Do you know what your ab moves are ACTUALLY doing to your body? 

Time to clear a few things up when it comes to your 6 pack muscles.

Here’s the thing—I know you want to get abs.  I’m pretty sure everyone, at some point or another, decides their goal in the gym, and in the kitchen, is to get their abs to pop through for the summer.

It’s a cool concept, let me tell you…i’ll also tell you how to get them, how NOT to get them, and why it’s cool to not want abs.

In order to get your abs to pop through, you have to follow several steps.  Here they are, in order of most to least important.

Eat like you want to have abs

Yes, your abs are a muscle.  Yes, you can and should train them to get them to show.  And yes, you know you have to diet.  But how long and how far will you need to go in order to be ready to show off your ‘pack’?

Honestly, the answer depends on a few things:

How much muscle you have

The more muscle you have, the leaner you can be.  Derek Poundstone, a world class poundstonestrongman, is around 22% body fat in this picture.  For most guys, that body fat percentage is gonna look a little flabby.  On him, well, you can see. 

Now, I know you’re not going for this look.  Very likely not even close to this look.  But more muscle means you can look better without as much diet.  Here’s a guy with some muscle at 10% body fat.  As you can see, the amount of muscle you see is very similar with a 12% difference.

As a general rule, most guys will need to go 9% to 12% to have abs showing.

Women will need to be 16%-20%.  This will vary female to female simply because of the dramatic differences of body fat storage.  Holding fat in your legs will likely result in abs at 19-20% whereas holding body fat primarily on your abs will probably mean an extra few months to get to that 16% range in order to get your abs to pop.

What your definition of abs actually means

If you read 10 online articles about guys with abs, you’ll find 10 different opinions on what it means to have abs. Do you want each individual ab popping through, or are you okay with some side (oblique) definition and a flat stomach?  All of this matters when it comes to exposing the 6 pack muscles.


How easily you lose fat/your genetics

Know the guy that loses fat eating 3000 calories a day?  Yeah, that’s not me.  And sorry, but it’s probably not you, either.  If you’re historically had a really difficult time losing fat, then your 6 pack is going to come slower and with more work.  It won’t be impossible, but you will have to be more consistent and more patient.   

The more difficult it is for you to lose fat ( assuming you’re actually following a proper nutrition framework) the lower body fat percentage you’ll very likely have to get to.  Kind of unfair, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Train your abs directly and indirectly.

Okay, so abs are going to be made visible in the kitchen, but they are developed literally in the gym.  If you don’t have any muscle, good luck having abs. And if you do get abs by being just really skinny, they probably won’t be very good. 

To train abs indirectly, you have to be doing things like deadlifts, kettlebell swings, carries, squats, and presses overhead.  These will not only give you a lean and muscular look, but they will make your abs stronger without working on them directly.

You have to working on your abs to get some good abs.  I break ab work up into 25% “indirect” via the movements above, 50% direct non-moving, and 25% direct movement abs.

Half of the ab movements are direct non-moving, meaning we move our limbs (with or without weight) in a fashion that doesn’t  flex the spine, but still makes the abs work.

These are moves like pallof presses, planks, side planks, ab wheel rollouts, ab walks, deadbugs, crawls and jackknives.

All of these moves use our arms or our legs and/or rely on static bracing of the abs, in order to have good form.   This also insures we aren’t flexing our spine during any ab movements, which in turn means that we’re not just building abs—we’re protecting our back. 

For clients that don’t even care about getting abs, protecting and strengthening muscles around their spine is even more important then revealing the 6 pack muscles.

The last 25% of movements we do involve some slight spinal flexion.  I used to never perform these movements, but they have value in developing the abs, and honestly,  if you’re doing things to protect your spine most of the time and have had no lower back problems before, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

These are movements like grappler situps, reverse crunch, hanging leg raise, and pikes.

3.  How to NOT train your abs

women abs

All too often I hear about clients doing exercise videos and ab burns, or doing hundreds of crunches a day.

Then they come and can’t do a proper deadlift, their lower back hurts, their squat form is bad (so they don’t activate/build their glutes) and they think the program isn’t working.

Meanwhile it’s the ‘other stuff’ they’re adding in that’s ruining their posture, their lower back, and probably not working very well at building their abs (when is the last time you ever heard of someone getting into great shape from a celebrity trainer DVD?)

My recommendation for those of you who want to do ab work every day?

make sure your diet is in check, or do NOT add any extra in (if you’re overeating, even if you build a bunch of ab muscle all that’ll do is push the layer of fat you have OUT making it look like you built a bigger belly)

2-3 minutes of  each: planks, side planks, kettlebell swings and deadbugs every single day will only help if you have perfect form.   As an added bonus these are usually great for clients looking to strengthen their lower backs and have better posture. 

Sprint up hills 10x 20-40 yards.  Walk to the bottom, recover, and repeat.  These are the best fat burner out there.

There ya go.  Now go get “dem abs”.  Or, don’t, depending on your goals.