If you’ve ever dabbled with changing your body composition, chances are you’ve wanted a six-pack at least once in your life. Apart from making you look lean with muscle definition, having six-pack abs is sort of a milestone; something to shoot for when changing body composition.
Unfortunately, being able to improve definition to the extent that your abs stand out and are visible can prove to be quite difficult. This isn’t really that much of a surprise because, if it were easy to attain, everyone would have a six-pack and the allure would vanish.
Over the course of my career, I’ve encountered many different questions revolving around the best ways to get a six-pack. Because of this, I’ve gone through some of the most common questions and determined the best answers, so that you can begin your journey to a more defined midsection while avoiding the most common pitfalls.
What’s The Best Way To Get A Six-Pack?
It’s likely you’ve heard that abs are made in the kitchen. This concept is only part of the equation.
Everyone has abdominal muscles, regardless of whether or not they are actually visible. Certainly, the first course of action to be able to see your abdominal muscles is to lose body fat. Unfortunately, there’s just no way around that.
Given that you have abdominal musculature, yet can’t see them, chances are you just have too thick a layer of fat tissue impeding the visibility of your abdominal muscles. Because of this, you’ll need to reduce all your body fat in order to be able to see them.
Additionally, attempting to hypertrophy, or increase the size of, your abdominal musculature is also an option. By increasing the relative size of the muscles in the abdomen, it is possible to increase their size and definition to a greater extent, making them easier to actually see.
In this case, using a combination of calorie restriction and directly attempting to hypertrophy your abdominal muscles is the quickest, most reliable way to begin to see your abs.
Are Six-Packs Made In The Kitchen?
The number one way to observe and improve the look of your abdominal musculature will be a combination of exercise and diet, not solely diet.
Surely, in order to see abdominal muscles, you need to reduce body fat. In order to do so, you need to create a negative energy balance, or expend more calories than you consume.
While you can certainly achieve this through diet, you can also do so through exercise or a combination of exercise and diet.
In fact, a recent study indicated that body fat loss is actually achieved to a greater extent when combining resistance training and diet, compared to either method on its own (1).
Based on these findings, in order to get a six-pack, you should focus both on dieting effectively while also including resistance training into your routine.
Can I Reduce Body Fat Only Around My Mid-line?
Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that you can “spot-reduce” body fat to allow for abs to become more visible.
In order to lose body fat around the midsection, you’ll need to reduce body fat from your entire body. Not to mention, even when doing so, losing weight around the abdominal section often is one of the last areas for body fat to be removed from.
Getting a six pack will require consistency and overall fat loss. Unfortunately doing endless crunches won’t get you that six-pack you desire.
Should I Work My Abdominals Directly?
Yes! Even though spot-reducing abdominal fat is (nearly) impossible, that doesn’t mean you can’t cause growth of the abdominal muscles. Just as with any other muscle, in order for them to grow, you need to work the muscle directly and to the extent that growth is warranted.
This means you need to use exercises that fatigue the abdominal muscle in ways that promote growth. This means using resistance.
All the time I see people doing endless amounts of crunches and wondering why they don’t have a six-pack. In order to achieve hypertrophy (increase size) of your abdominal muscles, you need to use resistance just as you would for any other muscle.
Think for a moment – would you just squeeze your bum a thousand times and hope for it to grow? Chances are, you wouldn’t because doing just that alone would not result in growth. Just as with any muscle, you need to practice progressive overload and place the abdominals under stress that stimulates growth.
Lastly, many people claim that using exercises like the squat and deadlift will work the abdominal muscles enough. Certainly, these movements do incorporate the abdominal muscles, but working them directly will yield quicker and superior results.
If your goal is a great, defined six-pack, you should be working your abs directly. Just know the difference between improving the muscle quality of your abs (possible) and attempting to spot-reduce body fat around your abs (not possible).
What Exercises Should I Use For A Six-Pack?
The standard crunch is easily the most used abdominal exercise, yet is probably the most worthless.
Think for a moment about any other body part, your biceps for example. Would you just flex your biceps hundreds of times in the hope of increasing muscle definition? If you answered no, then why would you do so for your abs?
