We’ve all seen the ads and messages on social media and on television: “Six minutes to a six-pack!”

You might be wondering: Is that really all it takes to get washboard abs? Read on to find out.

Time is of the Essence

What’s the first thing to go when you’re busy? Most likely, it’s your workout.

Six-minute abs target those of us who are perhaps too busy to spend long periods of time on a workout or in the gym. Everyone has six minutes, after all. Think about all the tasks you could do in six minutes. You could make a cup of coffee. You could write an email. You could read this article.

Scientists with McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario said even a few minutes of maximum intensity training produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or riding a bike.

That means that, even short—say, six-minute—bursts of exercise can produce results.

Enter High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, the workout making fitness sites’ top trends lists in 2016. All the rage in the fitness world, HIIT squeezes a bunch of short bursts of high-intensity activity into a workout, followed by short periods of rest. Think: high heart rate, more fat burning, shorter time.

Other research shows that repeatedly pushing the body to its maximum capabilities continuously over short periods of time while interspersing rest time is more effective than continuous moderate activity and helps improve the cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic and mechanical functions.

Anatomy of the Abdomen

Dr. Murtaza Ahmed suggests starting from the basics and learning about the anatomy of the abdomen before diving into any exercises. After all, you wouldn’t put together a bookshelf without reading the instructions first, right?

anatomy-of-absAhmed says the main muscles you should be aware of are your rectus abominus, the long, flat muscle that is divded into four bellies and gives a “washboard experience”; your transverse abdominus, the deepest muscle that runs horizontally; your internal obliques, located on the side of your trunk and used for twisting postures; and your external obliques, which run opposite the internal obliques and, when contracted, help draw the shoulders forward.

Contracting the abdominal muscles compresses the organs around them and provides additional support to the muscles surrounding the lumbar spine, creating an “airbag” effect.

While most people think certain ab exercises target different parts of the abdomen, in reality, the four muscles work as a whole. For example, it’s not possible to contract the top muscles in preference to the lower ones.

The Basic Movement

To target the rectus abdominus, all you need to do is pick an exercise that brings your pelvis towards your chest. Think: crunches, sit-ups, leg raises, etc.

Lesley Paterson, a three-time off-road triathlon world champion, developed “6-minute, 6-pack abs” for endurance athletes. Her videos consist of six groups of six ab exercises, and she says core fitness for endurance athletes starts with the abs.

Exercise physiologist Michele Olson, PH.D, spent three months testing various ab exercises and comparing them with the crunch. She says there’s a magic formula for getting quick abs:

faceup+facedown/lateral+standing move=ultimate firming.

Don’t Forget About the Other Muscle Groups

Craig Rasmussen of Men’s Health says you can’t neglect the other muscles in your body when you’re working on your abs. “A busy guy’s smartest approach is to train his entire body every other day,” he says. “That allows you to elevate your metabolism maximally all week long, even though you’re working out only 3 or 4 days a week.”

When you exercise other parts of your body, you burn calories, which gives you energy to contract your muscles. This helps enormously with gaining a six-pack.

If you’re going to work on abs for five or six minutes, Rassmussen says you should really focus on your core, something that can be done through things like plank poses, rather than just repetitive crunches.

He also suggests doing a 5-minute core routine before lifting weights, which helps rev up core muscles so they are working harder during the other exercises.

Here’s a tip: when searching for your perfect 6-minute ab workout, make sure the instructor or trainer suggests exercises you can do for all the muscle groups, not just your abdominals, and make sure you know exactly how many times a week the instructor suggests doing the exercises.

The Risks

One report by the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal showed that high-intensity activities, such as six-minute abs, are “only appropriate for low-risk individuals, moderate-risk individuals who have been cleared for vigorous intensities by a medical professional, and high-risk individuals who are under direct medical supervision during exercise training.”

Know the difference between discomfort and pain

A big part of any exercise regimen is knowing when to stop. While exercises like six-minute abs pack a ton of work into a short time and are intended to be difficult, they aren’t intended to invoke pain. You may feel sore the day after a quick ab workout, but if something doesn’t feel quite right, stop your exercises and see a doctor.

Define your goals

man-with-six-pack-drinking-waterAsk yourself: What do you want to accomplish with your workout? Do you want to strengthen your core, have a flatter stomach and more muscle tone, lose weight, or gain a six-pack? Before you dive into an exercise program like six-minute abs, think about what results you’d like to see, what goals you want to set.

Stay consistent

Celebrity trainer Brett Hoebel says one of the keys to getting results in a workout such as six-minute abs is to keep it consistent. Create a schedule and stick with it. Find what works for you—perhaps you like to roll out of bed and straight onto the floor to begin your workout, or maybe you squeeze six minutes into your lunch hour. Whatever schedule you develop, make sure you’re doing it around the same time consistently, and don’t forget to incorporate rest days.

