Building your abs requires more than just nailing the best exercises. Here’s how to build up your six-pack musculature while chiseling your midsection!
As someone who makes a living training and learning the best approaches for fitness success, I can affirm that some approaches and tips are better than others when it comes to chiseling your six-pack. I’ve summarized the most important abs-sculpting tips here, starting with some common misconceptions about abdominal training.
MUST-KNOW TRUTHS ABOUT SIX-PACK ABS
1) YOU DON’T HAVE TO TRAIN ABS EVERY DAY TO STIMULATE THEM
When you train other muscle groups like legs and back, you indirectly involve you abs, so your core gets a great deal of secondary stimulation. Of course, you only get that ab activation if you’re doing exercises like squats, deadlifts, and standing military presses, so never rely solely on machine work!
However, you don’t need to train your abs every day. Your abs are a muscle group just like any other, and they require post-workout recovery time. While your abs do have a higher degree of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which means they have a higher endurance threshold, you’ll still reap the best results by allowing them to fully recover between workouts.
2) TRAINING ABS DOESN’T DECREASE BODY FAT AROUND YOUR MIDSECTION
You can do crunches until you’re blue in the face, but they won’t significantly “spot reduce” the body fat around your midsection. There’s no way to selectively reduce your body fat; you need to bring your overall body-fat levels down, which means watching your total caloric intake and burning more cals through exercise.
3) YOUR ABS WON’T BE VISIBLE UNTIL YOU REDUCE YOUR BODY FAT
Unlike many other skeletal muscle groups, you need to carry low body fat to reveal your abs, independent of how many exercises you do for them. Reducing your body fat requires you to either burn more calories or consume fewer calories. Genetics also play a role in body-fat levels, making it easier for some people and more difficult for others.
4) A VISIBLE SIX-PACK DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN YOU’RE HEALTHY.
Six-pack abs can be one sign that a person is maintaining a healthy weight, especially given the incidence of obesity today, but it doesn’t automatically mean they’re healthy.
I know a number of individuals with six-packs who are unhealthy because they under-eat or consistently perform excessive cardio. Finding a balance is key to not just getting your six-pack but maintaining it.
5) ANYONE CAN HAVE A SIX-PACK—OR AT LEAST A FOUR-PACK
Metabolic abnormalities aside, I believe this to be true, but it requires immense dedication and consistency both inside and outside the gym. Keep in mind, though, that the overall shape of your six-pack is determined by genetics.
You may have an 8- or 10-pack—yes, I’ve seen them—or just a four-pack depending on the genetic cards you’ve been dealt.
EATING FOR A SIX-PACK
It’s difficult to follow a mass-gain eating plan and expect your abs to become more visible. Sure, you can make your abs stronger through training, but more than any other muscle group, six-pack abs are made in the kitchen.
In fact, most physique athletes generally follow a calorie-restricted diet or one in which they eat enough calories to maintain their current condition. It’s the exceedingly rare individual who can add lean body mass and chisel his or her six-pack at the same time.
If you want a summer six-pack, your best bet is to keep a close eye on your diet. Instead of decreasing everything you’re eating, it’s smart to actually increase protein intake when on a calorie-restricted nutrition plan. This will help you stay satiated and spare your hard-earned muscle mass.
Besides watching your carb intake—especially sugars—be mindful of hidden calories in beverages, and consume plenty of filling vegetables that aren’t calorically dense. The overall goal is to consume fewer calories each day than you burn.
By keeping your protein intake high, you’re less likely to lose lean tissue and burn more body fat. The basics of getting your abs to pop don’t get much simpler than that.
TRAINING FOR A SIX-PACK
Eating for your six-pack is an around-the-clock activity, but the training aspect only entails a 15-20-minute workout about every 2-3 days. Train your abs intensely and help them recover with proper rest and nutrition. The only other “secrets” to ab training are consistency and using good form.