The problem with standard crunches is that doing them provides almost no resistance, meaning you’ll need to complete an inordinate amount of repetitions to stimulate the muscle to the extent that it would promote growth.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you always need to use weight, you just need to use movements that will actually result in improvement.
The cable crunch and weighted decline sit-up are the optimal choices here, since they can allow for significant resistance, creating an environment of muscular growth. These two exercises are easy exercises that allow for progressive resistance, a key factor in muscle growth.
From here, some of my favorite “bodyweight” abdominal exercises are as follows:
- Exercise Ball Ab Rollout
- Exercise Ball Knee Tuck
- Exercise Ball Hand To Foot Transfer
- On Elbows Plank.
You’ll find that using these exercises puts your abdominal region under immense stress within a short timeframe, making them optimal for the purposes of stimulating growth.
Just remember that whenever the use of resistance is available, opt for those exercises over bodyweight ones.
What Rep Ranges Should I Use?
I consider abdominal muscles to be fairly similar to other muscle groups in that you should have a variety of rep ranges from low-rep, high weight to high-rep, low weight.
Applying both will allow for stimulation of abdominal strength, hypertrophy and fatigue resistance. All of these are very important in relation to improving ability of the abdominal muscles.
I personally suggest using exercises that allow for resistance first, and focus on heavy weight, for the promotion of strength. Upon completing those sets, move towards the 10-12-repetition range on other exercises and eventually move towards very high rep work.
Do I Need To Do Cardio To See My Abs?
Just as with resistance training, doing cardio is not a requirement, yet may be a valuable tool.
If you’re using cardio as a way to improve your abdomen, remember that doing so will allow you to burn calories, which means you can reduce body fat and make your abdominals more visible.
Other than helping you create a negative energy balance (required for weight and fat loss), cardio doesn’t have a distinct effect, either way.
Can I Take Supplements To Reveal My Abs?
The answer to this question is maybe, although it must be noted that any legal, over-the counter supplement advertised to help reduce belly fat will have a minimal effect.
For these supplements to be effective, it would also require that you are simultaneously following a diet and exercise program. Apart from illegal aids, no over-the-counter supplement will make a drastic change unless your activity and nutrition is also in check.
If you’re already practicing a sound nutrition and exercise program, using ingredients such as caffeine, green tea extract and potentially yohimbine may be beneficial.
The reason these supplements may work is due to targeting receptors commonly found in belly fat tissue known as “Beta-2 receptors.”
Their ingredients act specifically on these receptors to release fat into circulation for metabolism. Certainly these aren’t as potent as pharmaceutical drugs, but they may provide an extra boost to your diet and exercise program to help reveal those abdominal muscles (2, 3).
While supplements such as these may be beneficial, they need to be combined with diet and exercise to truly be beneficial. If you want to optimize your supplement regime, try our own custom formulated Thyroid & Metabolism combined with Green Tea for a powerful fat loss stack!
Six-Pack 101: Frequently Asked Questions, Answered
Despite how difficult the reality of a six-pack is, the actual principles that will get you one are quite simple.
Focus on creating a solid diet but also combine it with a sound training program, using abdominal exercises that work in various different rep ranges.
Do you have other abdominal-related questions or information about what has worked for you? Let me know and if it’s a good question, I’ll try to address it!
- Miller, T., Mull, S., Aragon, A. A., Krieger, J., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2017). Resistance Training Combined With Diet Decreases Body Fat While Preserving Lean Mass Independent of Resting Metabolic Rate: A Randomized Trial. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 1-24.
- Lanigan, C., Howes, T. Q., Borzone, G., Vianna, L. G., & Moxham, J. (1993). The effects of beta 2-agonists and caffeine on respiratory and limb muscle performance. The European respiratory journal, 6(8), 1192-1196.
- Mauriege, P., Galitzky, J., Berlan, M., & Lafontan, M. (1987). Heterogeneous distribution of beta and alpha‐2 adrenoceptor binding sites in human fat cells from various fat deposits: functional consequences. European journal of clinical investigation, 17(2), 156-165.