Powerful shoulders. Mean-looking triceps. Big Biceps. These are the muscles that are easy to focus – sometimes overfocus – on when training. Making them stronger improves your functional fitness and appearance, whether your goal is a couple of steps up in strength, or a dramatic shift in body composition – but it is important not to neglect the core: the abdominal muscles.
Some individuals have phenomenal upper body strength, and sport impressive muscular anatomy… but they carry a thick layer of fat over their stomach. To get an impressive set of ripped abs should they:
a. Train their abs harder?
b. Train their abs more often?
c. Take more supplements?
d. All of the above and then some?
There’s no option “e.”, but if there were, it would say “None of the above.”
The Secret to Ripped Six Pack Abs, Revealed!
Let’s K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid (or, “Silly,” if you prefer):
1. Reduce your adiposity – your body fat.
2. Train your abdominal muscles, which may, or may not, even be necessary.
What, that’s it?
Yup, in essence, the magical secret, kept behind the locked gates which you thought could only be opened with expensive abdominal exercisers, 200 page guides or secret supplements is to lose fat.
Here’s how it works:
Everyone has six pack abs. They’re there, whether you believe it or not. The problem is that not everyone’s body composition is such that their abs are actually visible. These muscles don’t need to be created – they need to be revealed. Remember our “strongman” example – powerful upper body, mighty arms, and a layer of soft flab around their midsection? Believe me, Mr. Strongman is packing some serious stomach muscles, but like on a lot of us, they’re hidden under layers of adipose tissue. That’s why they’re not visible.
Reveal the Six Pack!
Though this might be something you shout as you walk through the doors of your local beer store… it’s really about shedding the fat blanketing your prodigious abs. How? Two words: Caloric. Deficit. We’ve discussed caloric deficits before, but in case you missed it, let’s start by recapping how the body requires a certain number of calories to sustain its current weight and activity level. That number varies from person to person and is influenced by metabolism, height, weight, age and other factors and is referred to as a “maintenance level” of calories.
Consuming more calories than are needed is called a “caloric surplus.” Some of this extra food energy is stored as body fat. Conversely, consuming fewer calories than the body requires is called a “caloric deficit,” and the result, predictably, is a reduction in body fat.
Therefore, reducing your caloric intake facilitates a reduction in adiposity, and subsequently, the abs you never thought you had come out of hiding. Presto, change-o!
By the way, those expensive ab-machines I mentioned earlier? If the goal is a reduction in abdominal fat, please, don’t spend (waste!) your money on them. They are marketed on the premise that “spot reduction” – burning fat from one area of the body – actually works. It doesn’t. Doing machine-assisted crunches will help develop the abdominal muscles, but without reducing overall body fat levels, that great washboard effect will remain hidden under the flab.
But isn’t it “Crunch Time” now?
Amazingly, exercising the abdominal muscles is far less important than shedding the fat which hides them. Lots of people attain incredible six packs simply by becoming leaner, though sometimes, compound exercises which recruit lots of muscle fibers (which I’m a big fan of), such as deadlifts or squats, may help improve the appearance of the abdominal muscles.
There are a few cases in which spot training – not reduction, but training – of the abs can be of benefit. Some individuals simply don’t have highly defined abs, even in the absence of excess body fat. This only means that their abdominals are not properly developed. But remember – losing body fat is the most important step in getting six pack abs. If you feel your six pack could be better defined after becoming sufficiently lean, it won’t take much: simply incorporate roughly ten minutes of the ab exercise of your choice twice weekly after your main weight training workout.