How to Get Six Pack Abs - The Definitive Guide to Abdominal Muscles
With summer just around the corner, there are few things more desirable than sporting a chiseled six pack that turns heads. But what is the best way to achieve that look?
Do you need to spend countless hours doing bodyweight exercises? Should you go heavy and hard?
Or do your abs get enough work as stabilizers in compound movements so they don't require much direct focus?
Time to answer these questions and more. This is the definitive guide to abdominal muscles and how to get six pack abs.
1. The shape of your abs is entirely genetic.
Why it’s wrong
: Whether you have a six or an eight pack may be genetic, but the shape and the symmetry of your abdominals is not. Often people will have a lateral pelvic tilt or pelvic rotation causing muscular imbalances in the psoas, hip flexors, and abs. Also, some people may lack the desired tapered waist look because of poor posture in the thoracic spine and hip placement. In order to have aesthetic and symmetrical abs, first address the muscular imbalances of your hips and spine.
2. You don’t need to directly target your abs, they get enough work through heavy compound movements.
Why it’s wrong:
99% of the time when someone says this, it is usually a strong, heavier bodybuilder or power lifter. Not necessarily someone with a tight tapered waist. While it's true that your core muscles (in particular your transverse abdominals) provide major stabilizing support in movements like the squat and deadlift
, you are not getting much, if any flexion or rotation. These are important components of abdominal function. Not only do you want to train your abs directly for aesthetic reasons, but you want to make sure they can perform the wide array of movements
for which they are designed on a functional level.
3. Having a six pack is entirely dependent upon diet and having a low enough body fat to see it.
Why it’s wrong:
Abs are revealed in the kitchen but made in the gym. While you will never be able to see your six pack if it is hidden behind layers of fat, having a low body fat percentage while lacking deep cut abs is not desirable either. It’s good to be ripped, not to be skinny. It's important to possess strong and deeply defined abdominal muscles for the aesthetic
look most guys want. Additionally, when you have thickly developed abs, they will reveal themselves at higher body fat levels. So instead of dropping to single digits to see some lines in your abs (and risk losing muscle mass) you can be 10-12% and still have visible cuts. But, they will pop much more at lower body fat levels.
First Steps Towards a Defined Six Pack
Ok, so we know you need to first address any imbalances
that will affect the way you recruit and use your abdominals to optimize symmetry and aesthetics. It’s important to have a neutral hip position
so identifying whether you have an anterior or posterior tilt
is the first step.
If you have a posterior pelvic tilt,
it is important to limit the amount of shortening exercises you are doing for the abdominals because these reinforce the exaggerated flexion in your spine. In this postural position, the abs are already shortened and tight so you may benefit from stretching the abdominal muscles to work toward a tapered and more eye pleasing look.
So assuming you don't have a severe posterior tilt, how do you know which exercises to do?
EMG studies involving abdominal exercises don’t reveal any particular exercise to be significantly better than others, so it is recommended using the “mind muscle connection.”
You must feel the abdominals working so that when you do an ab exercise, and you feel your legs and back but no abs, adjust or do an exercise that fully engages your muscles. That being said, it's important to exercise your abdominals using variety to ensure full development and proper
The functions of the abdominals are to stabilize the spine, flex the trunk to the front and the side, and to rotate the torso.
Some example exercises are listed below, and all four of these mechanics should be included in a workout program.
Stabilize the spine
- Planks, Side planks, Ab Wheel Rollout
Flexion to the front
- Crunches, V-Ups, Leg Raises
Flexion to the side
- Side Plank Raises, Windmills, Side bends
Rotate the torso
- Woodchops, Twisting crunches, Russian Twists
I recommend performing one exercise for 2-3 sets for all the functions except flexion to the front. For that, aim for a total of 6-10 sets using 3-4 exercises.
Heavy Weights vs. Bodyweight
If you want to develop the kind of abs that pop out, you need to achieve hypertrophy.
This requires using heavy weights unless you are a beginner. While it’s good to incorporate some higher reps and body weight exercises, keep total reps under 20 and ideally in that 8-15 range. Follow a similar pattern for the isometric exercises such as planks, and increase the load by adding weight if possible, not simply increasing the duration. Especially important is to not sacrifice form and optimal muscle recruitment just to increase to heavier weights.
The abdominals can withstand a higher workout frequency than just about any other muscle group. So target them a minimum of 2-3 times per week. The following is an example of a setup for the intermediate- advanced lifter.
Alternate each workout.
Cable Crunch 3x10
Side Bends 2x20
Hanging Leg Raise 3x12
Cable Woodchops 2x15
Bodyweight V-up 3x20
Plank 2 sets 30 seconds with weight
Stability Ball Crunch 3x15
Side plank raise 2x12
Ab Wheel Rollout 3x12
Decline Crunch 3x8
Russian twists 2x20
Reverse Crunch 3x15
Getting Rid Of That Last Layer Of Fat
Once you have a fully developed core, you need to get to 10% body fat or lower to see all those lines you have been working so hard to define. In order to do this, you must force your body to burn that stored fat
in your love handles and lower belly for fuel. Unfortunately for men, this area is often the last place the fat will leave. You must be in a caloric deficit for this to happen. A great protocol can be found here
In addition to cutting down the calories through your diet, another way to increase fat loss rapidly
is by taking Sheer Strength Labs Thermogenic Fat Burner
. This supplement’s ingredient list is uniquely formulated to burn fat and increase ADRENALIN. Encouraging you to compare other supplements ingredients, this fat burner contains Green Tea Catechins which have been shown to reduce belly fat, yohimbine which increases fat burning hormone levels, and even 5-HTP to regulate mood during the final cutting stage. While this supplement won’t make up for a lousy diet, it will speed up the fat loss process and help get rid of that last layer of body fat.
- In addition to the routine above, try to actively engage your core whenever possible during other exercises. For example, squat without a belt unless you are going very heavy (<5 reps), make sure to maintain a neutral plank throughout pushups, and incorporate TRX suspension training.
- If you have a back or disc injury, focus on isometric exercises like planks.
The majority of spinal forward flexion should occur in a co-contraction. Which means instead of just rounding the back and shortening the rectus abdominals like with a sit up or traditional crunch, you actively push the small of your back into the ground (posterior tilt) recruiting the transverse abdominals and contracting your rectus abdominals simultaneously. This will fully engage all of your stomach muscles and help with the tapered look.
Nontraditional training tools such as kettlebells, rip trainer, trx, battle ropes and more can be incorporated in a cardio and core kind of circuit. You will hit your abs in unique and functional ways while chiseling detail into the serratus and obliques.
While many people spend countless hours doing their crunches and situps,it’s rare they achieve the results they desire. This is because diet is often overlooked, and exercises are not optimally selected or performed.
A large part of having the tapered waist look comes down to having good posture and hip alignment, so be sure the exercises you are performing are not compounding imbalances.
The movements you do should entail all functions of the abdominals and be performed heavy and frequently enough to induce hypertrophy.
And remember, you will never see your abs if you have fat covering them,
so don’t work your butt off and have nothing to show for it. Get the diet in check and try some Sheer Strength Labs Thermogenic Fat Burner
to make the process quicker and easier.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.