If there’s one question that I get the most, it’s gotta be about how to “get abs.
There’s just something about being lean enough to see a well developed muscular mid-section that is seductive.
It’s easy to see people who’ve developed strength or built bigger muscles who don’t have much definition. I call that “Muscle Fat”. And it’s common to see very skinny people with low body fat but unimpressive abdominal development.
However, it’s much more uncommon to see someone who’s both very fit AND has an awesome set of abdominals to go with their physique.
We view people who have great abs as sexier and in possession of something special and rare. It’s like they’ve either been blessed with great genes or they’ve figured out a secret the rest of us haven’t.
And I understand. I’ve been skinny with low body fat but with very little abdominal development. I’ve also been bigger and more muscular but my abs weren’t quite visible. And I’ve been lean, muscular where you could see a nice set of abdominals. When I was muscular and built with visible abdominal, I received many more looks and compliments.
In fact, many people start off with the goal of seeing their abs as the reason why they started working out in the first place.
That’s usually when the confusion kicks in. Then that leads to frustration.
Usually, people will start with hard workouts—until they realize that exercise has its limits when it comes to getting abs.
Then they hear that “abs are made in the kitchen” and will start trying different diets. Ketogenic diet, paleo diet, South Beach Diet, Atkins, Bulletproof, and “clean eating”. Yet, they still have no visible abs.
There are also those poor souls who try all the fat burner supplements that are on the market—hoping that the secret to a six pack is in a bottle with some cool graphics on it promising to get you “cut.” But they just end up with heart palpitations (if they take stimulants) or nothing at all (basically all the other non-stimulant fat burners).
After months or even years of trying anything and everything, they still have no visible abs. Just a smooth covering of belly fat where their abs ought to be.
If any of those sound familiar, then you’ve come to right place. Because in the next few minutes, you’re going to learn exactly what you need to do to finally get that muscular and defined midsection you’ve been coveting.
And it’s a lot easier than the 20-year-old instagram fitness gurus and internet nutrition experts have been telling you.
When it comes to developing a physique with visible abdominals at any age, there are three basic things you need to do:
- Lose body fat
- Perform the right strength training exercises
- Perform the right abdominal and core exercises
That’s it. Pretty simple, right?
No jacking up your heart with fat burner supplements or weird hard-to-follow diets needed.
Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these steps.
1-Lose Body Fat
One thing to keep in mind about “getting abs” is that you already have them!
Everyone has rectus abdominus as well as internal and external oblique muscles.
You also have a transverse abdominus underneath your other abdominal muscles but it’s not visible. However, it’s an important muscle and can be trained so I’m adding it for completeness.
The problem is that the majority of us can’t see our abdominal muscles because they’re hidden underneath our subcutaneous belly fat. As you can see in the picture below, our subcutaneous fat is in between our skin and our abdominal muscles. This is the fat that is in the way of you seeing those defined lines of a “six pack”.
It’s also worth noting that there is also visceral fat—which is stored around the organs and underneath the abdominal muscles. If you have too much body fat and are sedentary, you are likely to quite a bit of visceral fat as well as subcutaneous fat. This contributes to that bulging belly look.
By burning off the fat on your body with proper exercise and diet, you’ll reveal those hidden abdominal muscles. Most of you—especially if you listen to my podcast—already know this. Even if you’re not a listener, you probably suspect that you have to reduce the amount of fat on your belly to get your abs to show and you’re right.
But here’s where most people go wrong. In fact, these are the two most common mistakes I see people make when they’re on the quest for visible abs:
1. They try to spot reduce their belly fat with abdominal exercises.
You may have even tried this yourself. You think “I want to see my abs so I’ll do more abdominal exercises to burn off the fat in that area.”
Logically, that makes sense.
Except, your body doesn’t run on the rules of your logic. It’s the rules of human physiology that we’re dealing with here.
Unfortunately, I’ve had to tell client after client this fact in my 18+ years of working in the health & fitness industry.
Researchers even performed a study where they tested this hypothesis by having a group of people work their abs 5 days per week with 5 exercises done at 2 sets of 10 reps each for a total of 6 weeks.
The results? No change in body fat or belly fat. That’s right, ZERO change in belly fat after working their abs 5 days per week for 6 weeks. Let that sink in for a minute.
2. They try to burn off their belly fat through exercise
This may confuse some of you. Many people, myself included, have talked about the important of exercise to maintain a healthy weight and body fat percentage. And that’s 100% true.
But when we’re talking about getting lean enough to see your abdominal muscle definition, we’re talking about getting your body fat percentage pretty low. As a general rule, men will start to see their abs around the 12-13% and women around 18-20% body fat.
While there’s nothing inherently unhealthy about getting your body fat level this low, it’s a bit on the extreme side. In other words, it’s going to take a smarter approach and a bit more work to get to those levels.
There are some people who say getting abs is 80% diet and 20% exercise. However, that’s a bit misleading in my opinion.
The truth is that it’s going to take some combination of working out and attention to your nutrition to get lean enough to see your abs.
When I was in my late 20’s and competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I ate good quality food regularly but I’d also drink and binge on junky goodness like ice cream. I was never on a diet but I was always able to see my abs because of the intense and frequent strength training and martial arts classes.
However, as we get older and our responsibilities grow, we have less time to spend in the gym. Another important factor is that many people—like me—start to have chronic injuries from all the intense exercise. So it makes sense to pay more attention to your nutrition as you can accomplish quite a bit of fat loss simply with proper dieting.
