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Dear Abel: How Do You Get Six-Pack Abs?

Posted by | December 22, 2011 | Featured | 5 Comments

In response to a rapidly-filling inbox, I’ve decided to start a new series where I’ll be taking questions from readers. The first is from Joe on the popular subject of six-pack abs…

 

Hi Abel,Very nice blog. I found this site from Mark’s Daily Apple. I’ve been primal now for about 4 months.I’ve lost about 15 lbs. I’m 21 years old and in college and have a high metabolism so I was never “fat” but I got chubby and was sick all the time.

Anyways I have been getting great results but I was wondering what you did for your abs. I eat about 2000 calories a day all vegetables, meat, and fruit. Also I do a high intensity work out once a week. I was wondering if you had any tips on what you did to get a nice 6 pack?

Thanks in advance and keep up the great info on your blog.

-Joe C.

 

Hi Joe,

Thanks for your question and congratulations on your progress! “How did you get six-pack abs” is a question I’m asked constantly, usually right after, “are you photoshopped?”

A killer six-pack is a badge of honor among the health and fitness elite. While any meathead can get huge biceps by gritting his teeth at the gym, a six-pack is far more ephemeral – for most people, it is difficult to get and takes discipline to maintain. In a day where six-pack-killing foods constantly surround us, achieving a high level of muscle definition is more challenging than ever.

But never fear! Most of the pictures on FatBurningMan.com are from my last photo shoot which unfortunately took place one week after a seven-day Caribbean cruise. All you can eat prime rib, desserts with every meal, and general debauchery generally do not help muscle definition and wouldn’t normally give you (or let you keep) a six-pack. But as you can see, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect or “fatten me up” in any meaningful way.

Once you figure out how your body works and optimize your nutrition and fitness plan (as I’ve learned over years of ruthless experimentation and guinea-pigging), restoring your balance is, well, a piece of cake.

How You Don’t Get Six-Pack Abs

Let’s start with how you don’t get a six-pack: Ab exercises (including ab gadgets, ab belts, crunches, etc.).

What? How could you not get a six-pack by doing ab exercises?

Well, here’s the thing: we all have a rocking six-pack. But for most of us, it’s simply obscured by fat. Isolated fat loss is a myth: the commercials that tell you that you’re going to torch fat off of your belly by doing ab exercises are complete nonsense. And you certainly don’t need any gizmos or shock-belts to get a six-pack.

Too many people assume that after enough crunches, sit-ups, ab-shockery, or what have you, a killer six-pack is going to blast out of their midsection and straight onto the cover of a fitness magazine. That, unfortunately, is not the way it works.

When you lose fat, you lose it all over your body. And for most people, the stomach is one of the last places that fat comes off. So in order to reveal your abs, you need to “torch fat off” of your entire body first.

The Key to Getting Sculpted Abs is to Burn off the Fat that Covers Them

Doing proven traditional ab exercises such as crunches and sit-ups will not cause fat loss on your stomach any more than bicep curls would. These one-muscle-at-a-time moves don’t stimulate enough muscle fibers to build lean muscle or expend enough energy to maximize your calorie burn. Whole-body exercises are a better strategy for fat loss.

Once you have reduced your body fat sufficiently, you can increase the definition of your abs through core strengthening exercises (such as bicycles, plank, dying bug, push-ups, and even pull-ups), but isolated ab exercises are still unnecessary.

So How Did I Get a Six-Pack?

With a lot less exercise (and more fun) than you’d expect. I haven’t been to a real gym in years. That said, I probably exercise more than I “need to” to maintain my physique. But it comes down to the fact that I have found workouts that I really enjoy, so when I feel like I need to get up and move or let off some steam, I get outside and run fast or throw heavy weights around at home. It always makes me feel better.

I personally don’t follow a routine. I listen to my body and so what it wants to do, which amounts to doing something active almost every day, and a “workout” (but a fun one) about 4 to 6 days a week for 10 to 45 minutes. I alternate between resistance training with free weights and body weight, throw in high-intensity sprints during a casual jog a few times a week.

One thing that I should mention is that I never “tried” to get a six-pack. It just came. For me, a six-pack wasn’t the goal, it was a side effect of learning the ins and outs of how my body works and enabling it to thrive through nutrition and conditioning.

The journey to getting a six-pack is a very unique one. Depending on sex, age, genetics, and a number of other factors, some people will naturally have an easier time getting visible abs than others.

By following neo-paleo/primal nutrition (as I recommend), you can lose a great deal of fat. This gives you an incredible head start. But to bring it to the next level and really reveal your abs, some amount of high intensity exercise and/or strength training is required for most people.

Try the following strategies to bring yourself to the next level:

Nutrition

  • Eat a bit more lean protein and a bit less fat (since you are already following a neo-paleo/primal nutrition plan, I assume that you already have your carbs under control)
  • Scale back starches/tubers and fruit
  • Make sure you’re not overdoing it on nuts, avocado, or coconut
  • Make sure you are avoiding processed foods and salt. Toxins and excess sodium cause water retention which increases puffiness and reduces muscle definition
  • If you don’t see progress within a few weeks, try intermittent fasting. I had never attempted fasting before my last photo shoot (so it’s definitely not necessary), but I have enjoyed experimenting with it the past few months. It absolutely brings some people to the next level. And don’t worry – as long as you keep up with strength training, intermittent fasting shouldn’t result in muscle loss (and could actually increase muscle growth due to a natural increase in growth hormone)

Conditioning

  • First and foremost, add weight training. It sounds strange at first, but this will increase your metabolism and recalibrate your hormones to prioritize muscle growth AND fat burning
  • Bump up high-intensity exercise to 2 to 3 times a week (but not on consecutive days)
  • Add more low-intensity activity such as walking to incrementally increase caloric expenditure

Remember: this is an art, not a science. Everyone is unique, but the tips above should send you in the right direction for getting defined and chiseled abs.

Thanks again for your question, and I always appreciate your thoughts and feedback. So leave a comment or give me a shout!

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