When most people think of a tight, toned body, six packs abs is the first thing that comes to mind. And why not? The ‘washboard’ look that a six pack provides has been the symbol of the perfect body since the times of Ancient Rome.
Sadly, most people who try to achieve a six pack fail because sculpting a six pack takes more than a few sit ups each day. Today we will look at what it takes to get a six pack including why you can’t see your abs, the role your diet plays in creating your six pack, the best exercises to sculpt perfect abs and how genetics can affect your results.
Let’s start with your diet. There’s an old saying in the fitness industry that abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym and it’s true. It doesn’t matter how much you work out or how many sit ups you do, if you are carrying extra body fat, you’re never going to have a six pack.
Getting your diet in order and losing weight and body fat is essential if your goal is to have a six pack. And you need to start by working out how many calories you need each day, so you can manipulate them to work in your favour.
There are a lot of online calculators you can use to calculate your daily calorie needs but a good rule of thumb is 1 x body weight in kg x 24 for men and 0.9 x body weight in kg x24 for women. This will give you the minimum number of calories you need, what is known as your resting metabolic rate. If you’re not sure what your weight is in kilograms, simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. Next, add on calories for your activity level. Add 10-20% if you engage in light activity such as an office job, 30-40% for moderate activity such as you stand all day and exercise a few times a week and 40-50% for heavy activity if you exercise at least an hour a day or have a physically active job. For example, if you’re a male and weigh 80kgs (176lbs) and have a moderate to heavy activity level then you multiply 1 x 80 x 24 + 40% for 2690 calories per day.
Now that we have the maths out the way and know how much you need to eat, it’s time to manipulate your calories to lose weight. The best way to encourage weight loss is through a combination of eating fewer calories and exercising more. This will create a calorie deficit that forces your body to burn stored body fat. You can find out more about how this works in my video on how to manipulate calories to lose weight.
The best exercise to encourage weight loss is high intensity interval training. This kind of cardio takes advantage of using high and low intensity exercise to raise your metabolic rate for longer, helping you to burn more calories and fat over the course of the day, rather than just during the exercise session. It may seem a little counter-productive to focus on cardio when you’re trying to get a six pack but unless your body fat levels are low, you’ll never have the look you want.
In addition to reducing your daily calories, it’s a good idea to increase the amount of protein you eat each day. Protein has many jobs in the body including movement, and building and repairing muscle tissue. Many people tend to focus on the amount of carbohydrates they eat but when you are trying to build muscle increasing your protein intake is the way to go.
If you trying to build muscle, it is recommended that you eat between 1.0-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So an 80 kg/176lb male would need between 80 – 120 grams of protein per day to help build bigger abs.
So now you know the best type of cardio for weight loss, how to manipulate your calories and how much protein to eat, it’s time to look at why you can’t see your abs and how to train them so they pop.
One of the biggest complaints people have is that they can’t see their abs despite hours of training and a strict diet. There are a number of reasons why you can’t see your abs but a lack of definition generally comes down to two reasons – one, you have too much body fat and two, your muscles are weak and small.
If your goal is to achieve a six pack, then you must lose weight and lower your body fat levels. Otherwise you’re wasting time training as you’ll never see the results of your efforts.
However if your body fat levels are already low and you still can’t see your abs, then you need to build your muscles so they stand out. The section of muscle you see in a six pack, the part that bulges out, is the muscle belly and if this is small, weak and undefined, then your abs won’t stand out even if your body fat levels are low. To make your abs stand out, you need to train them and increase the size of the muscle belly, especially in your rectus abdominus, the muscle that gives the six pack it look.
Other reasons why you may not see your abs include:
One – you only do one type of ab exercise. To really sculpt your abs you need to work all your ab muscles. This means your rectus abdominus, your external and internal obliques that run along the sides of your waist, and your transverse abdominus which is deep inside your belly and wraps right around your stomach from one side of your back to the other. This is the muscle you feel when you pull your belly button to your spine.
Two – You’re not training hard enough. Your abs are like any other muscle group. You have to train them regularly and correctly if you want to make them bigger. There is a plethora of ab and core exercises out there and you can build an ab workout the same way you would any other workout for your other muscle groups.