Why the gender difference? Men tend to store fat around their midsection and women tend to store fat around their hips and thighs. Of course, there are always exceptions. For example, women with PCOS will have a tendency to store fat around their midsection. And it’s been said that men with higher estrogen levels will store fat around their butt and thighs.
At the end of the day, it comes down to reducing your body fat enough to see your abdominals that lie underneath. And if you’re a 40+ and too busy to spend hours in the gym, then dieting down properly is the way to go to lose your belly fat.
2-Perform The Right Strength Training Exercises
Losing fat is enough to see your abdominal muscles underneath but not enough to have well-developed abdominal muscles.
That’s why very skinny individuals don’t have impressive abdominals even though they have low body fat levels. For example, check out the photo below.Ryan Reynolds and that skinny dude on the right both have similar body fat percentages. However, Ryan is looking jacked and the skinny guy looks like he’s a few years and many workouts away from looking even close to Ryan.
Ryan Reynolds and that skinny dude on the right both have similar body fat percentages. However, Ryan is looking jacked and the skinny guy looks like he’s a few years and many workouts away from looking even close to Ryan.
So if you’re looking for an impressive six-pack, then you’ll have to perform the right strength training exercises.
The reasons are two-fold:
- The right strength training exercises will help you build and strengthen your abdominal muscles.
Many people don’t realize that their abdominals work to stabilize their bodies during many strength training exercises. This helps to develop core muscles that are as strong as they look.
- The right strength training exercises will help shape the muscles around your abdominals
Many people also don’t realize that it’s not always the abdominals that give a person their look. It’s the v-taper of their upper body and the hip-to-waist ratio.
So what are the best strength training exercises to build core muscles that are strong and aesthetically pleasing?
– Upper body pushing exercises like overhead presses, bench presses, parallel bar dips, ring dips, handstand pushups, etc. are some of my favorites.
– Upper body pulling exercises like pull ups, chin ups, lat pulldowns, seated rows, ring rows, etc. are all great examples.
– Hip hinge exercises like deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, hip thrusts, back extensions and reverse back extensions are some of my go-to hip hinge exercises.
– Squat variations like barbell back squats, front squats, split squats, single leg squats are all great examples.
– Ambulatory exercises like walking, running, sprinting and loaded carry variations like farmer’s walks are some of my favorites.
And what are some of the best exercises to shape the muscles around the abdominals to properly frame your physique?
Most of the exercises mentioned above will do the trick.
However, there may be cases where you’ll want to do some isolation work for your medial deltoids, biceps, triceps and calves. That will help you develop the shape that you’re after.
For men in particular, having wide shoulders, bigger arms, developed thighs and calves will create the effect of making your waist look smaller
3-Perform The Right Abdominal and Core Exercises
Although too many people seeking an impressive set of abs spend too much time and energy on abdominal and core exercises, there are benefits to working your abs directly.
The most common mistake I see people make when training their abs is using high reps and low resistance.
Doing long plank holds and hundreds of crunches won’t build a great set of abdominal muscles. Sure, adding some isometric exercises like front and side planks can be a good way of building the endurance and coordination you need to safely do the harder core exercises but that’s where their effectiveness stops.
So what are some great core exercises?
– Hanging leg raises
– Dumbbell side bends
– Cable Woodchops
– Ab rollouts
– Dragon Flags
– Front levers
But remember, the key to exercises is progressive overload. In other words, you have to continue to challenge yourself by making the exercise harder just like you would with a bench press or deadlift.
So how many reps and sets should you do?
Well, the number of sets will depend on numerous factors. But, like any other muscle group, doing more sets will most likely lead to better development regardless of the rep range.
As far as reps are concerned, doing reps in the 6-12 rep range will lead to the best muscular development. Doing 5 reps and under will result in more strength gains and 15 reps and more will result in more muscular endurance as a general rule.
Also, remember the concept of progressive overload applies to developing core muscles as well. Progressive overload is the exercise physiology concept that says you must continue to challenge the muscles with more weight, reps, sets, etc. to further develop strength and growth.
You can and should periodize your workouts (i.e. change the rep ranges, number of sets, methods you use, etc.) if dramatically changing the look and function of your abdominal and core muscles is your goal.
There you have it. Now you know how to get abs in 3 simple steps:
- Lose body fat
- Perform the right strength training exercises
- Perform the right abdominal and core exercises
Now is the time to do a little self-assessment and ask yourself which one of these do you need to work on the most?
If you already have low body fat but you’re on the skinny side, then working on your strength training and core/abdominal muscles will work best for you.
If you have higher levels of body fat, like most people over 40, then losing fat is where you should start first.
Keep these takeaways in mind. Those are the reasons I’m launching my Legendary Lean Coaching Group. It’s designed to help you burn fat at the fastest possible rate for your body while maintaining every ounce of your hard-earned muscle. I even tested it on real people just like you.
Want to learn more?
Most people know that regular movement, eating well, sleep, and stress management are important for looking and feeling better. Yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.
That’s why we work closely with Legendary Lean Coaching Clients to help them lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health… no matter what challenges they’re dealing with.
Interested in the Legendary Lean Program? It will open in July. In the meantime, sign up for our FREE Training and learn how to lose 7 pounds in 2 weeks without starvation or insane workouts.