But we’re not just here for the cosmetic benefits, right? We don’t just want to look damn good, we’re also performance oriented. I will show you how to get the best of both worlds. In this article, I will lay out specifically how to get a set of abs that would make Michelangelo proud.
“How many sit-ups and crunches until my 6-pack arrives?”
How do you chisel out a statuesque midsection? Stop wasting your time doing endless crunches and worthless “abdominal toning” workouts. You cannot spot-reduce the fat in your belly area (or any area of your body for the matter).
While proper core-training undoubtedly provides athletic benefits, it can’t get you the Hollywood midsection you so desire. If you want to get ripped you need to get your diet in check. Reduce the amount of body-fat you’re carrying and you will “get abs”. Sauna belts and ab-trainers won’t cut it.
Befriend the deficit
There are so many diets out there claiming to shed the pounds by eliminating certain foods or introducing “fat-burning” foods. These types of fad diets will always remain on the best-selling shelves in bookstores because, unfortunately for us, we want to be told that weight-loss is a matter of cutting out sugar, gluten and other supposedly evil (“toxic”) foods and drinking kale shakes 3x/ day.
But the unsexy reality is that you have to create a negative energy balance in order to lose weight.
You need to consume less energy (calories) than you expend. There are no inherently bad foods that pile on the pounds and there are no magic foods or supplements to “kick-start” weight loss (I address this in more detail here).
Force your body to dig into its fat stores by eating less and increasing physical activity. Learn how to structure your diet, what foods to eat and how to maintain a calorie deficit without feeling deprived, without feeling like you’re on a diet.
Enjoy life to the fullest while getting in shape. It can be done.
The leaner you are, the better your metabolic and hormonal health will be (Gropper/ Smith, 2013). There is a point of diminishing returns, however, where you potentially start running into trouble. Males should aim for around 8-12% body fat (critical level of body fat is around 4-6%), while females should ideally be hovering between 15-20%.
There’s no biological need to be walking around with more adipose tissue. Actually, being fatter greatly increases the risk for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease regardless of gender.
How to get rid of stubborn body fat
Stubborn fat is the layer of extra fluff that seemingly won’t budge, despite hardcore dieting and brutal torture sessions at the gym. It is like the last guy at the club, refusing to leave after the lights go on.
Males accumulate stubborn fat predominantly in the lower abs and lower back region (“love handles”), while females suffer from an excess of stubborn adipose tissue in their legs and hips.
What makes stubborn fat… well… stubborn?
In times of limited energy availability, your body increases the production of catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline) which release fatty acids into the circulation to be burned as fuel. The problem is this specific tissue is very resistant to the actions of fat burning hormones.
To make matters worse, proper blood circulation is lacking in stubborn fat areas, further slowing down its metabolism. Stubborn fat is also referred to as estrogenic fat, due to its high affinity for accumulating estrogen.
Fasted cardio? Detox shakes? That brand new “fat-torching” supplement that just came out? How do you lose the fat for good?
To get rid of the final layer of fat you need to dial in your nutrition and give it more time.
As resilient as your fat deposits may be, it is still only a matter of time before they give in to the energy deficit. No amount of metabolic sluggishness or hormonal dysfunction will ever change that (the magic of physics).
You’ve got to be patient though. Don’t expect overnight results. Work on your diet and if inclined, start bringing some additional firepower to the fat-burning party.
No more cheat days
While strategic re-feeds or cheat meals may provide metabolic benefits to the lean and athletic population, for the majority of people its negatives far outweigh the positives. You’re setting yourself up for failure by going on a donut rampage every Saturday in hopes of stoking the metabolism.
Like I mentioned earlier, befriend the calorie deficit. Find the most enjoyable way for you to eat less. If after 8 weeks of strict dieting you feel like having an extra slice (or 3) of pizza, go ahead and enjoy it. But don’t pre-plan cheat meals or cheat days, where you end up inhaling 6000 calories in one day (one sitting?).
Listen to your body. When you truly feel like you need more food (real hunger vs. cravings), eat a little extra, but don’t throw moderation out the window.
The Shredded Six-pack Workout
To target the midsection specifically, I recommend you add 1-2 abdominal exercises to your workouts and perform them in progressive fashion twice a week. That is all. Shift your focus from training abs to training properly and eating better.
Don’t go to the gym to “do abs”. You’re wasting time. Base your workouts on progressive resistance training, using compound movements (bodyweight or weighted) and incorporate a few basic ab-exercises to chisel out that 6-pack.
Here are my 2 favorite abdominal exercises:
- Abdominal bracing
- Leg raises
I know what you’re thinking. “What is abdominal bracing and how do I incorporate it into my workouts?” Abdominal bracing is an underutilized training technique that works the muscles of the core more effectively than crunches or other popular ab exercises (Maeo et al, 2013). Bracing targets the mostly neglected deep fibers as well as the stabilizer muscles of the abdominal wall and the obliques.
Flex your abs as if someone were to punch you in the gut full force. Exhale and tense ’em up as hard as you can for 8-10 second intervals. That’s one rep. Perform sets of 8-12 reps and watch those abs pop.
Leg raises (hanging from a pull-up bar) are the only “traditional” ab exercise I do, and the only one you need. This beauty simultaneously hits multiple muscle groups and thus promotes whole-body strength. The hanging position builds grip strength, while raising the legs (keep them straight if you can) works the abdominals, the hip flexors and the thighs. Perform 2-4 sets to failure.
As with every other muscle, progressive overload is the name of the game. Add reps, weight or perform increasingly difficult variations every time you train your midsection.
And that’s all she wrote. The calorie deficit combined with a minimalistic no-bull approach to abdominal training is guaranteed to give you a jaw-dropping midsection. There are no secrets, no magic formulas. Be patient, stay on course and make sure to grab your copy of the Lean Machine Diet for the inside scoop on fat-loss dieting.
Thank you for reading
Gropper, S.S./ Smith, J.L. (2013). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning. 6th edition.
Hand ,G.A. et al. (2013). The energy balance study: the design and baseline results for a longitudinal study of energy balance.Res Q Exerc Sport. 84(3):275-86.
Jensen, M.D./, P.E./ , C. Effects of epinephrine on regional free fatty acid and energy metabolism in men and women.
Maeo, S./ Takahashi, T./ Takai, T./ Kanehisa, H. (2013). Trunk Muscle Activities during Abdominal Bracing: Comparison among Muscles and Exercises. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.