Three – You’re training your abs every day. You won’t train your legs or shoulders every day without a rest so why train your abs every day? Training them every day can lead to over training and this results in less definition rather than more.
What you need to remember to create a six pack is this – low body fat levels and defined muscles give you the abs of your dreams.
Let’s talk genetics before moving onto training. Normally genetics are used as an excuse but when you are trying to get a six pack, genetics can affect your results. Sculpting your six pack depends a lot on the size and your muscles and the length of your tendons. Some people are lucky enough to have naturally larger muscles that standout even if they don’t train a lot.
Even if you aren’t blessed with large muscles, you can train them and increase their size. The bigger the muscle belly of your abdominals, the more they will bulge out. But sculpting your six pack isn’t just about how big your abs look, it’s also about how they sit and this is where genetics really plays a part.
The tendons that join muscle to muscle are responsible for how close or apart your muscles sit. Longer tendons leave a large gap between the muscle and shorter tendons bring your muscles closer together.
Sadly there’s not a lot you can do about the size of your tendons but you can at least train your muscles so they stand out and look good. One way to do this is to keep the range of movement small as you perform ab exercises. When you focus on short range movements at high repetitions, you create higher peaks in your muscle belly. This makes them look fatter so they stand out more. Performing short range movements is simple; just squeeze your abs during each exercise. For example, as you do a crunch, really squeeze your abs as you crunch.
Before we get into the best exercises, let’s talk about how you want your six pack to look. Most people want the symmetrical, chiselled look on the statue of David but the truth is, your six pack may look different.
Depending on how you train, your six pack may appear tilted or uneven. If you do a lot of rotational exercises for example your abs may be tilted to your more dominant side. You also need to consider whether you want your six pack to be square or stacked. The stacked look is your more traditional look, where your rectus abdominus is fully developed and each section is stacked neatly on top of the other in a rectangle.
Some people may prefer a more square look where the entire abdomen and waist is defined and looks like a square filled with tightly defined boxes. You can achieve this kind of look by over defining your obliques to fill in the sides of your waist.
Now for the information you’ve been waiting for –the best exercises to build a six pack. But first a few tips on training.
One – treat your abs like any other muscle group. Plan your workouts and aim to do a full ab workout twice a week.
Two – compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts and overhead press all engage your abs so be sure to keep your abs strong by pulling your belly button to your spine when you perform these exercises.
Three – make sure you include some high intensity training once or twice a week to help keep your body fat levels low.
Four – work every part of your abs and don’t forget your back. You need to work your transverse abdominus, obliques and rectus abdominus if you want to get a six pack.
The following nine exercises are the best for developing your entire abdominal section and building the six pack of your dreams. Always keep your abs strong and remember to breathe as you work out. The best exercises for building a six pack are:
- Hanging leg raises. This works your lower abs and can be performed as hanging knee raises if you don’t quite have the strength to perform leg raises.
- Medicine ball crunch. Adding weight to the standard crunch ups the intensity making your abs work harder.
- Standing cable crunch. Changing the angle on the standard crunch stimulates your muscles and varies your results.
- Kneeling cable woodchop. This move targets your obliques and transverse abdominus as well as your rectus abdominus.
- Decline bench crunch with medicine ball. The decline position engages your lower abs while the weight increases the intensity of the exercise.
- Decline Russian twist with medicine ball. Russian twists are amazing for working your obliques. Perform them in the decline position to really sculpt your obliques.
- Dumbbell squats. It’s easy to think of squats as just a leg exercise but done correctly, they fully engage your whole core.
- Exercise ball pike. The pike is a great exercise for your inner core. Performed with your feet on the ball, you also have the option of adding a twist to target your obliques.
- Tough but wonderful. You cannot seriously train your core without adding the plank. Take things up a notch by placing your feet on a chair or exercise ball. You can even perform a side plank to active your obliques.
No matter where you are starting from, it is possible to get a six pack and have the abs of your dreams. Plan your diet to encourage fat loss, increase your protein intake, train your abs correctly, and you’ll have abs others envy in no time.
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