You can choose any number of exercises to emphasize (not necessarily isolate) specific areas of your midsection, and most individuals will inevitably gravitate toward a few favorites. Here are a few of mine.
Lower Abs: Target this region by raising your legs with a stable upper body, which shortens the rectus abdominis from the lower end.
Top exercises: Hanging leg raises or captain’s chair leg raises, decline-bench reverse crunches, mountain climbers.
Upper Abs: This area is targeted when you stabilize your lower torso and draw your upper body toward it, shortening the distance between the ribcage and pelvis.
Top exercises: Rope cable crunches, decline-bench crunches, machine crunches.
Obliques: The obliques run along the sides of your six-pack. I like to train them with higher volume and lighter weights so that the muscles don’t build up considerably over time, which affects the thickness of the midsection.
Top exercises: Captain’s chair oblique raises, cable wood choppers (light to moderate weight), decline-bench Russian twists.
SIX-PACK WORKOUT TIPS
- Choose three exercises—one from each category—and do 4 sets of each movement for your abdominal
- Keep rest periods fairly short between sets, about 30-60 seconds.
- For bodyweight exercises, use a controlled movement and go to muscle failure; don’t stop at a predetermined
- For weighted upper-ab movements like machine or cable crunches, choose a resistance that lets you reach
muscle failure at 12-15 reps.
- For weighted oblique movements, keep it light.
- Do Russian twists for time—about 40 seconds.
GET STARTED ON YOUR SIX-PACK
Ultimately, doing hours of endless reps doesn’t guarantee a tight midsection. Train your abdominal core from multiple angles using a variety of exercises to ensure better results. Eat below maintenance or burn more calories through exercise to drop body fat. Train and eat smart in concert, and your six-pack will begin to show!
With warm weather approaching, the call for an effective shred has never been stronger. Use these 6 tips to ensure you’re six-pack-ready for summer!
Winter’s winding down, and everyone’s favorite seasonal superpower—the ability to hide excess pounds under a warm sweater—is fading fast. In fact, the summer sun will be high in the sky sooner than you might think, which means shirtless weather is coming in hot. Don’t get caught unprepared! If you want to reveal a shredded six-pack come summer, now’s the time to plan and prioritize your weight-loss goals
Here are six of my tried-and-true get-lean strategies to help you prepare to bare all when the sun comes out to stay.
1. Combine Cardio Styles
Most people default exclusively to high-intensity interval training, or HIIT cardio when it comes to getting lean. After all, the intense metabolic demand HIIT places on your body is like nothing else, and when done correctly, can take several days to recover from. What that means for you is a heightened calorie-burn both during the workout and as you recover.
I like to do my HIIT in short, sharp bursts, performing 30-second sprints on the treadmill or rowing machine, followed by 30 seconds of rest, for 10-15 rounds. But I don’t stop there. I actually follow my HIIT with 15-20 minutes of low-intensity cardio to help remove metabolic byproducts that accumulate during high-intensity exercise, which allows my muscles to recover quicker and gets me ready to train all over again.
This approach combines HIIT’s fat-burning ability with the recuperative benefits of low-intensity cardio, basically giving you the best of both worlds. I even like to add a little extra steady-state (because it doesn’t demand much in terms of recovery) when I want to burn even more calories.
2. Balance Your Reps And Volume
A lot of people assume that in order to get shredded, you need to lift more reps per set and really “feel the burn,” but this isn’t necessarily true. Your nutrition and cardio should do the shredding for you, and your lifts should work to maintain your muscle mass and strength. To that end, I stay in the range of 6-8 reps for all my lifts when getting lean. This allows me to keep my muscles full and strong, potentially add a bit of new size, and hit an ideal short-term hormone release.
But just because I use relatively low reps does not mean I skimp on volume! I do 4-5 sets of each exercise rather than the standard 3-4, which increases the overall time under tension for each body part, burns more calories, and contributes to the overall fat loss. I also front-load my workouts with at least two compound movements, which require a lot of energy. Once I’m depleted, I finish up with a few isolation movements.
