Let’s face it: everyone wants washboard abs. Both men and women have developed a serious concern for the state of their torso and the tight, defined abdominal region has been a sex symbol and token for physical fitness for decades. Despite the fact that there are no real health benefits to being able to see your abdominal muscles, it is such a highly-valued aspect of fitness that we couldn’t ignore it! We’re going to take you through how to see your abs, and the contributions of diet and exercise for improving core definition and showing off your abs, not your flab.

How do abs work?

Everyone has abs, yours are just not visible (at least if you’re reading this, I assume its because you want abs). Six-pack abs are the result of the muscles being shown through the fat of the torso, which means that the only ways to get abs are either (1) increase the muscle mass of the rectus abdominus, or (2) lose bodyfat (Link: 30-day weight loss). You can’t lose fat on just your abs and 1000 sit ups won’t give you abs like Brad Pitt in fight club (we’ve all tried).

Diet: reducing your bodyfat

We all know that dieting is a key part of the “shredding” process necessary to get defined abs, but there are still some misconceptions around this process. Simply put, to burn bodyfat you need to eat less calories than you use– it really is that simple. Ideally, you want to get as many of these calories from protein as possible, as this is the building block of muscles and other tissues, and has a higher impact on thermogenesis (as much as 600% that of some carbohydrates).

Bodyfat is the main factor in seeing your abs, but the retention of excess water in the body – or bloating from underneath the muscles – can contribute to a “soft”, podgy appearance. Remember to keep bloating down and make sure that your body is in the best possible condition by drinking large quantities of water and consuming all of the 26 essential vitamins and mineral that keep your body functioning optimally. This won’t only improve health and wellbeing, but will ensure that you’re transporting as much water out of the body as possible. Dietary fiber also aids with this process, but too much or too little can exaggerate the problem.

Exercise: increasing your muscle mass 

The abs are part of the core and we’ve all seen the “ab routines to give you a six pack” adverts on the internet. The sad fact is that this probably isn’t true, and no ab workout is going to give you visible abdominals by itself, but for those who are already relatively lean, thicker and stronger ab muscles will contribute to a more defined core. It may not be enough to strengthen the core by itself, but strengthening the core has huge health benefits and can boost your appearance in a major way.

Core strength training isn’t just about sit-ups: the best way to train the abdominals is through a mixture of movement and isometric holds. The crunch and sit-up might tire you out, but they don’t cover all of the bases for core work, or even ab work specifically. Movements like the lying leg raise, V-up, plank or suspended pike all play a huge role in developing a strong core.

The abs look fantastic, but training abs without the rest of the core is going to make you look strange and it will have much smaller performance benefits than training the whole core. This means developing the obliques (which control sideways bending and stability) as well as rotational exercises, which develop a whole host of stabilising and sling muscles in the core. If you’ve ever wondered how boxers or other athletes develop a core that looks like its chiselled out of granite, its because they don’t just work their abs – they work their whole core through a variety of movements and exercises.

One of the most important things to remember is that training the core involves moving and not moving, but also moving in different directions and rotating. The core stabilises every movement, so you should really be using a variety of movements to train it and develop a strong, sexy set of core muscles.

How do I do core work?

Core training is a huge part of the fitness industry because everybody wants a great core, but most of the time it’s a brutal, gruelling part of training that everyone hates. The best way to structure core work isn’t to do 45 minute ‘ab blasts’ or whatever your aunt’s useless PT said, but to provide yourself with a sustainable, long-term approach to core training that you might even enjoy!

The way we’d recommend training the core is through 1-2 supersets of 2-4 exercises each day or two, with a focus on balancing the different functions of the core. An example of this might be:

4 rounds, 60sec rest.

Exercise 1: 12 Russian twists

Exercise 2: 30s 8-point plank

Exercise 3: 12 V-ups

This example is great because it doesn’t even need a gym or any equipment: core work is all about stability and movement, so there are a wealth of movements you can perform at home that make it easy to fit into your routine. Even if you just spend a few minutes whilst watching TV, you can use the ad breaks to build a strong, sexy set of abs (Ab breaks, if you will). Performing these kinds of movements every day, or every other day, will ensure that you put in enough work, and eventually it will be possible to add weight to the movements or graduate to more difficult movements entirely.

Closing remarks

Core strength and diet are both essential parts of developing the best, visible set of abs and other core muscles to give your torso the chiselled, stable appearance seen in so many top-level athletes. Don’t be sold on the fads or hype: the only way to see your abs – and make them look impressive – is hard work and proper nutrition and strength training.

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