Six pack abs are definitely an indicator of a very low amount of body fat and a visual testimony of someone’s dedication to their diet and exercise program.
So it’s no wonder that they are held up as a desirable trophy for those interested in changing their physique and getting in shape.
We get, on average, a gajillion emails every week, and out of those, more than half come from people who are asking for advice on how to improve their health or athletic performance.
➜ If you’re just looking for diet advice, click here to see our go-to resource.
We love these messages. They’re always interesting because GMB Posse members come from such varied backgrounds, and there are usually several ways to answer their questions.
But there’s a question that is very difficult to answer and often involves advice that some people aren’t ready to hear…
“How Can I Get a Six Pack?”
In the post-bodybuilding world, six pack abs have become the gold standard of fitness. Which is actually kind of dumb, since a visible six pack is a sign, not of any particular ability or skill (which is what fitness is really all about), but of low body fat percent.
We won’t lie: having a six pack looks good. But it’s not the ultimate goal of real athletic training.
Still, many men and women ask us how to get a six pack, so we figured it was time to set the record straight about “abs” and finally give you a definitive solution to the body composition blues, once and for all.
First off, we need to make one thing absolutely clear, and that is:
You Already Have a Six Pack
This is just simple anatomy.
Nobody possesses any more or fewer abs than any other person (barring some kind of mutation).
Every human is born and will die with the same standard abdominal musculature. However, a lot of people tend to be shy about exposing their six packs to the elements and keep them concealed behind a protective layer of adipose tissue. AKA, fat.
Why You Can’t See Your Abs (the “Cooler”)
All right, so maybe it’s not shyness that has most people’s bellies looking more like a keg than a six pack.
But that doesn’t change the simple fact that, if you can’t see your abs, it’s because you have too much fat on your body.
“Too much,” in this case is an entirely relative thing. We’re not telling you that not having visible abs means you are fat. That’s not true at all. And it’s also not true that carrying bodyfat is unhealthy.
The body needs fat (hint: that’s why it stores it) – just not in excess.
Of course, nature being the fickle bitch it is, some of us are luckier than others with regards to where we tend to store that fat. Some people tend to store fat first around the legs and hips. Some store fat evenly around their bodies. And, yes, some people’s bodies prefer to keep fat right on top of the ol’ six pack.
Some of this is genetic, and some of it can be controlled somewhat by managing our hormones, but in any case, this stored fat is the thing keeping your abs out of sight.
So if you’re keeping your six pack in a cooler, and you want to take it out for the world to see, the number one thing you can do is reduce your overall bodyfat proportion.
How much fat? Well, that depends.
For men, a visible six pack usually requires bodyfat under 10%. For women, that figure is closer to 18% (though it varies more with women – more on why in a bit).
It doesn’t matter how strong you are or if you’ve ever done a single sit-up in your life – abdominal muscle visibility is governed almost entirely by percentage of your body weight that is made up of fatty tissue. If you want to see more of that muscle, you need to store less fat.
So fat is the primary determinant, but if your bodyfat is near the percentages listed above and you still aren’t seeing the definition you’d like, chances are your body is retaining water.
Yes, this is why the women’s bodies have a harder time showing the washboard – water retention is connected to menstruation, and this can make it very difficult for women to have consistent muscle definition. (On a personal note, ladies, you look lovely with curves. Most men would prefer not to see you with a fully-developed six pack. Just sayin’.)
For both men and women, bodyfat is always the chief culprit in six pack cooler syndrome.
What DOES Work for Visible Abs? (Surprise!)
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again.
Diet is THE KEY to reducing bodyfat and seeing those sexy abs. If you really want a six pack, you are going to have to make changes to your diet and your habits.
Here’s what we suggest:
To reduce bodyfat, you must create a caloric deficit in the body. That means expending more calories than you consume.
Working out is a great way to expend more calories, but if you’re already carrying around an unhealthy amount of bodyfat, you also need to consume fewer calories. Doing this properly will force your body to begin using stored fat as fuel.
To speed the process you need to ensure that what food you do consume is quality fuel for your body.
Getting quality fuel means eating less crap (sugar, grains, and salt) and more of the good stuff (veggies and meat). This fundamental approach can take you a long way towards your goals. There is also the currently en vogue method “intermittent fasting” (we especially like the IF/Carb cycling approach in Nate Miyaki’s Feast Your Fat Away program) to consume fewer calories at times that your body doesn’t need as much fuel.
