Some of us might want to build a little bit of muscle or a lot of muscle, or lose a little fat or a lot of fat, or get stronger, improve performance or something similar. But, there’s one thing that damn near all of us have in common…
We all want to lose our belly fat, have a flat stomach, and get that perfect six pack.
The problem is, most people can’t seem to do it. Why is that? Are they doing the wrong ab exercises? The wrong ab workouts? Not using the right fat-burning machines? Not training their abs often enough? Not doing enough sets or reps? Not taking the right supplements? Not eating the right foods?
Nope. It’s actually none of those things.
The real reason people aren’t losing their belly fat and getting that perfect six pack is because they don’t actually understand what needs to be done for those things to happen. So, please allow me to fill you in…
How Do You Get A Six Pack?
Are you ready for this? I’m about to reveal the highly complicated two step process that will allow you to get the stomach you’ve been dreaming of having once and for all. Are you ready? Here goes:
- Lower your body fat percentage.
- Maybe train your abs a little bit, too.
Taaadaaa! And honestly, #2 may very well be optional for many people.
The truth is, the big super secret key to getting a six pack (or even a two pack, four pack or eight pack for that matter) and getting the flat, lean, toned, sexy, awesome, [insert other similar adjectives here] stomach you’re trying to get is, above all else, a simple matter of just losing some body fat.
Confused? That’s cool. It’s time to un-confuse you.
You Already Have A Six Pack… You Just Can’t See It Yet
I think the best way to eliminate the majority of the confusion most people have about this stuff is by making a small change to the way we phrase what we’re trying to do.
Instead of saying we want to get a six pack, we should say we want to uncover a six pack. Because really, that’s what needs to happen.
What I mean is, your pretty abs and flat stomach already exist. Seriously, you have it all right now. We all do. The problem is, most of us can’t actually see it because it’s currently covered by a layer (or many layers) of ugly body fat. In order to see that lean stomach you’re trying to see and make your abs become visible, you just need to lose the fat that’s sitting on top of it and preventing it from being seen.
When you look at it this way, it’s really not that complicated at all, is it?
On the other hand, “getting a six pack” seems so mysterious. Who knows what you’ll need to do to “get” it? The special exercises you’ll need to do, the crazy workouts you’ll need to follow, the fancy machines you’ll need to use, the secret methods you’ll need to employ.
But to “uncover a six pack?” That sounds so simple (because it is). It gets rid of all of the nonsense that confuses and distracts people (e.g. ab workouts, exercises and machines) from understanding that the #1 thing that needs to happen here is you need to lower your body fat percentage and lose the fat that’s covering your abs.
The question now is… just how in the hell do you lose that fat and uncover your six pack?
The Most Important Part: Losing Belly Fat
How do you lose belly fat? You create a caloric deficit. Done. Next question?
Wait, what’s that you say? You need me to explain something I’ve already explained approximately 25 billion times before in a bit more detail? Alright, fine.
Your body has a certain unique amount of calories it requires per day to maintain your current weight. This number is based on everything from your age, height and weight to the thermic effect of food, NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogensis) and more.
This amount of calories is called your maintenance level. It’s the amount of calories your body burns each day to do everything you need it to do (live, function, digest, move, exercise, etc.). If you consume MORE calories than this amount — meaning more calories than your body actually needed — that left over amount of calories will be stored on your body for later use, typically in the form of body fat. This is called a caloric surplus, and it’s the one thing that causes people to gain fat.
Now guess what happens when you consume LESS calories than this maintenance level amount? It causes your body to find some alternative fuel source to burn for energy instead. And guess what that alternative fuel source typically is? You guessed it… your own stored body fat.
This is known as a caloric deficit, and it is the ONE SINGLE THING that EVER causes fat to be lost from ANY part of the body.
So if you have any amount of fat you want to lose from any part of your body, the only thing you need to do is create a consistent caloric deficit by either eating less calories, burning more calories, or doing some combination of the two. That’s all there is to it. That’s all that ever works.
But wait, hold on. I bet I know what certain misinformed people might be thinking now.
The Magical Powers Of Spot Reduction
If you’re like most people, you probably think various ab workouts, exercises and fancy machines are all you really need here, because they’ll magically burn your belly fat. This is why it’s so common to see people doing endless sets of infinite reps of every ab exercise there is.
Why? Because they apparently believe in an interesting concept known as spot reduction.
And by “interesting concept” I of course mean bullshit myth.
Spot reduction is the “idea” that doing an exercise for a specific body part will in some way burn the fat that is on that body part. So crunches will target belly fat and leg exercises will target leg fat and back exercises will target back fat and chest exercises will target chest fat/man boobs, and on and on and on.
Unfortunately, this is all complete nonsense. Spot reduction is nothing more than a silly myth.
In reality, exercises target muscles, not the fat that happens to be sitting on top of those muscles. So while training your abs will certainly train your abs, it’s doing nothing about the fat that is covering them. The same goes for every other body part, too.
I cover this common myth in detail right here: Spot Reduction
Then What Are You Supposed To Do?
