6-Pack Ab Truth: How To Get Ripped Right Now
This is the answer to the most popular question online: How do I get six-pack abs?
Getting ripped, getting abs to pop, making that V-taper muscle; these are all the same goal, and the answer is deeper than getting tips and tricks to building a solid core. The key is understanding the muscles that make up your abdominals, how they function, what purpose they serve, and the science behind getting those muscles to make an appearance.
You could skip down to the details of getting good abs, but do so at your own peril. We believe that you stand a better chance of defining killer abs with a solid understanding of everything that is going on behind the scenes.
The Science of the Ab Muscles
The 6-pack that everyone talks about is really one muscle that extends from just below your rib cage to the upper pelvis bone. It’s called the rectus abdominis and it’s not the only muscle in your core. It’s the one that “looks good”, but it shouldn’t be your main focus. Your abs are actually made up of several muscle groups that work in 3 dimensions to stabilise your body and provide essential movements.
Think of your abs like a box that has 6 sides. The upper wall is your diaphragm. The lower wall is your upper pelvic floor muscles. The front is the 6 pack abs you know, the back is your spinal erectors, and on either side you have internal and external obliques. They work together and have some function in just about every movement you make. Therefore, as you train, use full-body movements, which activates and exercises ab muscles that you would normally miss with targeted training routines.
Are Abs Slow Twitch or Fast Twitch Fibres?
Most people assume that since abs aren’t the muscles that build bulk (IE: biceps, shoulders...etc), that they are slow twitch muscles. Slow twitch muscles fibres are not prone to extreme hypertrophy or growth. They are better suited for endurance and are best trained with high-rep, low-weight exercises. Fast twitch muscles do have hypertrophy and require low-rep, high-weight training to strengthen.
In reality, muscle tissue is muscle tissue. Yes, the abs have some slow twitch muscle fibres, but they also have some fast twitch fibres as well. You already have ab muscles, but you need the muscles to hypertrophy in order to see them more defined. It’s a combination of training techniques (that we’ll expand on later) that help your abs to pop and get shredded.
Ab Muscle Movements
Another way to think about the function of your abs is how they move. Muscle have two functions: movement and support. Some muscles move body parts around, while others resist movement to provide support. Your abdominals do both.
When you duck fast to avoid a punch like a boxer, you’re activating your ab muscles to move your torso. When you lean backward, your abs activate to counteract the spine’s extension. That’s the movement of ab muscles.
But they also support your body. When you are balancing your body on a snowboard, your abs support your body. When you’re holding a plank position or doing a push-up, your abs are activating to keep you stabilised.
Ab training requires exercises that work both the stabilisation and the movement of your ab muscles to make it a complete workout. We’ll provide the how-tos and the must-dos that you need to for targeted ab training. But we have to start with where abs are really made: the kitchen
Your diet is going to be the number one factor that makes your abs. It’s also going to be the hardest discipline about the process. Anybody is able to perform a few hundred crunches at home, but it’s the food you eat that will both promote muscle building and burn fat off your body.
It’s true what they say:
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.
Let’s talk fat. Specifically your body fat. Abs only make an appearance once you’ve burned enough fat off your body to show them off.
For males, the healthy body fat range is between 14-24%. A fit man in his 30’s would have a body fat of between 14-17%. Athletes have between 6-13% body fat. Anything less than 5% is competition standard and is not sustainable for long periods of time
Women require more body fat. The healthy range is 21-31%, fit women will have between 21-24% and athletes more often have around 14-20%.
Men will see good ab definition at around 10-13%. Women, around 16-19%. To give you a comparison, competitive bodybuilders, (i.e. the guys on the magazines) are around 3-6%, hovering around the absolute minimum body fat you need to survive.
Eat More Protein
It’s easier to think of developing a good 6 pack as an overall health goal, and not a narrow minded approach. Defined and muscular abs are the product of a fit, healthy body, not the end result. You need to build muscle and promote healthy muscle growth all over.
As you increase your protein intake, your increasing the stimulus to promote muscle building and reduce muscle catabolism for energy. Also, as you eat more protein, you’re increasing the overall calorie count of your diet which allows you to restrict other foods without compromising on providing energy for your body.
When building muscle, aim to eat 2.2g of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight.