Find the Right Workouts to Fill 6 Minutes

Yoga and pilates instructor Annalicia Lynn says the key to getting a good ab workout in a short amount of time is to find the right exercises that will bring you results. She suggests exercises like swing ups, planks, twisters, knee to elbows, or using a stability ball, like in this video, to knock out two birds with one stone and tone your inner thighs as well as work your abs.

Or you can check out the following ab workouts:

Sample six-minute ab workout from celebrity trainer Brett Hoebel:

  1. Jackknife roll: Lying flat on your back with your arms in a T position, inhale and lift your upper body, bringing your left arm and right foot close together, twisting your torso slightly and then releasing on the exhale. Repeat on the other side. Then release the upper body but keep the arms stretched by your ears and your legs straight above the ground. Squeezing your core, roll onto your belly in a superman position before rolling onto your back again and repeating the jackknife movement. Do for one minute.
  2. Come into a plank position, bringing your shoulders directly over your wrists with your legs extended, your toes planted and your spine flat. In plank position, bend your left knee and bring it toward your left elbow, holding for a second and releasing the leg back into a plank position. Repeat on the other side. Then bring your left foot out to the side, touching the ground slightly with your toe for a second and bringing it back to the plank pose. Repeat on the other side. Finally, bend your left knee, flexing the foot towards the ceiling and reaching the foot up and over towards your right shoulder, finding a twist in the abdomen but trying not to turn the hips. Repeat on the other side. Do the sequence for one minute.
  3. Lay flat on your back, extend your arms out in front of you and lift your straight legs above the ground slightly, pointing your toes. Lift your head and shoulders off the mat and on the inhale, lift your torso and pull your knees into your chest simultaneously, holding for a second and then releasing. Repeat three times, and hold on the fourth, extending your legs 90 degrees and holding for three seconds. Do the sequence for one minute.
  4. Repeat each of the three exercises, spending one minute on each.

Another Great Sample of 6-Minute Abs Workout

  1. Crunches: Lie on your back, keep knees bent with feet flat on floor, hip-width apart. Place hands behind your head and contract the abs to lift your head, neck, and shoulder blades off the floor and crunch forward. Hold position at top of the movement and slowly lower body to beginning position.  Remember to breath, exhale as you crunch up and inhale as you lower back to the floor. Keep your form in check throughout the entire exercise – hold elbows to out to the side, do not pull on your neck to lift your body, and feel the tension in your abdominals. Repeat movement for a full 45 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds.
  2. Body Plank: Lie face down and push your body off the floor as if you were going to perform a pushup. Bend your arms at the elbow, lowering your torso so your entire body weight is in a position resting on your elbows/forearms and the tip of your toes. With your body in a straight line from head to heels, focus on keeping tension in your abs and core. Be sure not to let your hips or lower back sag, but make sure you do not raise your rear/buttocks too high either. Maintain proper form in a steady position for a full 45 seconds (For an extra burn, try using a ball or bench to elevate your legs). Rest for 15 seconds.
  3. Flutter Kicks: Lie on your back and lift legs so your feet are about 6 inches from the floor. With only a slight bend in your knees, raise left leg to about a 45 degree angle from the floor and keep the right leg stationary.  Then lower left leg while raising the right leg.  Continue alternating each leg quickly while maintaining proper form – keep lower back against the floor, keep your arms by your side for stabilization, remember to breath, and feel the tension in your abdominals.  Flutter kick for a full 45 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds.
  4. Bicycle Kicks: Lie on your back and lift knees up towards your chest with shins level to the floor. Place hands behind your head with elbows to the side and raise upper body slightly from the floor. Straighten your left leg and at the same time turn your upper body towards the right, bringing your left elbow towards your right knee.  Then turn in the opposite direction while straightening and bending the knees. Continue alternating back and forth in a steady-controlled motion for a full 45 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds.
  5. Leg Raises: Lie on your back with hand under your buttocks or by your sides for support. Keeping your legs straight, raise them so that feet are about 6 – 10 inches from the floor and then lower them back down. Focus on your form – be sure not to arch your back and feel the tension in your abs. Repeat the movement for a full 45 seconds (For added difficulty, try holding your hands behind your head or raise them off the floor!). Rest for 15 seconds.
  6. Body Plank: Repeat #2, the body plank, for 45 seconds. Repeat workout a few times a week.

The six-minute ab workout is a chance to never let a workout pass by you again. Just remember that before you dive in, take a second to understand what you’re doing to your entire body—not just the abdominals—set a routine that helps you stay consistent, and listen to what your body needs, giving yourself rest days if necessary.