Written by: Nikolaj Bach, BCs. Scient. Med.
Marked chest, well-trained arms and a well-defined six-pack - after all, that's what most people train for. And while getting a well-trained six-pack is not rocket science, there are many who approach this goal completely wrong.
So are you ready to hear what you should do if you are interested in six cut packages on the belly? Here are three very specific tips on how to best achieve the famous six-pack without sabotaging your other training progress at the same time.
The quick overview:
- Start by building a good foundation of muscle mass before cutting down
- Focus on a low fat diet
- Exercise your abdomen like your other muscles
- Do not train the hip flexors rather than the abdominal muscles
- Do not think that you can be completely "shredded" and build muscle mass at the same time
- Do not build your identity around your sixpack
3 things to do in the hunt for a six pack:
Start by building a foundation
Build your muscles! You will never look impressive unless you have a good portion of muscle mass. But your body will also be in a much healthier position when you drop your body-fat percentage (read more about this later) if you have a good amount of muscle mass.
So if you're just starting building your physique - stay calm, be patient, and focus on building muscle mass before you worry about making them visible. The good news is that as a beginner, you build muscle mass faster than you will when you have been in it for years. So your results will show quicker if you just do it right.
Focus on a low fat diet
Once you have become stronger and have built a solid foundation, then it's time to find the abs. Here, many make the mistake of spending too much time on abdominal exercise in the belief that it makes their sixpack more visible. This is a mistake for three main reasons.
Firstly because the abdominal muscles are already getting some training from stabilizing the torso in your other free weight exercises, such as squats, deadlifts and overhead presses. But even heavy chinups and triceps pushdowns also provide some stimulus to the abdomen.
And then it is just limited what one can throw of muscle mass on the abdominal wall if one does not have the genetics to make the abdominal muscles grow. The abdominal muscles are postural muscles that have no tremendous growth potential, and like the calves, it is more genetically determined how they respond to exercise.
The third and most important reason is that a well-defined sixpack is primarily created by a low fat percentage. You can not train your sixpack to look marked if it is covered in a layer of fat. Here the solution is not to try to spot burn the fat on the stomach with all sorts of strange strategies, but to reduce its fat percentage overall.
Exercise your stomach like your other muscles
Do no more than 1-2 ab exercises per workout. Preferably, 1 exercise for your rectus abdominis (the ones in the middle of your core); this could be reverse crunches and cable crunches, and 1 exercise for your obliques (the ones on the side of your waist), which could be woodchoppers or Russian twist.
Many people think it needs accessive training to work your abs. But just like the rest of your muscles, it will respond to mechanical overload and, as a result of this, stimulate muscle mass.
The optimal way to train your abs is to obtain muscle fatigue, like in a classic strength training session. You should therefore aim for a rep-range between 8-15. In this way, you shouldn't strain your spine while you still don't make too many unnecessary reps.
3 things to avoid in the hunt for a six pack:
1. Abs over hip flexors
People often not only train the abdominal muscles with an unusually high number of repetitions, but they also frequently conduct the exercises wrong if the aim is to train the abs.
As a result, basic abdominal workouts like hanging leg lifts and crunches are performed by bending at the hip joint. This primarily trains the hip flexors and just statically activates your abs. Muscle growth is achieved best by targeting the muscles you want to grow. You do this by extending and contracting the muscle while moving the joints over which the muscle functions. In your ab workouts, stretch and bend the spine in a controlled manner to effectively develop your abs.
In the workout cable crunches video below, you can see this demonstrated. Again, the hip joint sees very little movement, and the exercise is mainly achieved by stretching and flexing the lumbar spine.
2. Don't try to be "shredded" and build muscle mass at the same time, if you want to reach your full muscle mass potential
You can't have your cake and eat it too. Or, in this case, you can't have the lowest body-fat percentage and reach your max muscle mass at the same time.
If you want to build muscle mass, you will have to be in a calorie surplus. Hence you will most likely sacrifice that visible six-pack, as it is challenging to have a low body-fat percentage at the same time.
On the other hand, if you want to have a visible six-pack, you will need to lower your body-fat percentage. This means sacrificing losing some muscle mass.
Unfortunately, there is not much to do about this. But the rules are the same for everyone.
3. Do not build your identity around your sixpack
It is easy to be blindsided by the extremely well-built people on social media. While we all wish we could look like them all days of the year, most of us also want to maintain a social life and eat when we are hungry. To obtain this type of physique, you have to make a lot of sacrifices. You will most likely be hungry most of the time. You will not be able to attend many social events unless you bring your own food, as you're limited to what food you can eat. Your energy level and libido will most likely also be low.
When reading this, consider whether it's worth it to run about with a single-digit body-fat percentage all year round. You are more than your six-pack, in any case. And you don't need visible abs to be strong, fit, and committed to your training.
Train hard, eat healthily, and live the life you wish to.