When I finally achieved the six pack abs that I had always dreamed of — I felt like I could tick it off my “fitness bucket list.”
Not only is it considered the epitome of a fitness transformation, it is a visual representation of all the hard work and dedication you’ve put into your training.
For me, the journey wasn’t an easy or a short ride.
Like many of you, I started by Googling “how to get six pack abs” and the flurry of six pack abs myths filled my search results.
Below, the “before” photo is after having spent years investing time and money into fitness magazines, fat burners, and countless sit-ups, trying to get that elusive six pack.
The “after” photo was taken 2 years later after I broke through the confusion and applied the 2-stage process I will share with you in this article.
You’ll quickly learn the principles of getting six pack abs are shockingly simple, except the amount of confusing advice and lack of patience are the main reasons why people quit.
Let’s take a quick look at just a few of the six pack abs myths you must not buy into.
The Worst Six Pack Abs Myths
There is a huge laundry list of misconceptions around what it takes to get a six pack.
For years, I believed in many of these myths which were the reason I made no progress and was left completely frustrated.
Here is a short list.
- Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.
- You need to cut out all carbs
- You need to focus on special exercises and routines
- You only need to reduce your body fat percentage
- You need to take special supplements (i.e., “fat burners”)
- You need to focus on squats, deadlifting, and overhead press.
- You need to “spot reduce” the fat on your abs.
- You’ll get six pack abs in [insert number of days here]
In reality, there is a simple 2-stage process of developing a well-defined six pack abs. You need to;
Reduce your overall body fat percentage and,
Ab training for six pack abs
You need to do both equally. Let’s look at them separately.
Step 1 of 2. Reduce Overall Body Fat Percentage
If you can’t “see” your six pack, it doesn’t mean you don’t have one. It means your overall body fat percentage is too high and it is obscuring all of your muscle definition, including your abs.
The way to do this is to maintain a slight calorie deficit (i.e., “cut”), which causes the body to reduce its stored fat supply.
When this occurs, your body will lean out everywhere — with some regions leaning out faster than other regions.
Your genetics control which regions lean out first but you must first start the process of putting your body into a slight calorie deficit (explained in this article).
The biggest mistake some people make is they buy into spot reduction programs which purportedly target the fat covering their abs.
Spot reduction methods are a highly lucrative niche within the fitness industry where marketers will sell ab systems, six-pack ab stimulators, and “ab workout” programs, that specifically targets your abs.
In a 2011 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it was found that 6 weeks of targeted ab training, 5 days per week, had no effect on reducing belly fat.
In another research paper, it was found that when abs are trained directly, there is a small increase in the breakdown of fat cells into energy. However, the effect is too small to move the needle in meaningful fat loss and does not reduce the amount of fat covering them.
Let’s take a look at what body fat percentage you need to drop down to for a visible six pack.
Ideal Body Fat Percentages For Six Pack Abs
The easiest way to track the progress of achieving a six pack is by tracking a decline in your body fat percentage.
Depending on muscular development, most guys will start to see their six pack when their body fat percentage drops to around 10–15%.
For women, the “vertical lines” will begin at around 20%.
As a guide, I’ve included a visual representation of body fat percentage for men and women.
As a guy, you can quickly determine your approximate body fat percentage by quick comparison.
Most guys are able to happily achieve and maintain 8–12% body fat all year around.
Anything below 8% becomes difficult to maintain and you’ll only see guys this low when they are doing front cover photo shoots or bodybuilding competitions.
In 2017, I leaned out to around 7% body fat to prepare for an amateur bodybuilding competition. This is what I looked like.
For me, the upper portion of my abs started to show around 12–13% body fat. As my body fat percentage dropped, more of my lower abs started to show.
It wasn’t until I leaned out to below 10% that my serratus anterior (finger-like rib cage muscles) and obliques started to really show. I didn’t see my serratus muscles above 10%.
Keep in mind that ideal body fat percentages are different for men and women — where women require a higher body fat percentage to maintain menstruation.
In the bodybuilding world, it is common for female competitors to lean out below 10% and for their menstrual cycle to completely stop.
While you are reducing your body fat percentage, you also need to directly train your abs!
Let’s talk about it.
Step 2 of 2. Ab Training for Six Pack Abs
It’s important to setup a resistance training program that directly targets your abs while you are in a slight calorie deficit to lose body fat.
A 2015 meta-analysis found that a calorie deficit coupled with heavy weight training yielded the most favourable results for losing fat and building muscle.
Before I share with you the most effective way to directly train your abs, let’s take a look at some quick anatomy of the muscles that make up the abdominal muscles.
The muscle group that is closely associated with the “six pack abs” that most guys aspire to achieve is the rectus abdominis.
The other core muscles which must be trained to “complete” the six pack are the obliques, transversus abdominis (“TVA”), and the serratus anterior.
Below is a schematic of the serratus anterior — or the “finger-like” rib cage muscles.
I like to refer to these other core muscles as “framing muscles” as they essentially give the rectus abdominis muscles a polished, well-developed look.
And finally, the obliques.
The Best Ab Exercises
Some fitness gurus say that directly training abs is not necessary. That you only need to focus on heavy compound movements such as the barbell back squat, deadlift, and overhead press.
In a 2014 research article from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they found that abdominal activation from a back squat was a mere 20%, compared to a normal sit-up, which yielded a 40% activation of the abs!
In other words, you must be emphasizing progressive overload (discussed later) in order for your abs to grow.
Failing to do this will mean that after you’ve reduced your body fat percentage, you’ll be left with small, underdeveloped abs!
This was exactly what happened to me after I dropped my body fat percentage.
