Constructing a midsection worthy of envy is usually right at the top of every gym rat’s to-do list. While grunting out another rep, choking down another bland chicken breast or sweating buckets on the treadmill, it’s the promise of those abs that keeps you sane.

Figure International champion Gina Aliotti knows a thing or two about the pursuit of a six-pack, but it’s her actual possession of one that makes her a perfect expert resource for the ab-less inhabitants of the gym scene. Here, she gives us a glimpse into her routine and provides a few pointers on how to get that strong, shredded look you crave.

Aliotti’s Tips for a Six-Pack:

1) You can’t build abs until you shed fat. You have to decrease your overall level of bodyfat before you can really see the results.

2) While you can’t isolate each section of the abs, you can emphasize one part over another. That’s why it’s important to do lower ab moves, bringing your legs toward your torso, and upper ab moves where you bring your torso toward your pelvis.

3) When you do floor work, always look up to the ceiling instead of at your knees.

4) Keep your core tight on the negative part of each movement. Whatever ab exercise you’re doing, squeeze tightly during both the positive and negative motions to get the full benefit.

5) Don’t neglect your deep core muscles. These are critical for spinal stability and long-term health. Do planks and other core-specific moves to round out your ab training.

6) Never do abs before working back or legs, since many exercises for those bodyparts require intra-abdominal pressure. If you do abs first, you can fatigue your core and abs, and therefore put yourself at risk of injury. When in doubt, do abs last.

Gina Aliotti’s Ab Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Oblique Crunch 3 20
Reverse Crunch 3 15
Roman Chair Sit-up 3 12
Exercise Ball Crunch 3 20
Hanging Leg Lift 3 15

Training Split

Day Bodyparts Trained
1 Shoulders, triceps, chest (chest only every other week)
2 Back, biceps, abs
3 Legs
4 Off
5 Shoulders, abs
6 Hamstrings
7 Off

The Exercises

Oblique Crunch

Target: Obliques
Start: Lie faceup on the floor with your shoulders flat, and rotate your hips 90 degrees to one side so they’re almost perpendicular to your shoulders. Bend your knees and place your hands lightly behind your head.
Execution: Crunch up until your shoulders are about 20 degrees off the floor, pause for a moment, then exhale and return to the start position.
Gina Says: “This is the only oblique exercise I do and I make sure I squeeze for three seconds at the top.”

Reverse Crunch

Target: Lower abs
Start: Lie faceup on a decline bench with your head at the top. Grasp the bar behind your head to steady yourself.
Execution: Keeping your legs straight, raise them to perpendicular to the floor. Contract your ab muscles to pull your pelvis upward. Lower to the start position under control.
Gina Says: “These are very challenging, but for more resistance I sometimes have people push my legs down really fast so I have to resist them.”

Roman Chair Sit-Up

Target: Upper abs
Start: Sit on a roman chair and secure your shins under the pads in front of you. Sit upright and cross your arms over your chest.
Execution: Keeping your back straight and your ab muscles tight, lean back until your back is parallel to the floor. Pause, then crunch back up to the sitting position.
Gina Says: “This hits my abs and quads. I keep my hands in front of my chest, and I also make sure I don’t go back too far.

Exercise-Ball Lift

Target: Upper abs
Start: Lie faceup on the floor with your shoulders flat and your calves resting on top of a medium-size exercise ball.
Execution: Clasp your hands behind your head and tighten your abs as you raise your glutes and back off the floor about 20 degrees. Pause at the top, then lower back to the start.
Gina Says: “I like to do a lot of floor lifts, so these are right up my alley. I like to have my calves on the ball so I’m a little more stable than if my heels were on it.”

Hanging Leg Lift

Target: Lower abs
Start: Hang from a pull-up bar; don’t let your feet touch the floor. Grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, then fully extend your arms and lower body.
Execution: Inhale and hold your breath as you raise your legs as high as possible in front of you. Keep your knees straight but not locked throughout. Raise your legs until they’re parallel to the floor, pause, and return back to the start.
Gina Says: “The key to this exercise is keeping your legs really stable and your body perpendicular to the floor. Keeping your abs tight throughout the movement also prevents you from swinging.”