Building a 6 pack can be a confusing process & there is a lot of misguided information out there. Read this article to learn the science behind 6 pack abs.
With summer just around the corner that desired six pack quest is likely at the forefront of your mind.
While there are lots of different resources and plans online proposing unique methods on how to get a six pack by using some technique, supplement or fad, this article will focus on the core principles you should know.
Here’s some six pack science to make sure your fat loss efforts are on the right track.
Understanding the Science of a Six Pack
You’ve probably heard the phrase that abs are made in the kitchen and it actually holds a lot of truth.
Before trying to get a shredded six pack, you must understand how it is actually achieved, from a scientific perspective. Firstly, everyone has some form of a six pack, but the degree of our abdominal definition and six pack quality is dependent on just a few key variables:
1. Body fat levels: The amount of overall body fat you have. For most, this is too high to actually reveal your six pack. Even if you have the world’s best set of abs, if your body fat is too high you’ll never see it.
2. Abdominal muscle mass: Once you are lean enough, additional ab work and ab muscle mass can improve ab definition and thickness.
3. Abdominal structure and genetics: Some people are just blessed to have a good six pack. They store less body fat around the abs and may also have great ab genetics giving them a six pack worthy of a cover model.
4. Body fat storage and stubborn fat areas: Some people may store excess fat on the stomach, which means they need to diet extra hard and get very lean to reduce stubborn fat around the belly/core.
For most people, the key focus should be simply stripping down body fat, specifically around the belly. Most people will have sufficient core/ab muscles to actually provide a head-turning six pack if they were simply lean enough. After all, lots of lean athletes and even members of the general public who never train their abs can have a good six pack when lean enough.
Therefore, instead of focusing on thousands of crunches and ab workouts, the priority should be overall fat loss and especially belly fat loss. Once you are getting very lean and can see your six pack, it may then be worth adding in some ab specific work to increase the abdominal density and thickness.
What Body Fat Level Do You Need to See Your Six Pack?
As mentioned, you need to be very lean to actually see your six pack.
This varies depending on the individual; however, here’s a brief guide:
Men: Anywhere below 14% body fat can start to show the six pack outline. However, below 10% body fat will give a more cover model and defined six pack look, revealing the lower abs as well.
Women: Because women store more body fat in general, they can likely start to see their abs once they hit the 20% mark. Again, this becomes more defined and noticeable around the 16% mark. Women will likely get below 14% body fat when using gold standard testing methods because they store fat around organs as added protection during child birth.
Therefore, a women should aim for 20% or slightly less and not try to use the general 10% body fat rule that most people/coaches recommend.
Due to how body fat is stored, some men may be at 12% total body fat with great abs whereas others may need to get to 8%. This simply depends on genetics and where you may store stubborn fat. For some it’s the legs, others the arms, chest or abs.
If you store most of your fat on the stomach and are very lean everywhere else you will simply need to diet longer to get a great six pack. Sadly, these are our genetics that we cannot manipulate, so we just need to be aware of what we have and what we must do to reach our goal.
Ab Workouts vs Other Workouts
If you want a great six pack I’m actually going to recommend you minimize ab workouts.
While this may sound counter-intuitive and strange, it makes perfect sense once you understand the biggest limiting factor is overall body fat and not your abdominal muscles.
As mentioned, you’ve probably already got a great set of abs waiting for you; therefore, we just need to lose the body fat as quickly and efficiently as possible.
To do this, we actually need to focus on workout modalities that burn body fat as quickly as possible. Sadly, because the core is a smaller muscle group, it’s not actually that efficient at burning body fat, especially compared to other forms of exercise such as Metabolic Resistance training and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
By focusing on these 2 forms for 80% of your exercise regime/time, you will burn fat 2-3 times faster than just doing tons of core/ab workouts. This will increase the speed you reach the body fat levels listed above and reveal your six pack. As mentioned, once you are getting very lean and close to that body fat level, you can add in some actual core/ab specific work if you wish.
Heavy resistance training and HIIT is also far superior as it burns more calories within the workout and also boosts your metabolism for up to 48 hours after the session, which means you will lose weight much more quickly and keep burning fat even once you leave the gym.
If you do love ab training or wish to train your core for other health/biomechanical benefits, then this is fine, but I would limit it to just 10-15 minutes at the end of your main workouts.
Eating For Your Six Pack
If our main goal is reducing overall body fat levels, then diet is going to play an extremely important role in this.
By pinpointing your nutrition, you can quickly burn body fat which will help reveal your abs and give you a great six pack. Combined with the exercise methods mentioned above (Resistance training and HIIT) you will see noticeable results and be six pack-ready this summer.
When it comes to a well-designed weight loss nutrition plan there are a few fundamental variables we must master. Here’s an overview:
Protein: Protein is key for losing fat; with research showing it can double weight loss while also protecting your hard earned muscle.
Total Calories: Total energy balance or calorie intake is also vital. Ultimately, you must be consuming fewer calories than your body needs so it is forced to burn stored body fat. As a rule of thumb, for fast weight loss I recommend you aim for around 11 – 12 calories per 1 lb (0.45 kg) of bodyweight. For a 200 lb (90.7 kg) individual, this would equal around 2200 – 2400 calories per day.
Fiber: Added fiber can boost weight loss, improve your gut bacteria health, reduce hunger cravings and help you burn belly fat. Aim for around 30g of fiber per day, from wholefoods sources such as fruit, whole grains, vegetables, nuts and beans/legumes.
Use Scientifically Researched Supplements: Certain supplements can enhance weight loss once your diet and training are in place. Two key supplements for fat loss are caffeine and green tea. Interestingly, both of these work synergistically to actually burn body fat straight from the stomach.
They do this by increasing catecholmines, which help mobilize stubborn body fat stores, releasing the fatty acids into the blood stream to be burnt as fuel. Try taking around 500mg of green tea with 200mg of caffeine twice per day, once in the AM, once in the afternoon.
Carbs & Fat: There are many dieting methods these days, from low-carb diets to carb backloading and the common high carb, low fat diet. All methods can work; ultimately, if protein intake is high and your daily calories are reduced, you will see good results.
Some research shows low-carb diets are great for burning belly fat and losing weight; however, if protein and calories are controlled, a higher carb low fat diet can also work very well. Base your carb and fat intake on your own personal preference, what you enjoy, how much you exercise and your carbohydrate/insulin sensitivity.
Six Pack Science Summarized
Hopefully you now understand the key scientific principles behind sculpting the perfect six pack.
Firstly, assessing your current body fat level will let you know where you are at and the time frame involved. From here, you can set realistic goals and keep yourself accountable and consistent.
Next, your big focus is to simply reduce body fat levels as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible by mastering the key fundamentals discussed above.