the whole when you branch out.
This is a 30-day challenge, right? Push out of your comfort zone with these more difficult workouts and exercises that will give you an extra sense of accomplishment when you finish another day.
- Day 6: Old-School Spinal Flexion
There are plenty of trainers who will tell you the situp should be stricken from your workout plan. If that's the only exercise you're doing for your core, you should definitely ease up on them—but there is space for spinal flexion, the movement pattern you're doing in situps, in a balanced program. Use these smart variations to work your rectus abdominis, a.k.a. your six-pack muscles.
- 7: Mobility focus/Wildcard
Looking good is great, but moving well is better. These exercises will help you to do do just that. On other days, you'll take on other great ab moves that will challenge you in a manner of ways.
© Eric Rosati/Men's Health
ab challenge calendar
Day 1 Plank: Basic Plank
Hold the position for 30 seconds to start (scale up to 60 if you're a planking pro), maintaining full-body tension. Repeat for 3 to 4 rounds.
Day 2 Abs + Glutes: Bird Dog
Perform 3 sets of 8 reps per side.
Day 3 Get Hollow: Basic Hollow Hold
Start with a hollow hold. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds for 3 to 4 rounds.
Day 4 Full-Body Integration: Kettlebell Swing
Get swinging with a kettlebell, dumbbell, or whatever else you have at home that has a handle to hold. Perform 8 to 12 reps, repeat 3 to 4 rounds.
Day 5 Classic Spinal Flexion: Decline Situp
Ditch the dumbbells here and focus on the situp. Perform 30 seconds of reps, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for 3 total rounds. (No decline bench? Swap in a basic crunch.)
Day 6 Challenge: Dragon Flag
The dragon flag can be difficult, but if you can master the moves, there's few more impressive ways to work your core. Try 2 to 3 rounds of this challenge—and if it's too tough, try 3 sets of 8 leg lifts on the ground to start.
Day 7 Wildcard: Crawls
Embrace your animal side with 3 rounds of 30 seconds of crawls, using a different variation each time. Feeling particularly strong? Try all six in the video.
Gallery: The 2021 New Year's Fitness Center (Men's Health)
Day 1 Plank: Superman Plank Pull
Power up your plank with 3 sets of 8 reps of this resistance band move. If you don't have a band or anchor, put a weight on the ground and drag it across the floor for the same effect.
Day 2 Abs + Glutes: Pallof Press
Try 3 sets of 8 reps per side of this useful exercise—and follow the cues above to do it from a kneeling position.
Day 3 Get Hollow: Clock Hollow Rock Game
Grab some light weights (or don't) and keep time with this hollow rock challenge. Try to finish all 3 sets.
Day 4 Full-Body Integration: Farmer's Carry
Grab whatever weight you have on hand and walk. Keep your form strong, and finish 3 to 4 sets of 30 second marches.
Day 5 Classic Spinal Flexion: V-Up
This move can be especially challenging—do your best to keep yourself in a spine-safe position. Complete 3 to 4 sets of 8 reps. (Can't get to the V? Do your best with vertical toe touches).
Day 6 Challenge: Turkish Getup
This difficult move might take a few times to nail properly, so consider walking through the steps without weight first. Then, keep the reps low—3 rounds of 5 reps, tops. (If you still struggle, cut the move to a 3-step getup).
Day 7 Wildcard: Mountain Climbers
Make your plank more active. Try 3 rounds of 30 seconds.
Day 1 Plank: Resisted Stability Plank Challenge
Add a stability challenge to your plank. Try 2 sets per side. If the band is too tough for you, feel free to leave it off your hips and run through the series without it.
Day 2 Abs + Glutes: 3-Step Getup
This scaling option for the Turkish getup is useful as an exercise on its own. Focus on the movement for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side.
Day 3 Get Hollow: Two-Way Hollow Rock Countup
Build core strength on all sides with this challenging hollow rock variation. Perform the full series 3 times through.
Day 4 Full-Body Integration: Single-Arm Pullover to March
Try this series for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side with any type of weight you have around the house. No bench? Swap in another day of farmer's carries.
Day 5 Classic Spinal Flexion: Cable Crunch
You'll need a resistance band (or if you're in a gym, a cable machine) to perform this core crusher. Try for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps. (If you don't have the gear, do the same number of standard crunches.)
Day 6 Challenge: Dragon Flag Runner
Get your sprint on as you crush your abs. Perform 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps of the workout. (If you still haven't nailed the dragon flag, do the same number of leg lifts).
Day 7 Wildcard: Russian Twist
Contrary to popular belief, this exercise isn't meant to be as fast as possible. Pay attention to the cues above, and repeat for 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps per side.
Day 1 Plank: Knee Drive Copenhagen Plank
This plank variation brings the heat. Try 3 sets of 8 reps per side. (Too tough to get elevated? Try a standard side plank for 30 seconds on each side. Repeat for 3 rounds).
Day 2 Abs + Glutes: Gator Roll
Disregard the game in the video above for today's workout (that's for tomorrow). Focus instead on the gator roll on its own–repeat for 3 rounds of 5 reps per side.
Day 3 Get Hollow: Gator Roll to Sprinter Situp Countup
Add the sprinter situps to the gator roll from yesterday to bring an extra element to this challenge. Roll up to 10 sprinter situps, then repeat for 3 total rounds.
Day 4 Full-body Integration: Farmer’s Carry
You know what it is. After doing the farmer's carry earlier in the challenge, try to scale up by adding more weight or more time/distance to your carries today.
Day 5 Classic Spinal Flexion: Decline Dumbbell Ab Fryer
If you have access to a decline bench, bring in the dumbbells for this challenge. Try 4 full sets of the series. (No gear? Give us 4 sets of 15 crunches).
Day 6 Challenge: L-Sit
You'll have a tough time nailing this tough maneuver, but give it a go nonetheless. Try holding for 10 to 15 seconds to start. (Scale up using this progression).
Day 7 Wildcard: Ball Slam
The slam is all about power, so don't move too quickly for your own good. Work through 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps slowly, focusing on producing force. Also, make sure that you don't put yourself in a bad position by using a bouncy med ball!
Wildcard 1: Copenhagen Plank Delt Raise
Make the Copenhagen plank even tougher by adding a delt raise. Try for 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps per side. (Still can't nail the Copenhagen? Do the same reps and sets with a standard side plank and delt raise).
Wildcard 2: Bear Plank
Tap into your animalistic side for the final day of the challenge. Finish 3 sets to work your core and mobility.
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