Think sit-ups are the path to a lean midsection? Think again. Here’s how to develop an aesthetic six pack the right way.
You Can’t Target Abdominal Fat With Sit-Ups
This is likely the biggest misconception in the fat loss world. I see workout after workout being published on the internet and in magazines claiming to give you a six pack in x number of days. These workouts are packed with sit-ups, crunches, and other core strengthening exercises.
Here’s the thing – this is not going to get you a six pack. Fat loss is not localized, it’s systemic. Fat goes on and off your body as a whole, regardless of which muscle is getting worked.
Your Abs Get Worked Doing Nearly Any Exercise
Many people think to get abs you have to do direct ab training. While there is nothing wrong with doing sit-ups to strengthen your abs, you don’t have to isolate your abs to get them stronger.
Your core is involved in stabilizing your body when you do just about any exercise. When you do squats, deadlifts, pullups, pushups, or any other exercise, your abdominals also get a great workout. Many people get a great midsection without doing a single core isolation exercise.
Exercise is a Very Small Piece of the Puzzle
None of this exercise even makes much of difference when it comes to seeing your abs. Sure, ab training might make your abdominal muscles bigger and stronger, but if there’s a layer of fat covering them up you’re never going to see them anyways.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do exercise, however. The point is that we all have abs whether we see them right now or not. Your abdominals are part of human physiology. Just as each one of us has calf muscles, biceps, and triceps, we also all have abdominals. Seeing them is more a function of your body fat percentage.
Your Diet is What Brings Out Your Abs
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying – abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym. While it does get old hearing that all the time, it is absolutely true.
Your body fat percentage is the major determining factor when it comes to seeing your abs, and body fat is mostly influenced by what and how much you eat.
Exercise does have its purpose though. It is the perfect stimulus for creating a favorable metabolic environment for fat loss so that your diet can strip away the layers of fat. The synergy between diet and exercise is where the magic happens.
At What Percent Body Fat Do You See Abs?
This is going to depend on many factors, as genetics and the way you store fat has a lot to do with it. On average, men will start to see their abs come in at around 10-12% body fat. Women will see them at around 15-17% body fat.
Now, keep in mind that this is just a population average. There are some outliers. Some women can have abs at over 20% body fat if they store most of their fat in their lower body, and some men have to get sub 10% to really see ab definition.
Point being, you will have to lower your body fat percentage until you do see them. As long as fat is covering your abdominals, they will never be visible.
The Core Components of a Six Pack Fitness Program
Now that we know the effects exercise and diet have on getting a six pack, and at what body fat you need to be at to see your abs, we can begin to outline the necessary components of an effective fitness program.
- Strength Training – this can be weight training, bodyweight training, or anything that adds resistance to your entire body. Strength training is going to be the key to building muscle that will burn fat at all hours of the day and night.
- High-Intensity Exercise – even though you can’t target fat loss, and exercise plays a smaller role in seeing your abs, it is still very effective when combined with proper nutrition. High-intensity exercise burns a lot of calories, and thus body fat, all while creating a favorable metabolic fat loss environment.
- Calorie Deficit – unless you weigh very little right now, you’re likely going to have to lose weight to see your abs. The only way to do this is with a calorie deficit. Cut 15% from your maintenance calories and expect to lose .5-1% body fat each week.
- Sufficient Macros – calories make the biggest difference in your weight, but the amount of fat, carbs, and protein you eat play a large role in body composition. Eat between .6-.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight and fill the rest of your calories with healthy fats and carbohydrates.
- Time – to see your abs you have to be patient. It can be a long process. If you have 10% body fat to lose, it can take you 20 weeks or longer to accomplish. However, if you stay consistent and continue to lose .5% body fat each week, you will start to see your abs in time.
It is entirely possible to get a six pack without doing a single sit-up. In fact, the 5 components of an effective six pack abs program listed above will do more for getting a lean midsection than sit-ups ever will.