With summer coming up the focus in the media appears to be on how to develop great looking abs. Every health and fitness magazine you read explains the latest in abdominal exercises that promise to give you abs you can proudly show off at the beach. Unfortunately these types of exercises are among the least effective ways to develop a six pack.
Everyone has a six pack!
All of you (yes all of you) have a six pack. In most cases it is just covered with too much fat to be visible. If you are a male with a body fat less than approximately 12% or a female with less than approximately 22% you’ll see a six pack staring back at you in the mirror. Anyone with body fat higher than this wont see it. It is there, it’s just covered in too much fat to be visible.
Does working your abdominals help give you a six pack?
You have two options to make your six pack visible; increase the size of your abs so you can see the outline of the muscle underneath the fat or decrease your body fat. Most magazine articles address the first option by giving you the latest whiz bang exercises to train your abdominals. Unfortunately this is a particularly ineffective way to go about it.
Your abdominal muscles are broad thin muscles with a large surface area. This means it is very difficult to increase the visible size of the muscle since any muscle gains made are distributed over the whole surface area.
If working your abdominals doesn’t lead to any appreciable difference in size will it help burn fat off your abdominal area? Science has pretty much put this question to rest, spot reducing doesn’t exist. You can’t do an exercise and expect fat to be reduced from the area you are exercising.
Abdominal exercises have very little effect on increasing muscle size and almost no effect on decreasing body fat so is there any point doing them at all? If the only reason you are doing abdominal exercises is for a six pack then isolating your abdominal muscles in training isn’t the best use of your exercise time.
If you want to develop stronger abdominals to increase core strength to help with back pain or sporting performance then that is another question altogether. See here for more information
How to bring out your inner six pack.
Burning as many calories as you can and raising your metabolism for as long as possible are the keys to stripping fat from your body. High intensity interval training and weight training using exercises that work the whole body are ideal.
In terms of weight training, full body exercises recruit more muscles and therefore burn more calories. They also elevate your metabolism to a higher level for longer. After a hard interval or weight training session your metabolism can be elevated for 24-48 hours . So exercises such as squats, lunges, dead lifts, push ups, pull ups, burpees and full body dynamic exercises like wood chops with a medicine ball are ideal. Research has shown that these types of exercises actually engage the abdominal muscles more than traditional abdominal exercises.
How important is diet?
Exercise alone is usually not enough. Particular effort should be made to eliminate sugar and highly processed foods from your diet. Your alcohol intake should also be reduced. Not that alcohol is stored around your waist, in fact alcohol can’t be stored at all and needs to be burnt off. This means any food you eat whilst you have alcohol in your system is more likely to be stored as fat. To make matters worse Alcohol inhibits fat burning. Also remember that although Alcohol can’t be stored by the body the sugar contained in an alcoholic drink can. Plenty of good reasons to significantly reduce your alcohol intake if you want great looking abs.
The easy way
There is no easy option. Despite what you might read in the paper there are no shortcuts, no magic diet or exercise that will strip body fat from your abdominals at a rapid rate. Any person that has gone from flabby belly to rock hard abs quickly has done this through hard work in the gym and a strict diet.