It’s the place to be, the beach, and of course you’re looking to get a six-pack. You put in the work at the gym and refuse to show off your abs, even though it seems like the right food choice.
You can go online to find the best ab rollers (opens in new tab) or 1,000 lunches with a pencil, why not review the basic steps to true belly satisfaction?
We asked Claire Bailey, a registered dietitian in the biological sciences, for advice.
Claire is a highly qualified, award-winning Registered Dietitian with a degree in Biology 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 given to the rectus abdominis muscles. Although we all have these muscles, to see them requires a low enough body fat percentage to be visible. This is an important point because we know that physical activity contributes to overall health, but low body fat does not necessarily equate to optimal health.
As Beisley says, “It’s important to emphasize that the six-pack is visible do not a sign of health.” Although well-defined abs are often held up as the holy grail of peak physical conditioning, Bailey, who has a background in sports nutrition, cautions that “a visible six-pack, especially in women, can mean the opposite.” Body fat levels must be low enough to affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, and some women may lose their periods in pursuit of a six-pack. This is a clear sign that health has a negative effect on aesthetics.”
How can you get a six pack?
If you’re going the extra mile, the process is basically two-fold: you’ll need to train your abs to make them bigger and stronger, and to make them more visible. Body fat should also be reduced to a lower level.
There are several ways to lose body fat, but it can help you achieve a calorie deficit. (opens in new tab) (consuming fewer calories than your body needs). “People in the sports world typically consume fewer calories than they need to maintain their weight,” says Bailey, “with a high-protein diet, up to 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.” Combined with increased physical activity, this will help you lose body fat while preserving lean tissue.
It’s a tricky balancing act and one that needs to be approached with care. “Health should always be considered,” says Bailey. “This relationship requires a varied and balanced diet so that there is no nutritional deficiency,” she says.
Given the extreme measures required to get a six pack, you should first take the time to consider whether this is the right approach for you. “A diet to reduce body fat can be very strict,” says Bailey, “especially if the goal is to get your body fat very low.” Not only is this a threat to physical health, socially isolating and demotivating, but it can also have negative effects on mental health and body image.
Some of the best exercises for developing core strength and six-pack abs aren’t necessarily the ones that come to mind. “Doing a lot of sit-ups and crunches will definitely tire the rectus abdominis,” says Ryan McLean, a personal trainer and fitness coach who specializes in strength and conditioning. “To develop the muscles to their full potential, I would recommend working on big compound lifts such as deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, sled presses, deadlifts, cleans, and deadlifts.
“All of these compound exercises are full-body movements that require your core to work properly. Most of my clients are surprised when I tell them at the end of a 5-10 minute crunch that they don’t need it because they’ve lifted enough and engaged their core muscles with the big lifts.”
How often should you practice for optimal effects? Four times a week, McLean says, is the perfect balance of strength and recovery.
What are the best exercises for a six pack?
The best exercises to get a six-pack are beneficial for all of us in improving core strength, a key element of any fitness journey. For more tips, read our article on How to Get a Strong Core (opens in new tab).’
your core muscles (opens in new tab) supporting your body’s foundation, mobility, strength and balance, as well as good posture. Planks, climbers, crunches, reverse crunches, Russian curls, deadlifts, and leg raises—although not as effective as larger compound exercises that work more muscles—provide similar muscle benefits.
Consider other options: “Pilates classes are ideal because they target not only the rectus abdominis, but also the abdominals and glutes, which form part of the core. It’s not as simple as just doing crunches,” says Bailey.
As with any part of the body, too much focus on those “mirror muscles” can create weaknesses elsewhere, so a balanced approach is important. “Speak with a qualified professional for advice on a balanced abdominal program,” says Bailey.
How long does it take to get a six pack?
When it comes to shedding body fat, it is recommended to go slowly. Not only is slow weight loss generally considered safe, but it’s also a more sustainable approach, and research has been published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, for example. (opens in new tab) – suggest that this is the most effective way to preserve the all-important lean tissue that will build your abs.
The answer to the question of when to show off your abs depends on a number of factors, including body composition, exercise regimen, and diet. “Getting a six-pack takes about as long as it takes to lose body fat around the belly, and that depends on how much body fat you have to begin with,” says Bailey.
Baisley says that the journey to getting abs is more important than the destination, saying that you should never “aim to lose more than a pound a week.” He also stresses the importance of carefully considering the broader implications of not just getting a six-pack: “Ask yourself if a six-pack is really what you want,” he says.
Given that regular monitoring of food and weight is essential to weight loss, it’s easy to see how the pursuit of a six-pack can become a goal that disrupts other parts of your life.
“Should you sacrifice your physical and mental health for an aesthetic that most people will never see?” Bailey asks. Perhaps the answer is the best starting point when considering embarking on your six-pack quest.