How To Get Abs

Everyone wants to know, right? The $10,000 question on the lips of everyone who steps into a gym. Abs. On the cover of every magazine in the world…abs. But they aren’t easy.

Let’s cover some basics.

The first and most important thing to know about getting fierce abs: it all comes back to your kitchen. I’d say in most areas of fitness, exercise and diet are split about 40/60, maybe 30/70…but when it comes to abs, it’s 90% diet. It’s 10/90 and almost nobody in the industry will disagree. What you eat defines your midsection. So if you want abs, the first thing to do is carve all those bad foods out of your diet. Sweets? Gone. Desserts? 90% gone. Midnight snack binges? Very very gone. You’ll want to dine out less, cook more, and focus on protein and vegetables. Diet is where 75% of people go wrong when it comes to abs. Now, if you’re just looking for a firm, strong midsection with ab outlines, you have a little more flexibility…but if you want a 4-pack or a 6-pack, you’ll need to live a more regimented dietary life.

Next: cardio and body fat. Get ready for some cardio. I’m not talking about leaning forward on the handrails of a stairmaster, either. You’ll be standing straight up on a stairmaster. You’ll want to be doing some sprint intervals on a treadmill (maybe even at an incline). You want to get your heart rate way up there. Now, if you have heart/lung problems, you have to watch out for those–you have to take care of yourself, first and foremost. You don’t want to compromise your well-being in pursuit of well-being. If you have hip/knee issues, you need lower impact cardio. Ellipticals, etc. You can still do it, but it might take more time, and a slightly modified approach. But if you’re clear to go hard, do plyometrics, sprint intervals, etc… that’s a huge advantage, and you’ll want to push it.

As far as body fat goes…obviously the lower your body fat, the more your abs will show up. But there are issues with having very low body fat! When a lot of fitness models and competitors show up for photo shoots, they are not at their healthiest. That 6-pack might look amazing at 5-6% body fat (for men, or 9-12% for women), but it won’tfeelamazing. And it will come with some health issues. Lean abs, maybe even a 4-pack, should show up at 8-12% body fat (for men, or 15% for women) and are still aesthetically appealing…without the increase in health problems. I usually come in at 8-12% body fat, myself, after spending a couple years around 5% and being pretty miserable about it. And I know this is about the last thing most people want to read, here, but…moderation is important. Abs are great–a solid midsection promotes health, longevity, and aesthetic beauty…but you can go too far. Remember that the key to well-being is self-care. Don’t make yourself miserable, don’t hurt yourself, don’t beat yourself up. Take care of yourself.

Now that diet, cardio, and moderation-warnings are out of the way, let’s talk about resistance training.

What do you think the best exercises are for your abs?

If you were going to guess something like “crunches” or even “leg lifts” — and those are good guesses, but they’re not quite right.

Your abs are a pretty small muscle group…especially the visible part. Working them in isolation is apart of getting the aesthetic, but it’s pretty far-off from the staples. Doing a lot of abdominal isolation when you haven’t built a solid core is like buying an old house and painting the walls before you’ve fixed the holes in them.

The main staples of any resistance training program, even and especially an ab-oriented one, should always come back to the basic anatomical motions…the basic compound exercises that take your largest joints through their range of motion (thus impacting the largest muscle groups, engaging the most muscle, and hopefully challenging your whole body to athleticism)…these are: the Squat, the Deadlift, the Row, the Chest Press, the Pull-up, and the Shoulder Press. You’ll also want to add the Plank and the Superman (or Back Extension).

If you’re working with a good personal trainer, or even just reading articles on a website, you should expect to read about these basic exercises time and time again. These are the fundamental movement patterns. Those 6 exercises will be featured in every workout regimen worth its salt. When someone talks fitness, they should be talking about those.

That’s what you’ll want to do.

And as for the core strength, practice planking. Plank like your life depends on it. Push for thirty seconds, sixty seconds, ninety seconds — keep your core muscles engaged and use them to support your weight for as long as you can. Train for stability. This will help not only your abs but your whole body. This will help you in every exercise you do. Plank, plank, plank.

Work on your lower back strength, too. Superman poses, back extensions — people often have a lot of weakness in their lower backs and this can lead to muscle imbalance, poor posture, bad exercise technique, and injury. Take some time in your workout to incorporate resistance training for your lower back. Train for stability, again.

Basic plank:

Basic Super Man: