Whether you have a fitness goal or simply want to feel more confident on the beach, acquiring a sculpted set of six-pack abs is a goal many strive for.
Despite hard training with both weights and cardio achieving a six pack eludes many of us. There is no quick fix for getting great abs – it requires effort both in the gym and the kitchen. There is also no magic drink or supplement either.
Have you got too much fat?
One of the key reasons why you cannot see a six pack is that you have too much fat covering your abdominal muscles. If you reduce your overall % body the fat the chances are you will notice your abs. Please don’t buy into diets that promise you can target your belly fat – while this may sell magazines it really is not that simple. While training a particular muscle will improve their appearance and help muscles grow it does not in itself target the fat in that area.
To lose fat it is really going to be a whole body process and to do that you will need to reduce your calories and / or increase exercise. How much you will need to reduce your % body fat will vary on the individual and whether you are a man or woman. For a man you are likely to need to get below 15% at least and for a woman less than 20%.
I have previously discussed that certain areas of your body may be more stubborn to shift than others but by consistent your diet and exercise you can reduce belly fat.
Are you doing any cardio?
While I am a big fan of lifting weights if you add in some cardio to your workouts you will shift body fat faster. Various studies have shown doing cardio exercise 3-4 times a week reduces body fat significantly. Ideally aim for around 30 minutes of vigorous exercise most days. One of the most effective ways is to introduce HIT training to your programme. For example one study showed men who performed HIIT training for 20 minutes three times per week saw a 17% decrease in belly fat over a 12-week period.
Are you training your abdominals?
Reducing body fat will not on its own give you that six pack. There are numerous abdominal exercises – the key is to ensure you train both the main central rectus abdominis and the side or oblique muscles (obliques, transversus abdominis and serratus). This means adding in specific abdominal exercises and a variety to ensure you train all the muscles – this could include chair leg raises, plank, the ab wheel, ab pulldown, air bicycle, leg raises and so on. Aim to repeat a combination of these 2-3 times a week as part of your exercise programme. As with other weight lifting exercises you should aim for 3 sets of 10-15 or to to failure. Although some of the main compound exercises (like squats and deadlifts) are not core muscle exercises they are still very useful for strengthening the core so include these at least once a week.
Are you eating enough protein?
Adding more protein in your diet is one of the simplest and effective ways to lose weight and body fat. It can reduce cravings, boost metabolism and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Interestingly one study showed thatt the amount and quality of protein eaten was inversely related to belly fat. Many studies on protein and body composition suggest that between 25-30% of the calories as protein is most effective. If you struggle to get sufficient in your diet then using a quality protein powder can be a convenient way to boost your intake.