The human body gains and loses fat in a pattern that is predetermined by our genetics and can’t be changed. So if you want to lose fat from a specific body part, you pretty much just need to lose fat, period. At some point, it will come off from the specific spot you want it to… which in this case is your stomach.
And in case you forgot, this means you need to do the one and only thing that causes fat loss: create a caloric deficit.
The Least Important Part: Ab Workouts
Once you understand that spot reduction is a myth and that all of the ab workouts and exercises in the world won’t do anything useful whatsoever in terms of helping you lose the ugly belly fat that is covering your pretty abs (which again is the big super secret here), you might begin to wonder exactly what role ab workouts play in this six pack equation anyway?
And that’s something you should be wondering, because the role is pretty small.
How small, you ask? So small that many people don’t do ANY direct ab training whatsoever and still have awesome six packs. Just lowering their body fat percentage and getting lean enough — possibly combined with various compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, pull-ups, etc. that may train the abs statically to some extent — is all they need. No crunches. No leg raises. No nothing.
Do I think that’s enough for everyone? Uh, maybe. It’s certainly enough for lots of people. But, either way, I wouldn’t consider it optimal. Here’s why…
Developed Abs vs Underdeveloped Abs
You do occasionally see cases where someone gets lean enough to where they SHOULD be able to see abs, but still can’t really see abs… at least not as well as they should be able to at their level of body fat.
Why is this? Because their abs are just underdeveloped.
So yes, this sort of thing DOES happen.
Another similar thing that happens is this. Take two people with similar stats/genetics/everything else, and have Person A train their abs directly while Person B does no direct ab work of any kind. Now magically make them the same body fat percentage… something fairly lean. It’s highly likely that Person A’s abs will look better/be more visible than Person B’s to some degree despite everything else being equal.
Now granted, neither of these examples change the fact that being lean is STILL THE KEY FACTOR.
And again, MOST of the time a person claims to be lean enough to see abs but can’t see abs, the true culprit is the fact that they’re just not actually as lean as they need to be. Like virtually everyone else, their problem will be solved by losing more belly fat.
But, once that level of leanness HAS been reached, there will be some small differences in appearance based on how developed or underdeveloped a person’s abs are.
Direct Ab Training = Recommended
For all of these reasons and more, I think some direct ab training will be beneficial. It will make your abs bigger, stronger and better developed (you know, just like what happens to every other muscle group when you train it correctly) and this will make your six pack look better and “pop” a bit more once you’re lean enough for that kind of thing to actually matter.
And on a semi-serious/semi-not serious note, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind being a little fat but still likes to be able to see a faint outline of their hidden six pack poking through when flexing as hard as they can in perfect lighting, some direct ab training will help with that as well.
Of course, you will still look like crap when unflexed/in worse lighting. Wanna fix that? Lose the fat.
What Ab Exercises & Workouts Are Best?
Speaking strictly from the point of view of having “awesome abs” and a “sexy stomach,” I don’t really have any recommendations for specific workouts or exercises because I don’t really think it’s going to matter much.
Which is why my go-to recommendation in the routines I design is simply this: do about 10 minutes worth of whatever ab training you want twice per week at the end of a workout.
Yeah, seriously…. that’s it. That’s all you need, and that’s as specific as I feel I need to get. Again, the details really aren’t going to matter much in my opinion, so feel free to do whatever you like best.
As for me personally, I tend to keep it pretty basic and typically choose from the usual stuff: various forms of weighted crunches, hanging leg/hip raises, planks, etc.. Nothing fancy. Just about 10 minutes of whatever at the end of a workout twice per week, mostly in the 8-15 rep range.
Simple as that.
And yes, some degree of progressive overload should be taking place during ab training. So depending on the type of exercise being done, you might progress by doing more reps, or adding more weight, or adding more time, or moving on to harder variations. Or, all of the above.
But What About My Lower Abs?
Oh no!!! Not the dreaded lower abs!!! What ever will we do?!?!?
Lose more fat, that’s what.
You see, a very common problem many people have is that they can see their top 4 “upper abs” just fine, BUT their bottom 2 “lower abs” are nowhere to be found. Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. It’s why people tend to focus so much extra on lower ab training.
Those people would be wasting their time of course, as spot reduction remains a myth just the same for the lower abs as it does for the upper abs and every other part of the body.
The actual issue here is that the lower part of your stomach is the first place body fat gets stored when you’re gaining it and the last place it gets burned when you’re losing it. That’s why you don’t see people complaining that their lower abs are looking awesome, but their upper abs are still covered with fat and hidden.
It’s always the other way around.
So the fact that you can see your upper abs but can’t see your lower abs means that you might have lost a nice amount of belly fat and you might be quite lean, but you just haven’t lost enough fat to be as lean as you’re trying to be. Basically, you’re four pack lean, not six pack lean.
So what’s the solution? You simply need to lose a little more fat and get a little bit leaner.
And in case you forgot how to do that, it starts with the word “caloric” and ends with “deficit.” All of the lower ab workouts in the world won’t help in any meaningful way.
So… How Do You Get A Six Pack?
Get ready, here comes the highly complicated summary:
Lower your body fat percentage so you’re lean enough for your abs to actually be visible, and much less importantly, train your abs a little bit too.