You’ve been working out.
You’ve been eating healthy.
But those dang abs just won’t peek out.
I understand your frustration and I sympathize. The lower abs that all those fitness models have represents an accomplished level of fitness. It’s vexing to put in so much work and effort without seeing progress and results.
Unfortunately, they’re not easy to get. Definition in the lower abs comes from a variety of factors. So first, we’ll talk about what determines your six pack. Then we’ll cover the process of how to get a six pack. Finally, I’ll go over a lower ab workout.
The first thing that determines your abs are the muscles themselves. The lower abs that you see are not a different muscle than your upper abs. You have one long abdominal muscle called the Rectus Abdominis. The muscle activates more in certain areas than others depending on the exercise that you perform. So a regular crunch activates more of the upper part of the muscle while a reverse crunch activates the lower part of the muscle.
You won’t get a six pack unless you use those muscles. Which means that you need to work them. Incorporate compound exercises that need core stabilization like barbell squats, dumbbell lunges, and pushups. Throw in a few abdominal exercises two times a week and you’re good to go.
On the flip side, don’t overwork them. You shouldn’t do crunches or other core work every day. You use your abs all day to hold yourself erect, so working them out every day is unnecessary. A few exercises twice a week is enough to get six pack abs.
Photo Credit: Steph @ Simply Shredded
Your body fat percentage is one of the biggest determinants of ab definition.
If your body fat percentage doesn’t dip below 17%, then it’s possible that those stubborn abs won’t peek out. Of course this differs between people since genetics play a role in where your body sheds fat first and last.
So what do you need to do to lose fat? You need to be in a caloric deficit.
There is no magic pill that will help you lose fat. There’s no special diet that helps you shed fat either. Calories in versus calories out is what determines whether we gain or lose. Of course there are other factors that can make this process easier.
Strategies to make losing fat easier
- eating 5 servings of vegetables
- eating 30% protein
- eating enough fat
- getting enough nutrients
- fixing health issues
- reducing stress
- drinking water
- getting enough sleep
When you’re in fat loss mode, it’s important to continue strength training to keep your muscle. You might have heard that you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time. It’s mostly true, which is why I’ve outlined the process below.
Process for getting that six pack
I don’t know you personally and where you’re at. There’s no one-sized fits all formula for health, fat loss, and exercise. This means there’s a few different routes to get there that apply to different people. So here’s how to get a six pack:
1. If you’re currently overweight
As I mentioned before, abs need lower body fat levels to appear. Start by losing weight until you’re at a healthy range. Then depending on your exercise level, start at the appropriate place below.
Approximate timeline: dependent on how much weight you need to lose
2. If you’re a complete beginner to exercise and at a healthy weight
Just to set expectations, it might be a while until they show. It doesn’t mean that they can’t come out relatively quick, but of course everyone is different. You first need to start working out, preferably with body weight exercises. Once you have a solid foundation (at least one month), start incorporating weight lifting and 2-3 abdominal exercises twice per week.
This whole time you need to be eating enough to build muscle. This means you need to be in a caloric surplus or equilibrium.
After three months, start a fat loss regimen. You should still lift weights and perform challenging bodyweight exercises to retain muscle. If your abs don’t show after lowering your body fat levels to the range of 15-20%, then you need more muscle. Note of caution: everyone is different. Some feel ok at low body fat levels and some don’t so utilize this recommendation according to your own body. Move to bullet three below.
Approximate timeline: 3-6 months
3. If you exercise regularly and have relatively low body fat
Say you run often, do bodyweight exercises or weight lifting, and are fairly thin. If you don’t have any abs showing, it’s likely you just don’t have enough muscle there. This is great because all you have to do is build muscle! Add in 2-3 challenging abdominal exercises twice per week.
Approximate timeline: 1-4 months
4. If you’re an experienced weight lifter/exerciser/crossfitter etc
You probably have some nice abs hiding underneath some fat! All you need to do is start a fat loss regimen until you can see them. Continue to workout as normal to retain muscle while in fat loss.
Approximate timeline: 1-2 months
Photo Credit: Alzira @ Simply Shredded
We’re going for hypertrophy (meaning we want to increase muscle size). This requires you to perform exercises that tire you out in 8-10 reps. When I say “tire out,” I mean you cannot do ANY MORE.
If you’ve been doing some of these exercises and your abs aren’t tired at the end, then you are most likely training your muscles for endurance. That’s good, we need to have ab muscles that can hold us up all day and keep us going during sports and other activities. But that’s not what we’re going for.
If you want a defined six pack, you need increased muscle size.
Or you can create your own below!
Pick 2 exercises from the Total Ab list and 1 from the Oblique Ab list.
Perform 1-2 times per week, three sets of 10 reps (3×10).
Total Ab Exercises
Jack knife sit up
Ab Pulse Ups
Exercise ball Jack Knives
Exercise Ball Pike
Exercise Ball Pass Throughs
Oblique Ab Exercises
Cable or Medicine Ball Woodchoppers
Here’s the deal
A six pack is great and all, but it’s not the end all stop for fitness. It’s a lot of work to get a six pack, but what do you do with it besides look good? There’s a lot more you can work on like increasing your squat, your sprint time, handstand holds, cool yoga poses and other awesome things like that.
Fitness is about you and your life. It should be something that enables you to do what you like while keeping you healthy. Shredded abs are mostly cosmetic and aren’t an indicator of your fitness level.