By a large margin the question I’ve been asked the most often over the years is, “How do I get a six pack?” Much to the chagrin of some of the more experienced forum members, this question is sometimes phrased as, “How can I look like Brad Pitt in ‘Fight Club’?”
A well-defined mid-section is generally perceived to be attractive, healthy and athletic looking. Ripped abs are also becoming increasingly rare: more than two-thirds of the US population is currently overweight, obese or morbidly obese. Even the vast majority of people who are not overweight still don’t have visible abs, so obtaining a so-called “six pack” puts you in rare company indeed.
The myth that crunches, sit-ups and other direct abdominal work are the keys to a washboard stomach is flat-out wrong. See that picture of me to the right? I didn’t do a single crunch, leg raise or any other direct abdominal exercises to achieve those abs.
Here’s the number one thing you need to know about obtaining a six-pack:
Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.
What does that mean? The “secret” is this:
Getting your abs to show is 100% about reducing your body fat. Period, end of story. Anything else you hear is bullcrap.
When I tell people this, the next thing they always say is, “OK, so if I do crunches that will burn away my belly fat, right?”
When you do crunches and other ab work you burn a small amount of calories, but those crunches are not “targeting” the fat around your mid-section. This brings me to my next major point:
You can not spot-reduce fat.
The only way to get your abs to show is to reduce your overall body fat until your abs start to “pop”. Unfortunately you can not control where the fat comes off–your genetics are responsible for that. For most men the mid-section is the first place we store fat and the very last place we lose it. Hey, I didn’t make the rules, and I didn’t say it would be easy; if it were, everyone would be sporting a six-pack and shirt sales would tank.
Most men will need to diet down until their body fat is in the single digits before their abs really start to show through. In the above picture I’m right at 6% body fat, and my abs are nice and etched. In the picture to the left I’m bulking; my body fat is around 13%, and my abs are very blurry.
When you compare these two pictures keep in mind that I’ve pretty much got the exact same level of ab muscularity in both shots, the difference in how they look is simply a function of my body fat.
Now, does all of this mean you shouldn’t train your abs? Well, that depends. Abs are just like any other muscle in your body (although they tend to recover from training more rapidly than most other muscles), and they can be strengthened and enlarged through training. If you’re working hard in the weight room and doing lots of good compound exercise like deadlifts and squats, then your abs are already getting a pretty darn good workout. I didn’t directly train my abs for many years for that very reason.
I recently started directly training my abs again, but that’s only because direct ab training (for strength) can be extremely beneficial in my favorite sport (mountain biking). The choice to work my abs directly has little or nothing to do with how my abs look. When I finish my pre-summer cut in a couple of months I’ll be between 6% and 7% body fat and will have a six-pack regardless of whether or not I do direct ab work.
Finally, one other question that gets asked a lot is, “I don’t like the shape of my abs. How can I make them more symmetrical/even?” Sorry, you can’t. Some people have symmetrical abs, some people have abs stacked asymmetrically and so on. That’s all determined by genetics, and totally out of your control. Don’t lose any sleep over it.
Obtaining a six-pack is not complicated, but for most people it does require a pretty strict diet. I hope this information helps those of you who have done a million crunches and can’t understand why your abs are still not showing.
This is the fourth in my new series of “Fat loss 101” articles. These articles are designed to help people who may be somewhat new to healthy fat loss, fitness and weight training, but I’ve also attempted to pepper the articles with solid motivational material that will (hopefully!) be useful to just about anyone who’s working towards a leaner, more muscular and healthier body.
You can check out my previous Fat Loss 101 articles here: