There is a common assumption in the fitness industry that more is better and never is this truer than when you’re trying to get abs;
More training sessions
More fat loss
You’ll do anything, or more accurately, do everything to try and get abs, mistakenly thinking the issue is with your effort.
However, the reality is the issue is with your programming.
You want to use a well-designed programme that promotes a focus on the essentials, the things that will make the biggest changes and encourage long-term adherence.
Yet, you’re still in the gym doing exercise after exercise, set after set and rep after rep. You’re chasing the burn, focusing on the wrong things and thinking you can crunch your way to glory.
The results do not match your effort, or your desire and sooner or later you begin to think that getting abs is a luxury reserved for other people.
This is bullshit.
You can have abs too.
You just need to cut away all the nonsense to get to what is truly necessary. In this article, we’ll do exactly that and look at the best exercises to build and reveal your solid six-pack abs.
How Many Abs Do You Have? 4 Pack vs. 6 Pack vs. 8 Pack Abs
What do you think of when you think about the abdominal muscles?
Is it the coveted six-pack abs of movie stars and athletes…you know, the perfectly sculpted stomach that is the cornerstone of physical fitness in many people’s minds?
Ok, in that case here’s a word of warning.
Whilst I think it’s great that you’re using these movie stars or athletes as inspiration and motivation to better yourself and change your body, there is one thing you need to realise:
You’re born with a set number of abs muscles and no amount of training or diet will change that.
Yes, training and diet can build the muscle of your abdominals and diet can get your body fat low enough that you can see them but the actual number of ab muscles (4, 6, or 8) you have is predetermined and completely genetic.
This means if you have a 4 pack, you have a 4 pack and cannot get a 6 or 8 pack.
The Muscles of The Abdominals
Before we get into the meat of the article let’s quickly take a look at the muscles which make up your abdominals.
The visual effect of having abs is the result of a strong tendinous sheath called the linea alba that divides the rectus abdominis down the middle, with several more tendinous sheaths running horizontally to create the four, six or eight pack look.
However, whilst the rectus abdominis plays a large part in having abs there are 4 muscles in total that make up your abdominals;
Rectus abdominis: the muscle everyone thinks of when they think about their abs and is positioned between the ribs and the pubic bone. It’s responsible for flexing the lumbar spine (think sit up or leg raise movement)
External obliques: the next muscle you think of when thinking about abs, the external obliques sit either side of your rectus abdominis and allows your body to twist and rotate
Internal obliques: located one level deeper than the external obliques and rectus abdominis the internal obliques work in opposite to the external obliques to allow you to twist and rotate your trunk
Transverse abdominis: the deepest of all the ab muscles, the transverse abdominis is located under the rectus abdominis and both obliques, this muscle is important to maintaining a functionally strong core and stabilising the body
These muscles all work together to create a lean, toned stomach and show off your abs.
The Best Exercises for Abs
This post isn’t your typical do more crunches, work the upper and lower abs but don’t forget abs are made in the kitchen type of fluff.
Instead I’m going to take a different approach and look at everything you should be doing, from exercise to mindset and nutrition. This means not everything here is an ‘exercise’ in the way you’re expecting.
However, it is all a very important part of getting lean abs and stuff that people often overlook in their efforts to get there.
Now, before we jump in you need to realise 2 things;
You need a low body fat percentage: this means you will never have abs that you can see if don’t lose the layer or layers of fat covering them. It doesn’t matter how strong or developed your abs are, if you’ve holding too much fat, you won’t be able to see them
You can’t spot reduce fat: this means no matter how many ab workouts you do or how hard you diet you cannot force your body to lose fat from your stomach speficially. Instead you’ll lose fat from across the body with the abs, particularly the lower abs being one of the last places you’ll lose it from
Good, let’s go.
Ok, we know that getting abs is a matter of lowering your body fat enough to see them, which means you need to be in a calorie deficit.
The problem with this is that being in a calorie deficit for a prolonged period has a bunch of side effects which can slow down or halt fat loss;
This is where walking can be so beneficial, as not only is it free and accessible but it’s also the perfect way to burn extra calories without tiring yourself out and negatively impacting your strength workouts. (2, 3)
High Intensity Interval Training
What if you’re too busy to walk for 30 – 60 minutes a day? This is where high intensity interval training (also known as HIIT) comes in.
HIIT is characterised by short periods of intense exercise followed by slightly longer periods of recovery repeated for a set duration of time. For example, cycling flat out for 30 secs, resting for 60 – 90 secs and repeating for 20 minutes.
