Two Simple Steps to Get Those Elusive Six-Pack Abs

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Dale Carnegie

Six-Pack Abs

The term “abs” refers to a pair of muscles that make up the rectus abdominis.  

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How to Get Six-Pack Abs

You can get six-pack abs using the following two steps:

  1. Reduce body fat percentage.
  2. Perform proper core and abs exercises that target the rectus abdominis and other core muscles.

You might have tirelessly done abs exercises in the past but your ab muscles never showed. The answer is because all of your stomach fat was covering them.  

Since losing fat can’t be specifically targeted on the body, you first have to decrease your overall body fat percentage.

Have you ever seen someone with six-pack abs that has fats in other parts of the body (arm, legs, etc.)?

That’s because your body has a preferential order for losing fat.

The last bit and most difficult fat to lose is typically in the mid to low section area of the body. For abs to show, your body fat percentage must be below 15%. And when it’s below 10%, they become more defined.

There are many ways to measure body fat percentage, but the most cost-effective way is to use a caliper that has 1 to 2% error.  

Ab: Caliper - Purpose Driven MasteryHow to Reduce Body Fat

According to the fundamental of energy balance, the body can only lose weight (fat and muscle) over time if it’s in a calorie deficitThis means the body has to spend more calories than it consumes.  

But to lose primarily fat while preserving muscle, your protein consumption must be proportional to your lean muscle mass. The proper amount of daily macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) for “cutting” (losing fat while maintaining muscle) is uniquely based on your body composition.

Fats in the body aren’t equal because some are easier to lose than others. Hence there are two types of body fat, “normal” and “stubborn” fat.  

Compared to stubborn fat, normal fat is much easier to lose because of the way the body metabolizes it for energy useWhen the body uses fat for energy, it produces a chemical called catecholamineThis compound binds to the receptor of fat cells and releases energy for the body to use.  

Now, there are two types of fat cell receptors, alpha and beta, that attach to catecholamine.

Because alpha receptors hinder fat metabolism while beta receptors promote it, therefore the reason for normal (more beta receptors) and stubborn (more alpha receptors) fat.

Normal fat is usually located in the arms, shoulders, chest, face, and legs while stubborn fat resides typically around the lower back and the stomach area, especially the lower part of abs and obliques.

How to Lose Stubborn Fat

To burn stubborn fat, the best solution is to do fasted exercises. Because in fasted states, insulin levels are low[1] and fat stores become the body’s primary source of energy, thus increasing the body’s ability to burn fat.[2] Since insulin inhibits burning fat (lipolysis and fat oxidation), therefore it’s more effective at using fat as energy when the body has low levels of insulin.

You can do fasted exercises in the morning after more than eight hours since mealtime or later in the day with intermittent-fasting. Exercising in a fasted state accelerates fat loss and weightlifting exercise is particularly effective according to research.[3]

In addition, when in a fasted state, the blood flow increases to the abdominal region. As a result, your body utilizes more stubborn fat because more catecholamines can reach it easier.

The Most Effective Ab and Core Exercises

The following abs and core exercises are the most effective for training the rectus abdominis and obliques.

Air Bicycle

Ab Roller

Cable Crunch

Hanging Leg Lift

Captain’s Chair Leg Raise

Flat Bench Lying Leg Raise

Decline Situp

Since abs muscles are small, they can recover quickly.[4] Two to three times of ab training per week is enough for building strong abdominal and oblique muscles.

To get strong ab muscles, they’ll need progressive overload. To do that, you can incorporate weighted abs exercises to increase the resistance. For example, here are my abdominal and core training workouts which consist of three circuits of the following (after my heavy compound weightlifting exercises) with three to four minutes of rest in between each round.

  1. 10 reps of ab roller
  2. 20 reps of air bicycle
  3. 10 reps of hanging knee raise with 30-pound dumbbell
  4. 20 reps of mason twist with 20-pound medicine ball
  5. 10 reps of hanging straight leg raise
  6. 10 reps of cable crunch (140 pounds)

Similar to any weighted exercises, you should start with a comfortable weight. Then gradually increase the resistance as you get stronger to further strengthen your abs and core muscles.

Although heavy weightlifting exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and military press also target the core muscles,[5] they alone are not enough to build strong muscles in the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and external obliques.[6]

Closing Thoughts

Getting six-pack abs requires work with proper abs and core exercises, but more importantly the proper amount of nutrients to achieve the body fat percentage for the abs to show.

The steps are simple and straightforward, but not easy.

Abs: Steps - Purpose Driven MasteryIt requires patience and persistence to get that elusive six-pack ab.

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Footnote References:

[1]Febbraio MA1, Chiu A, Angus DJ, Arkinstall MJ, and Hawley JA. “Effects of Carbohydrate Ingestion before and during Exercise on Glucose Kinetics and Performance.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d.

[2]Achten J, and Jeukendrup AE. “Optimizing Fat Oxidation through Exercise and Diet.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d.

[3]Louise Deldicque, Katrien De Bock, Michael Maris, Monique Ramaekers, Henri Nielens, Marc Francaux, and Peter Hespel. “Increased P70s6k Phosphorylation during Intake of a Protein–carbohydrate Drink following Resistance Exercise in the Fasted State.” SpringerLink. N.p., n.d.

[4]Bishop PA, Jones E, and Woods AK. “Recovery from Training: A Brief Review: Brief Review.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d.

[5]Martuscello JM, Nuzzo JL, Ashley CD, Campbell BI, Orriola JJ, and Mayer JM. “Systematic Review of Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d.

[6]Nicolle Hamlyn, David G. Behm, and Warren B. Young, “Trunk Muscle Activation During Dynamic Weight Training Exercises and Isometric Instability Activities,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 21, no. 4 (2007): 1108-12.

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