It’s summer, the beach is the place to be, and of course you want to get a six-pack. You work out at the gym, make food choices that seem right, and yet your abs refuse to show.
Although you can go online to see it best ab rollers (opens in a new tab) or pencil in 1,000 lunchtime chips, why not take a moment to review the key steps to true belly satisfaction?
We asked Claire Baseley, a registered nutritionist with a background in biological sciences, for advice.
Claire is a highly qualified, award-winning registered nutritionist with a degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford, an MSc in Human Nutrition from the University of Sheffield and 20 years’ experience in the food industry and public service.
What is a six pack?
A six-pack is a popular term used for our rectus abdominis muscles. Although we all have these muscles, in order to see them, you need to have a low enough body fat percentage to show them. This is important to consider because while we know that exercise contributes to overall health, low body fat is not necessarily optimal.
As Baseley says, “It’s important to emphasize that a visible six-pack is present no a sign of health”. While well-defined abs are often considered the holy grail of ultimate fitness, Baseley, who has experience in sports nutrition, warns that “for women in particular, a visible six-pack can mean the opposite. Body fat levels can be so low that they affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, and some women can miss periods in pursuit of a six-pack. This is a clear sign that health is negatively affected in terms of aesthetics.
How to get a six pack?
If you are determined to go ahead, the process is essentially two-fold: you will need to train your abs to make them bigger and stronger, thereby increasing their visibility. Body fat should also be reduced to a low level.
There are several ways to reduce body fat, but it involves a calorie deficit (opens in a new tab) (consume fewer calories than your body needs). “Athletic people tend to consume fewer calories than they need to maintain their weight,” says Baseley, “along with a high-protein diet, perhaps up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.” Combined with increased physical activity, this causes the body to lose fat while preserving lean tissue.
It’s a tricky balancing act that needs to be approached carefully. “Health is always a consideration,” says Baseley. “A varied and balanced diet should be eaten to prevent nutritional deficiencies from this approach,” she says.
Given the extreme measures required to get a six-pack, it’s worth taking the time to first consider whether it’s the right approach for you. “A diet to reduce body fat can be very strict,” says Baseley, “especially one that aims for extremely low body fat.” Not only is it a risk to physical health, but it is also socially isolating and uninspiring, and can also negatively affect mental health and body image.
Abdominal muscle training
Some of the best exercises for building core strength and six pack abs don’t necessarily come to mind. “Doing a bunch of sit-ups and crunches will really tire out your rectus abdominis,” says Ryan McLean, a personal trainer and fitness coach specializing in strength and conditioning. “To fully train your muscles, I would recommend working on high compound lifts such as deadlifts, back squats, overhead presses, sled pushes, pull-ups, cleans, pull-ups.”
“All of these compound exercises are full-body movements that require your core to be engaged in order to perform them properly. Most of my clients are shocked when I tell them they don’t need to do those 5-10 minutes of abs at the end because they’ve already lifted and strained their core muscles enough with the big compound lifts.
How often should you train for optimal results? Four times a week, McLean says, is the perfect balance of exercise and recovery.
What are the best exercises for a six pack?
The best exercises to get a six-pack also benefit us all from improving our core strength, an essential element of any fitness journey. For more tips, read our article onhow to get a stronger core (opens in a new tab).’
Yours core muscles (opens in a new tab) acts as a foundation for your body, providing mobility, strength and balance while maintaining good posture. Planks, mountain climbers, crunches, reverse crunches, Russian twists, deadlifts, and leg raises are all solid ways to work your core, although they’re not as effective as larger compound exercises that work a lot of muscle and yet provide similar benefits. the core
Consider other options: “Pilates is ideal because it not only targets the rectus abdominis, but also the surrounding abdominal and gluteal muscles, all of which are part of the core. It’s not as simple as just making chips,” says Baseley.
As with any part of the body, over-focusing those “mirror muscles” will create weaknesses elsewhere, meaning a balanced approach is key. “Talk to a qualified expert about a balanced ab program,” says Baseley.
How long will it take to get a six pack?
When it comes to shedding body fat, it is advisable to take it slow. Not only is it believed to be safer to lose weight slowly, but it is also a more sustainable approach and studies like this one have published International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism (opens in a new tab) — shows that it’s the most effective way to maintain that all-important lean tissue that will build your abs.
As for when you might first see those abs on parade, the answer depends on a number of factors, including your body composition, training regimen, and diet. “Getting a six-pack will take as long as it takes to lose body fat around the belly area in a healthy way, and that will depend on how much body fat you have to begin with,” says Baseley.
Baseley says the path to abs is far more important than the destination, and says you should never “aim to lose more than a pound a week.” She also stresses the importance of carefully considering the wider implications beyond getting a six-pack: “Ask yourself if you really want a six-pack,” she says.
Given that regular food and weight tracking is important to successful weight loss, it’s easy to see how achieving a six-pack can become a goal that interferes with other parts of your life.
“Is it worth sacrificing your physical and mental health for an aesthetic that most people will never see?” Baseley asks. Perhaps the answer is the best starting point when considering your six-pack quest.