3. Advance Your Training
When it comes to shredding, I love implementing giant sets—basically, circuits for one body part or multiple exercises performed back to back—especially for my legs, which respond well to high-rep, high-volume work.
I usually hit two compound exercises in a row, such as squats and leg press, then hit my legs immediately afterward with isolation exercises like leg extensions and curls. This forces my muscles to work 3-4 times as hard and 3-4 times as long per set compared with a straight-set format.
The increased time under tension caused by giant sets leads to more muscular exhaustion, a greater energy demand, and more fat burned post-workout as those muscles try to recover.
I’m also a huge fan of forced reps—when your partner helps you lift beyond what you could lift alone—for leaning out. Forced reps push you further than you would normally go on your own, driving adaptation and producing an additional calorie burn that a straight set does not provide.
I recommend choosing a weight where you fail after about 6-8 reps. Once you feel like you can’t push out even one more rep, have a partner help you squeeze out 3-5 forced reps with the same weight. I guarantee you’ll push yourself to limits you never thought possible!
If you’re training solo, try using the double-rep method (DRM) for cutting. Set yourself up with a weight at which you fail at 8 reps. Do a set of 8 with that weight, rest for 5-8 seconds, and then do another 16 reps broken down into several “mini sets.”
Use the rest-pause technique—performing as many reps as you can, and then taking short, 15-second rests—to get through that second double set.
DRM training really pushes the envelope of both your pain threshold and your muscular endurance. Oh, and if you haven’t noticed the theme yet, it also helps you torch more calories!
4. Manipulate Your Macros
One of my favorite quotes is “what gets measured, gets managed.” Carefully planned nutrition is everything when trying to cut, and knowing how to manipulate your macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fat—is essential when building your get-lean plan.
Most people choose to cut carbs in order to get lean, but this is where I differ. I like to keep my carb intake relatively steady year-round to keep my energy high, which allows me to work out harder. To trim some fat from my body, I simply trim some fat from my diet.
Usually, my fat intake is about a half a gram per pound of body weight, which comes out to about 90 grams of fat daily for me. As I get closer to my goal date, or the date on which I want to look my best, I taper this number until it reaches about 40 grams a day.
This simple change gives me just enough of a caloric deficit to burn fat while still leaving me with enough calories from dietary fat to power my essential bodily functions. To compensate for this deficit, I also typically bump my protein up from 1.3-1.5 grams per pound of body weight, which keeps my hunger and cravings at bay and prevents catabolism, or muscle breakdown.
5. Keep Records
If you don’t know where you’ve been, how do you know where you’re going? I’m a bit of a data geek, so I love to keep detailed records of my calories and macronutrients from every diet and show prep I’ve ever done. This gives me plenty of information to compare and allows me to assess the best plan of action to meet my next goal based on my current condition.
When mapping out your plan, give yourself plenty of time to make adaptations. For example, I am usually not more than three weeks out from photo-shoot conditioning, but if I want to step it up and really get stage-ready peeled, I give myself 10-14 weeks. Nothing good comes from rushing the process.
No matter what your timeline, write down everything as you go through that process: what you ate, how it affected your physique, even if it did anything to your body’s level of detail or your overall mood. This way, next time you want to lean out, you’ll have an accurate and exact accounting of what worked and what didn’t.
6. Supplement Smart
Getting lean is no easy task, and supplementing your nutrition can help with cravings as well as energy levels. I love to have a protein shake with my oats after every tough workout to kick-start recovery, spur muscle growth, satisfy my sweet tooth, and help me stay full.
I also take a multivitamin with Omega 3 and 6 daily to ensure I get all my essential fatty acids and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that could be missing from my whole-food diet. And, when it comes to traveling, I always carry a protein bar to make it easy to sneak in meals, even when things get busy.