A visible six pack is one of the most desired achievements for anybody concerned with fitness. It is seen as the ultimate goal — the “holy grail” of fitness, if you will — for people who decide they want to get in better shape.
Abs are often seen as iconic symbols of fitness and health — something only for celebrities and superheroes.
It’s true that not many “regular” people have them, and of those who do, few are able to achieve a full six pack.
So without being cast as the next Marvel superhero, how can we get a six pack?
It won’t be easy. There are a few different pieces that must come together for you to get that chiseled stomach you’ve always wanted. But it is possible.
Let’s find out how.
What Muscles Make Up A Six Pack?
Before we get to the tips for getting a six pack, let’s talk briefly about the muscles that make up a six pack.
The six pack muscle is called the rectus abdominis. The term “six pack” can sometimes lead to confusion, because the rectus abdominis is a single sheet of muscle.
What does this muscle do?
The main roles of the rectus abdominis are to support your lower back and maintain good posture.
It’s primary function is to flex your lower back. An example of lower back flexion would be during a crunch exercise or while doing leg raises.
No Two 6 Packs Are the Exact Same
It’s worth mentioning that everyone will have a different-looking six pack, which is based on genetic factors. You’ve probably seen people with extremely low body fat but only a four-pack, or people with an uneven-looking six pack.
Because your abdominal musculature is based on your genetics and underlying body structure, you can’t change how they look.
Steps to Getting a Six Pack
Now that we know what the six pack is and its purpose, we can talk about how to get one.
It’s important for you to know that you already have a six pack. Everybody is born with the rectus abdominis in place.
The issue for most people is that they just aren’t visible.
There are two primary reasons that your six pack doesn’t show, and you may have both.
- You have not built your abs up enough to be visible.
- The layer of fat covering your stomach is too thick for your abs to be visible.
How can we counteract these and get our six pack to show? Let’s start with the first reason.
1. Build Up Your Six Pack Muscles
If you want your six pack to be visible and visually impressive, you are going to have to make them thicker.
This means you will need to train them just like you would train any other muscle in your body.
What Exercises Get You A Six Pack?
Obviously, ab-specific exercises should be used as part of your training regime. For example:
- Bicycle crunches
- Cable crunches
- Leg raises
- Reverse crunches
Other exercises that work your six pack as a supporting muscle should also play a major role in your training — exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses demand a lot of support from your abdominal muscles.
These exercises, which recruit the abdominals as secondary muscles, apply a different stimulus to your midsection compared to the traditional six pack exercises — important for sculpting a balanced, great-looking stomach.
How Many Reps and Sets?
There are many different rep and set ranges that you can use for your ab training. However, for most, a traditional approach of 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps for each exercise is a solid starting point.
But don’t be afraid to mix things up. Every once in a while do lower reps with heavier weight (as well as fewer sets with higher reps) for a change of pace and to prevent your body from getting used to your workouts.
Focus on Improvement
The most important factor with making muscles grow is to make sure you’re progressing over time. Progression means that you are constantly increasing the workload and stress you place on your muscles, which forces them to adapt, strengthen, and grow.
This progression can take a variety of forms: using heavier weights, doing more reps and/or sets, and resting less are all ways you can keep progressing.
Basically, keep track of your training with progression in mind. If you do the same routine over and over, it’s unlikely your abdominal muscles will grow much.
You must constantly demand more from them to force them to adapt and grow.
2. Get Rid of the Layer of Fat Covering Your Six Pack
The second reason for people not having a visible six pack is the layer of fat that covers them. If you want to have a six pack, you need to be lean.
How lean do you have to be to make your six pack show?
The answer: It depends. Since everybody stores fat differently, some people may need to get to a lower body fat percentage than others in order to see it.
It also depends on whether you’re male or female. Generally speaking, men will need to drop below at least 10% and women will need to drop below at least 20%. Though to get the full six pack to show you’ll likely need to go lower than these amounts. Keep in mind, however, that it is possible to go too low.
Losing the Fat
The only way to get lean enough to see your six pack is to shed enough body fat, and the only way to shed body fat is to put yourself in an energy deficit for a sustained period of time.
An energy deficit means that you are eating fewer calories than your body needs to fuel its daily activities. This imbalance of energy input and output means your body will have to get its required daily energy from elsewhere.
One of the places your body can get that needed energy is by breaking down and burning your stored fat. Essentially, this is what you want to happen if you’re hoping to get a six pack.
Getting the Energy Deficit You Need
To keep yourself in a fat-burning energy deficit, you can do two things:
- Decrease calorie intake
- Increase your activity level
A combination of these is the quickest and most effective way to burn fat.
Decreasing Your Calorie Intake
Decreasing your calories is done by following a controlled diet. While it would be best to track your intake closely through the use of a detailed meal plan, you can also simply choose lower calorie, more nutrient-dense foods (though it may take longer/not be as certain as planning it all out).
No matter how you do it, your primary aim should be to eat less calories than you burn for a sustained period of time.
Increasing Your Activity Level
Increasing activity levels is much more simple — you just have to move around more.
Going to the gym is a great way to increase your activity levels. Resistance training is especially helpful for losing weight because it can keep your body burning fat for fuel instead of turning to your muscle tissue, which can happen if you’re not careful. (Another way to deter muscle loss is to consume plenty of protein.)
It’s also a good idea to include some form of cardiovascular training in your program to burn some extra calories. Interval training is an especially effective and efficient method.
A great way to increase motivation levels is to work out with a buddy. Maybe try to find someone else who wants to get a six pack, and you both can make a “six pack pact” to keep motivational levels high.
Basically, increasing your activity levels will increase the number of calories you burn each day. Increased calorie burn over an extended period of time will gradually melt the fat from your entire body, including your stomach area, and reveal that six pack.
The Final Crunch
We’ve learned that the six pack we see is actually just one muscle, the rectus abdominis. If this muscle is adequately exercised, and only a small amount of fat covers it, the muscle shows through and creates the “six pack” look.
Thus, getting a six pack is actually a very simple process, made up of just two factors: building up your abdominals and burning away the fat that covers them.
However, like I often say, simple does not mean easy. It’s going to take a lot of consistent effort to build up an impressive six pack.
Lastly — and most importantly — keep trying. You may fail a few times. It’s pretty common for people to get lean only to discover that they haven’t built up their abs enough, or for people to build their abs adequately but then not be able to get lean enough to make them show.
Never give up! Use the tips given above, follow a smart plan, believe in and stick to the process and you will achieve the six pack of your dreams.
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