As you can see, I’ve dropped my body fat percentage but I failed to directly train my abs with weighted exercises. Not very impressive.
However, I was able to do 5-minute planks and an insane number of sit-ups!
As you’ll see, I’ll be giving you a short ab workout routine that you can do at the end of your normal weight training sessions.
Here are a list of highly effective ab exercises you should look at doing that helped completely transform my core and six pack.
1. Ab Wheel Roll-out
One of my favourite unweighted ab exercises is using the ab wheel roller. You should definitely incorporate this into your ab workout routine 🙂
This exercise has been a staple in my ab workout routine for years and I usually start every routine with ab wheel roll-out until failure.
Here is a quick demonstration video to give you an idea of how to perform this very difficult but highly effective exercise.
I suggest starting on your knees and work on rolling out halfway, slowly progressing to a complete roll-out. Always ensure your core is completely locked and don’t sag your lower back!
I purchased my ab wheel for about $13 from Amazon and it looks very similar to this.
Trust me. If you keep at it you’ll get really good at it and it will work your entire core.
2. Cable Crunch
Another one of my favourite weighted ab exercises is the cable crunch.
Once again, here is a short demonstration video by Scott Herman to help you get started.
I usually add enough weight to this exercise to perform around 8–10 reps per set.
3. Hanging Leg Raise
Just like the Captain’s Chair leg raise, the hanging leg raise will help target your lower abs and obliques.
It is slightly more challenging because it requires greater grip strength and core stability.
Also, I suggest starting with your knees bent and slowly work toward a straight leg raise. Once an unweighted straight leg raise becomes easy, you can snatch a dumbbell between your feet to add weight and progressively overload your lower ab muscles.
Here is a fantastic demonstration video by Athlean X.
4. Captain’s Chair (or Roman Chair) Leg Raise
Unlike the hanging leg raise, this exercise will allow you to take the pressure off your grip and also help to stabilise your back.
Check out this demonstration video by Scott Herman.
Now that you know my favourite ab exercises that helped me develop deep, well-cut abs. Let’s take a quick look at the 3 simple rules I followed to build an impressive six pack.
My 3 Simple Rules to Build Six Pack Abs
There are three simple rules that form the back bone of my ab workout routine.
1. Training my abs 2–3 times per week.
Just like calves, your abdominal muscles are a small muscle group. This means they require less recovery time compared to larger muscle groups found in your legs and back.
Personally, I like to incorporate my ab workout routine every second day of the week, ensuring they get at least 24 hours of rest.
For example, if I am doing a heavy 45-minute leg session, I will “finish” my weight lifting session with a quick 15-minute ab workout routine.
2. Incorporating both weighted and unweighted ab training.
Your abdominal muscles are like any other muscle group. For them to grow in size, they need to be exposed to heavy weight training.
The growth of your abs will plateau if all you do is incorporate body weight ab and core exercises like planks. Doing 5-minute planks while holding a conversation will not produce big, well-defined abs.
Adding weight to progressively overload your abdominals is an essential part of the process.
3. Emphasizing progressive overload.
As I’ve mentioned in other articles, the most important pathway to building muscle is “progressive overload”. Irrespective of the exercise type, if you are not undertaking progressive overload, you will not build any muscle. Period.
The aim of the game is to strive to lift slightly more weight on a particular exercise from the session or week before.
In order for your abdominal muscles to grow — or any muscle for that matter — you must force them to grow by making them work harder. Muscle growth is not achieved by “pump” workouts or trying to work-up a sweat!
For example, if you are doing bodyweight planks then aim to increase your time from 30 seconds in Week 1 to 45 seconds in Week 2.
My Favourite Six Pack Abs Workout Routine
Personally, I will take any 3–4 of my favourite ab exercises and turn them into a small circuit — where each exercise is performed back-to-back.
I always ensure that 1–2 of my ab exercises are weighted!
Here is an example of an ab workout routine that I like doing.
Ab wheel roll-out (unweighted) until failure,
Captains chair leg raises (unweighted) until failure,
1 set of cable crunch (weighted), 8–10 reps
Rest for 2–3 minutes between circuits before repeating.
I will do around 3 complete circuits. It takes about 15 minutes 🙂
What Supplements Should I Take To Get Six Pack Abs?
Don’t get caught up like I did on trying to find the best supplements to burn belly fat. They don’t exist. Irrespective of how powerful the marketing propaganda.
The short answer is… you don’t need to take supplements to get a six pack.
Trust the process.
If I were a sponsored athlete, it would be the perfect place in the article to offer discount coupons and a BS rant on the product I was trying to sell.
Most supplement companies produce supplements filled with junk ingredients, proprietary blends, and alluring packaging, to convince you to spend your hard-earned cash.
So while there are no workout supplements that can directly help you build a great six pack, there are two supplements that I’ve consistently taken over the years to assist in meeting my training goals.
Personally, I am a busy guy that struggles to get all of my protein needs from whole food (i.e., chicken, beef, seafood).
Taking whey protein powder to meet my daily intake requirement has been essential in my workout recovery.
Secondly, creatine monohydrate is the most researched supplement in the sports supplement world. It’s found naturally in the body and in food like red meat.
Therefore, if you have good kidney function then I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine monohydrate. Ignore all other variants of creatine as almost all scientific studies have been conducted on creatine monohydrate.
It’s safe, cheap and very effective.
Trust the process and be patient. I cannot stress that enough.
When I tried for years to get a six pack, I started to believe that I didn’t have the “genetics” and began doubting the whole process.
When I stopped following the “latest hacks” from fitness magazines and other gurus, I began to see my own transformation take place.
What are your favourite six pack ab exercises?
Let me know in the comments below!