Burn Carbs. Don’t Cut them
Carbohydrates are not your enemy, despite what’s become popular in fitness and dieting circles. You need carbs to fuel your efforts in the gym, and provide the energy source that would otherwise come from your body breaking down muscle tissue.
Instead of cutting carbs, focus on changing how you think about them. Eat complex carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, beans) after a workout. Restrict your carb intake to your workout days when you need the energy source. You’ll naturally restrict the carbs you eat, but still provide enough energy to flow to your muscles to prevent muscle breakdown. You can use a calculator like this one to determine the amount of calories while you’re building muscle.
Eat Healthy Fats
Eating fat does not make you fat. Fat is a required part of your diet, and a good source of energy. But when you eat healthy, unsaturated fats like fish oils, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and raw butters, you promote healthy muscle growth.
Healthy fats stabilise your insulin production which is a must for losing body fat and defining muscles. When calculating how much fat you need to consume, there are vast differences in when building muscle and losing body fat. Use a calculator like this to work out your exact requirements.
- Try focusing on spices rather than sauces. A sauce can dramatically boost the fat or carb count of a food you eat. It’s much easier and costs you fewer calories to season your food using spices. Plus, there are a world of benefits to eating spices like turmeric, chili, or cinnamon.
- Change your alcohol content. Beer and wine have hidden carbs that add up quickly.
Don’t drink your carbs
But if you must indulge while you’re out with friends, it’s much better to have straight liquors like whisky, gin, or vodka. They have less calories and won’t compromise your goals as much.
- No cheat meals. If you’re looking for a way to reward yourself for doing so well on your journey to six-pack abs, don’t undo all your efforts with a big pizza or a some fatty chips. Instead, find different ways to reward yourself like some baked sweet potato chips and hummous, or some dark-chocolate coated strawberries. They’re technically “cheat foods” but healthier versions that won’t pack on the weight.
As long as you’ve got your diet right, the work you put in at the gym will pay off. It’s not worth the sweat and push and grunt and strain if your diet won’t support your efforts.
There are training methods that will target your abs and help build that washboard you’re looking for the next time you take off your shirt.
Targeted Ab Movements
We spoke before about the different movements and muscle fibres that make up your ab muscles. Let’s put that science into action with some exercises that directly target your abs.
As a beginner, your best efforts will be with bodyweight exercises, or with high-rep, low-weight movements. Studies show that even a simple crunch activates between 60-75% of your ab capacity for movement. That’s well within the range to promote healthy muscle growth. Try some of these simpler movements to target your ab muscles directly:
- Russian Twists
- Side planks
As you progress to intermediate and advanced stages of ab development, increase the low-rep, high-weight movements that target the fast twitch muscles to hypertrophy. No, you won’t build a blocky midsection, but you will increase the size of your ab muscles, which help with definition and appearance.
You can advance to these exercises:
- Crunches holding free-weights
- Weighted planks
- Ankle weighted hanging leg raises
- Cable Crunches
- BOSU ball push-ups
You should only do 20 minutes of targeted ab exercises, 2-3 times a week for maximum effect. Anything more would overextend your muscles and not provide enough rest and recovery to promote healthy muscle development.
Total Body Workouts
Any six-pack training must be full body. You need to employ total body workouts, multi-joint and compound exercises that use the core muscles and promote muscle growth.
This simply means lifting heavy things. When you lift heavy, you’re stimulating your body to build muscle mass, synthesise protein and use excess energy. You boost your metabolism, essentially turning you into a fat-burning machine all day, every day.
Try some of these exercises to activate the abs and stimulate metabolism and muscle growth:
- Dumbbell Lunges
- Barbell Squats
- Chest Dips
- Bench Press
You do need to have some form of cardio, but long slow jogs won’t get you the results you need. You need smart cardio that helps power you towards your goal.
Fast movements and intense cardio like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) provides an afterburn effect that lasts many hours after the workout is complete. The goal is to do movements like rowing, cycling, or sprints for short bursts, reaching close to your max heart rate and then resting for a minute. HIIT training provides the smart cardio that will burn fat faster.
Your Midsection is Not The End
Your overall goal is not to have a stunning stomach that you get to reveal the next time you’re at the beach. Your goal should be to have a fit body that promotes good muscle growth and burns fat efficiently.
A six-pack is a happy by-product of eating well, training well, and living well. It’s a good result that takes time and effort to achieve, but your reward is that confidence you get from displaying those abs you worked so hard to see.