A common question I get asked a lot is ‘how did I get my abbs?’ or someone saying ‘you must do a serious amount of cardio in order to have abbs like that!’ As a result of this attention I thought I’d give you the full insight on how to get your very own 6 pack.
In this article I’ll talk about the truths, misconceptions and how much work you need to put in.
Firstly, abs what are they?
Abbs are short for ‘Rectus Abdominis’ and they are the long flat muscle of the abdomen situated inferior to the external obliques and extends the whole length of the front of the abdomen.
Origin: Crest if the pubis and pubic tubercle,
Insertion: Pubis, cartilage of 5th 6th and 7th ribs, xiphoid process,
Action: Flexes vertebral column, tenses abdominal wall, compresses abdominal viscera.
The below image highlights the ‘Rectus Abdominis’ muscles:
Body Fat Percentage
When you Google search “How to get abbs”, it comes up with workouts and multiple programs being sold with the caption of “a 6 pack in 12 weeks”. For most of us, that will be unachievable.
The reason for this is that it does not matter how many sit-ups and crunchies you do, if your body fat percentage is too high you’re never going to be able to see your abbs unless you have them cosmically added.
You need a low body fat in order to see your abdominals. Fat cells sit on the outside of the abdominal wall meaning that it doesn’t matter how big your abdominal muscles grow, if you have a “pillow” in front of them you won’t be able to see them, full stop!
What is the right body fat percentage needed in order to see your abdominals?
This differs slightly from person to person and takes into consideration, amongst other things, your age and also sex.
Male Body Fat Percentage – Males tends to have to be below 12 – 14%, before the abdominals showing.
Female Body Fat Percentage – Naturally, women hold more body fat than men because they are genetically structured to be able to carry babies. Therefore, they need to supply nutrients for more than one person. It’s slightly less common to see abbs on women as opposed to men.
Essential Fat 2% – 5%
Athletes 6% – 13%
Fitness 14% – 17%
Average 18% – 24%
Overweight 25% – 30%
Essential Fat 10% – 13%
Athletes 14% – 20%
Fitness 21% – 24%
Average 25% – 31%
A lot of people have the misconception that you need to do hours of endless cardio in order to have abbs, which is not necessarily the case. I do not do much cardio but I lift weights regularly and also eat well. By having a greater muscle mass, it increases your metabolism due to the body needing more fuel in order to preserve the muscle mass.
When people are looking to lose weight and all they do is cardio, they tend to put it back on as it is catabolic to the body. Too much cardio can also break down muscle mass, there for actually slowing your metabolism (less muscle mass less energy used on a daily just to preserves NEAT). I’d advise a combination of the two, both weights and cardio for optimal results.
Cardio has greater cardio vascular and health benefits. It can aid in leaning out that last little bit, but it is definitely not the primary advocate for obtaining a rippling 6 pack, weights are! So drop the cardio and pick up the weights if you are wanting abbs all year round.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret here…
The hard work for getting abbs is done in the kitchen and not on the gym floor! Nutrition is the biggest implementing factor when it comes to dropping that body fat and getting abbs to pop.
It all comes down to the root of fat loss calorie deficit… calories in vs calories out. In order to drop that body fat, you need to be in a caloric deficit at least until you are at a level of body fat where they can be seen and then you can focus on maintenance rather than dropping more body fat.
Even though you are in a deficit you have to keep your protein consumption at the correct level so that you are not losing muscle tissue along the process. Ideally you need a gram of protein per lean lbs of body mass although this can slightly change goal dependent.
Alcohol can be one of the main factors you are struggle to see you abdominals. The reason for this is that it’s very common to store excess body fat in your tummy area, in other words, adding to the stubborn fat you want to lose.
Drinking is what I call empty calories, as your body has no use for it, unlike food. Due to the extreme number of calories in a bottle of wine or your favourite beer/sider it is counterproductive to all the hard work you put in with exercise and nutrition.
One alcoholic beverage is usually equivalent to an average person’s 1hr gym session. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying you can’t drink alcohol and have a good set of abbs at the same time, you defiantly can. However in order to get to a maintainable level I’d suggest reducing it to a point where it has little or no effect on your physique.
As mentioned before, diet is the main area to focus on but training and nutrition go hand in hand nicely and the bigger your muscles, the more they are going to show!
Whilst reducing your body fat through diet and weight training, some people say that there’s no point in training your abbs until they can be seen. I completely disagree with that. If a 6 pack is your goal, then you want to be developing the muscle tissue so that when you start becoming lean enough for them to be visible, they are more prominent.
Not only that, but your core gives you stability both in training as well and in everyday life. It is easy to injure yourself if you are not lifting correctly, due to an unstable frame. A strong core is essential!
Having said that, if you are overweight it would be good to drop a few lbs before you train them directly, if you come into the average fat % bracket id start weight training them a little with it then increasing as you drop down in body fat %.
As you get leaner, a good set of abbs needs to be prioritised like training any other muscle group, just 5-10 minutes at the end of a session isn’t enough.
A full structured session with progressive overload is ideal. Body weight is a great place to start but as you progress I would advise on more resistance biased exercises, so that you are ticking all the boxes for maximum hypertrophy (muscle growth).
It’s quite common to have non symmetrical abdominals and this is usually down to genetics as its all-in relation to the origins and the insertion points (where the muscles attach on your body). They maybe in slightly different places showing a staggered look to them, but as far as I am aware they are in no way weaker due to this.
Here’s an example of non-symmetrical abdominals which are both completely normal
Not able to see your lower abbs?
This can be down to two reason…
- You are not lean enough to see them yet, as mentioned before tummy fat is usually a stubborn area in which to lose body fat especially the lower part, which is normally the last to go.
- The top section of your abbs are larger in comparison to the bottom. This is usually due to it being easier to train though crunches/cable crunches as opposed to reverse crunches
One side more prominent then the other?
This is usually down to training non-symmetrically. A good way to balance this is to train unilaterally and apposed to bioelectrically not sure this is correct, may require simplifying all the time. ie working one side then the other as opposed to the dominant side taking over all the time.
In order to obtain a rippling 6 pack, nutrition is the key factor as you need your body fat at a low enough % for them to be seen.
Training them directly is needed to make them grow and prioritising them by having a full workout, as opposed to a little abb blast at the end of a session.
Reducing alcohol intake whilst on the path to getting a better body would be advisable and then you can be a little more flexible with your continuing maintaining
Are they worth it?
Are they appealing, YES…
Are they essential for happiness, definitely not.
Are you are willing to make a few sacrifices to have a better physique? Only you can answer that!
But here is an idea if you are looking for a quick fix….