Carbs are not bad. Fat is not bad.
Use your head and eat real food when possible. Eat as much as you need but not as much as you feel like. Use some common sense and most of all, be honest with yourself.
*I’m not going into great detail on what to eat in this article because I find that many people push dietary agendas too far. If you find a diet that works for you, that’s great, but there is no Perfect Diet for everyone. In most cases, the simple guidelines linked above are really enough to bring about positive changes in body composition. Try it out and see for yourself.
Yes, Exercise is Important Too
You need to increase activity to create a caloric deficit.
Follow a GMB program, lift weights, work with a coach, play a sport, swim, or run. Whatever you enjoy. Seriously, that’s all it takes.
There’s no need to beat your brains out with ridiculous amounts of intervals or stupid-looking cardio-contraptions. You just need to add more movement – ideally, varied movement – into your routine.
Start with a little. Then add a little more.
Exercise is great (we’ve built our company on it!), but you don’t need to obsess over doing tons of it.
Why “Weird Tricks” and “Magic Berries” are Complete and Total BS
If you notice the magazines in the grocery checkout line or spend anytime researching health online, you’ve probably seen headlines that seem too good to be true.
Fat Loss BS to Avoid
There are a lot of perpetual myths going around about losing weight that don’t make much sense when you stop to think about them. But they play on our natural desires to want something for nothing, so we try to believe them.
I’m not going to go into depth on these, because they’ve been covered by much smarter people elsewhere, but here are a few “diet” claims you see often that are total BS:
- Spot Reduction – You cannot selectively burn belly fat with magical exercises or pills.
- “Cardio” – While cardiovascular health is important, “cardio” exercise does not burn fat any better than other types of training.
- Metabolic Conditioning – Your metabolism is a function of some very complex chemical processes in the body. While intense exercise does burn more fat than watching TV, there is no special routine that can permanently raise your metabolism.
Seriously, just never, ever, believe anyone selling any of the myths above. They are total crap and have been thoroughly debunked by countless scientists and researchers – not to mention the fact that the people trying these methods are still, by and large, no less fat than anybody else.
People to avoid:
- Anybody using the words “belly flab,” “flat tummy,” or “secret”
- Anybody selling supplements or shakes
This doesn’t mean there may not be some science behind their claims (though it’s likely misapplied). It’s simply that it’s in their best interest to promote certain ideas in order to sell more product.
*GMB also sells training programs, and we are biased. The distinction, in this case, is that we DO NOT sell ANY “fat loss” products and have zero financial stake in telling you that improving your diet is the best way to see your abs.
Do You Really Even Want This?
Keeping a six pack is hard work, and it might not be worth the effort for you.
I recommend measuring your bodyfat once a week or so using an electronic scale (they aren’t 100% accurate, but does it really matter?) and trying to keep your bodyfat below 15% for men or 25% for women.
No, those aren’t the numbers for six pack visibility, but that’s because having a six pack isn’t a signifier for health.
It’s just an aesthetic choice that you can choose to pursue or not.
If you decide you want the six pack, I’m sorry to say there are no short cuts. It takes consistent effort over a period of time (just like most other goals worth challenging).
Questions? Want more? Here’s our Recommendation:
Honestly, we’re not in the diet business. We like skill training, so when we’re looking for diet advice, we turn to our friend, Nate Miyaki.
As we’ve said before we don’t offer a specific program to “blast your fat” or anything like that, since GMB programs have the priorities of improved movement, strength and coordination. The change in body composition of more muscle and less fat is just a great side effect.
We do recommend programs by Nate Miyaki, such as his latest Feast Your Fat Away, because they are well researched, realistic, and proven to work. We also know Nate personally, and not just in a “met at a conference and decided to make money off each other” way.
We’ve known one of his clients for years, which is how we met. She’s a straight talker and recommended we get in touch with Nate, and Ryan has followed a custom plan from Nate with great results.
Nate has an effective approach that is sustainable and sane and doesn’t require unreasonable life changes to get great results.
*Disclaimer: We do get a small commission from Nate’s book through the link above, but would recommend his products regardless. He’s a good person in what can be an unethical industry.*