Getting a six pack is one of the most common fitness goals around, but also one of the most difficult to achieve. So what's the best way to make sure you can successfully get and maintain your abs?
To answer this question, it is important to understand what your abs are from a muscular perspective, as well as what purpose they serve. You also need to know some nutritional basics that are important to fat loss and muscle growth.
This guide will break down all of that information so you can take the next step to achieving that six pack physique.
Table of Contents
What are abs?
Our abdominal muscles (commonly referred to as a 6-pack) consist of four muscle groups that work together to support your body’s core.
Abdominal muscles along with some back muscles are the central support for countless movements from twisting and turning movements, to forward and backward movements, to even just holding up the body when doing push-ups (Better Health).
The 4 primary abdominal muscles of the abdominal area are:
- Transversus abdominis
- Rectus abdominis
- External oblique muscles
- Internal oblique muscles
The rectus abdominis contains two bands of muscles that go around the sternum. They are located between the ribcage and the pubic bone in front of the pelvis. This is the muscle that we all recognize and desire known as the 6 pack. The main function of the rectus abdominis is to help the body move between the ribcage and pelvis (such as doing crunches) as well as support for posture and breathing (MedicalNewsToday).
The transversus abdominis muscles go side to side. Their main purpose is to create stability for the body and maintain internal abdominal pressure.
External oblique muscles
Your external oblique muscles are located on each side of your rectus abdominis.
These muscles are what allow our bodies to move side to side.
You can feel these muscles flexing as you move your body from one side to the other or when you do exercise such as the side plank.
Immediately as you get in the side plank position you feel the side of your stomach flex since it is being used to hold up your internal abdominal pressure.
Internal oblique muscles
The internal oblique muscles are centered just inside your hip bones.
These muscles help assist your external obliques with twisting and turning.
For example in order for you to turn from side to side you need both your internal oblique and the opposite external oblique to contract and work together.
How do you get abs
If you want your abs to be as defined and visible as possible, there are two things you have to focus on. First, you have to grow your abdominal muscles with abdominal exercises through the fundamentals of resistance training for muscle growth. You also have to keep to a diet that will help you to lose body fat, revealing the abdominal muscles you’ve grown through resistance training.
How to workout abs
So how do you target your abdominal muscles with resistance training?
While many full body exercises like squats and deadlifts will target your abdominals indirectly, some direct ab work is a great way to ensure you are giving those muscles the maximum stimulus to grow.
Some great exercises for your abdominal muscles include:
Check out more abs and core workouts right here.
Optimal Volume, Frequency, and Intensity for Ab Muscle Growth
While there are many fitness myths about insane rep ranges and light weight being the best for your abs, there is no science to back that up. The truth is, if you are trying to grow your abdominal muscles, you should treat them like any other muscle on your body. That means using an optimal volume, frequency, and intensity for maximizing muscle growth. You can read more about that in our muscle growth series, but the bottom line is you want construct your exercises so that you can do 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps maximum.
This means you may you want to add additional weight some of your abdominal exercises. If that isn’t possible higher reps may be appropriate.
More than anything, just make sure to make any exercise progressively more difficult (a.k.a., periodize your workout) so that your abdominal muscles have a stimulus to continue growing.
How to lose fat to show abs
You also have to do the work in the kitchen if you want six pack abs.
Losing belly fat to show your abs requires paying attention to your diet as well as your training. We go into greater detail in our fat loss nutrition guide, but the bottom line is in order to lose fat, you have to be in a caloric deficit so you can lose weight. As you’re losing weight, you also have to train and eat right to maintain muscle, so that the only weight you lose is fat.
Training to gain muscle will also help you retain muscle, and eating a high protein diet will help you hold onto muscle as well. If you need to burn more calories to get into a deficit, cardio and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) training are the best for burning as many calories as possible.
In order to see your abs, men typically need a body fat percentage ranging from 8-10 % while women need a body fat percentage between 16-19%. Measuring your body fat is fortunately easy and quick too.
Benefits of a strong core
While having a six pack is obviously a great look, a strong core also comes with various benefits!
Cross Athletic Benefits
Having a strong core can translate into all other forms of exercises and even regular day activities. A good example of this was found in a recent study that found that runners that worked out their core in a six week program were able to noticeably increase their speed in a 5000m run.
Good posture is much easier to maintain with a strong core because the muscles are capable of supporting your body to the fullest.
A good posture can also help alleviate back pain and aid oxygen moving through your lungs a lot more efficiently, according to healthline.
Your abdomen is responsible for helping in supporting your whole body and a weak core will force muscles in your back and other places to overcompensate to support the body, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Strong abs can help create enhanced balance, according to Harvard Medical School. Balance comes from all of the muscles around your pelvis, abdomen, and lower back working together more efficiently. This allows for your body to move more freely overall and can be translated to many other exercises.
Reduced risk of injury
Not working out your core enough can have negative consequences such as overcompensation from other muscles.
According to Shape, your body’s overcompensation for a weak core is a fast way to injure yourself. They say it's actually the number one risk for injuries (especially injuries in your lower back).
Myths about getting abs
High repetition exercises are the key to six pack abs
A very common myth behind abs is that you have to do thousands sit ups or planks. Fortunately, that's not the case (verywellfit).
As mentioned before, abs are just like any other muscle and need similar training to all other types of muscles. While progressive overload is necessary, doing hundreds of reps for your abs can lead to overtraining or poor form. It is always a good idea to slow down and focus on your form and make sure you are getting the most out of your workout.
If you need to change up your abs routine, find a new abs workout on our platform!
To get abs all you need to do is lose fat
While getting down to single digit body fat will make your abs more visible, a well defined six pack will most likely require some muscle growth in that area. Losing fat will help uncover the muscle underneath, but you still need at muscle in the first place. As an added benefit, the more developed your abdominal muscles are, the less fat you’ll need to lose in order for them to be visible!
You can target your belly fat to reveal your six pack
Another common misconception is that you can spot reduce your fat, or target what fat on your body that you want to burn.
Unfortunately, that is not how fat loss works. Studies show there is no way to target fat in just one specific area because when we lose fat, we lose it everywhere in our bodies. The body decides where it wants to lose fat first, and everyone has a unique distribution of body fat across their bodies.
You can “out exercise” a bad diet
The idea that you can “run off” or out-exercise a bad diet is extremely difficult to do and is not recommended (Men’s Journal). The phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” holds a lot of weight because what you eat can play a big role in how quickly you burn fat.
To demonstrate this point, think about a caloric comparison between a workout and junk food. Even an incredibly intense workout at the gym will only burn 300-400 calories in an hour.
That's the equivalent of about 2 donuts, which you could put down in a matter of seconds.
If you’re trying to stay in a caloric deficit, its easier to not take in the calories in the first place, as it takes a lot longer to burn them off afterwards!
Getting your 6 pack abs to be fully defined and formed can take a lot of dedication, but it can be a fun goal to work towards!
While achieving a six pack is often glamorized and made to seem extremely difficult to achieve, all you need to keep in mind are the basics of muscle growth and fat loss.
Maintaining a caloric deficit, eating to preserve muscle, and training to grow muscle are the main things you need to do in order to grow and reveal your abdominal muscles, and achieve the six pack you’ve always wanted!
If you are curious about other ab exercises and workouts or just fitness in general be sure to check out Myworkouts.io.