HIIT is a fantastic tool for fat burning and has several unique benefits;
Burns more calories in less time (5)
Can be done without equipment
The best thing is that these benefits can be achieved in a fraction of the time of other popular cardio i.e. fitness classes, walking, cycling, swimming, etc.
This makes it an ideal fat loss tool if you’re busy but need a way to burn some additional calories.
Part of the abs equation is having the physique to support it; you don’t want to have abs but no muscle anywhere else. Not to mention training the whole body also helps train the abs.
The best way to train to support ab development as well as build a strong and capable physique is through the use of compound exercises. Compound exercises are any movement that trains multiple muscles with movement at multiple joints, examples include;
The great thing about compound exercises are that they allow you to lift more weight, by doing the work of multiple isolation exercises all at the same time. This gives you more bang for your buck in terms of strength and muscle development.
Additionally, most if not all compound movements require stabilisation of the core to perform properly which means your abs get trained at the same time too.
It’s a win, win.
Patience is absolutely key to achieving washboard abs.
Most, if not all changes in fitness are incremental and the result of consistent effort towards a singular goal over time.
This means you must patient in the pursuit of your goals and continue to work at it over the long-term.
A good rule of thumb is to double or even triple the amount of time you think you need to get the results you want, as there is a tendency to underestimate both the amount of effort and time needed to make a transformation.
By increasing the amount of time, you need to make the changes you want, you move your expectations more inline with what is realistic and give yourself a buffer.
This is important as not getting results within the time frame you think is possible is one of the biggest reasons for giving up. Realise that if you work consistently towards your goal and stay patient you will get there.
Full Core Training
A strong core is not only important for a well-developed set of abs, but it also contributes to good posture, injury prevention, better strength, mobility and the transferal of force.
Your core is made up of;
With the addition of the spinal erectors and multifidus which are both are located on the back of the body and assist with spine stabilisation and straightening and rotation of the back. You could also include the hip flexors and glutes here too.
It’s for this reason you want to train more than just your visible six-pack muscle and train the entirety of your core. Let’s look at how you might bring it all together in a well-rounded ab workout.
Simple Home Ab Workout Routine
Aim to do 3 rounds in total with 60 seconds rest between rounds. Prioritise good form even if it means you get less reps and try not to use momentum at all.
Leg Raises: 15 reps
Sit Up or Crunches: 20 reps
Cycling Crunches: 20 reps
Glute Bridges: 10 reps
Plank Hold: 30 secs
If it’s too easy then you can either add more reps or introduce weight to the exercises.
Remember a core workout doesn’t need to be long to be effective. Instead, you want to train all areas of the core and focus on good form and stability throughout.
As well as exercising your core, exercising self-control is arguably one of the best things you can do if you want to get abs.
It’s best to think of self-control as the way you regulate all the variables that effect your ability to achieve and then maintain a 6 pack.
Calorie Intake: when it comes to food intake self-control relates to your ability to stick to your diet and hit your calorie and macros goals day in and day out. It also means getting right back on track if you do mess up your diet.
Alcohol: when it comes to drinking and goal achievement it is possible to do both. However, it requires self-control to know when to say no and stop drinking, you need to be controlled in order to prevent over-drinking and the inevitable over-eating associated with being drunk. You can do this by;
Stopping after 1 – 3 drinks
Sticking to low calories alcohols
Not eating when drunk
Keeping the bigger picture in mind
Knowing your limits
Sleep Quality & Quantity: it’s no secret that sleep plays a big role in weight loss and muscle building, which means you need to be strict with your sleep by setting a schedule and creating a suitable sleep environment
Daily Routines: this encompasses all of the above and refers to your ability to create and maintain routines that drive you towards success and the goals you want to achieve. This might include things like;
Setting and sticking to a regular sleep schedule
Planning your meals at the weekend for the week ahead
Prepping your meals in advance and taking them into work with you
Working out consistently by scheduling your workouts
Whilst this isn’t your typical ‘best abs exercise’ article, the principles are important if you want to achieve a toned set of abdominal muscles.
Each ‘exercise’ in this article contributes to your overall success and cuts to the core of what is necessary to achieve the results you desire.
Remember, if you want to get abs you need to;
Use walking to help maintain a calorie deficit
Try HIIT training to burn more calories
Exercise patience in your pursuit for abs
Use compound movements to build a rounded and well-developed body
Train the whole of the core for bulletproof abs
Exercise self-control in order to hit your goals