We’ve all heard that “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym” and this is somewhat true, but not entirely.
One of the biggest myths about abs is that you don’t need to train them, you just need to lose the layer of fat on top for them to be visible. While you do need a lower body fat percentage to see the abdominal muscles, you still need to train them like any other muscle.
Getting 6 pack abs doesn’t happen overnight, but with time and consistency, you can achieve your goals. However, I often see people doing the wrong things trying to get abs, which slows their progress. So we’re going to explore the common mistakes and my best tips to get a flat defined tummy.
Your back and core muscles wrap the trunk of your body like a corset to support upper and lower body mobility. However, the core often becomes weak from lack of activation and the back muscles take the brunt of the load. This leads to an increased risk for back injuries and chronic back pain. Having a strong core will alleviate some of the burdens from your back. The core and back muscles should work in sync, but if you have a weak core, you may be setting yourself up for future back issues.
How do you know if you have a weak core? Here are some symptoms of a weak core:
- Low Back Pain
- Poor Posture
- Slumped Shoulders
- Difficulty getting up from a lying position
- Discomfort standing for long periods of time
- Balance Issues
If you sit in a chair all day, it’s likely that your core will become more relaxed, as it doesn’t need to be active resting in a chair. So if you don’t use it, you lose it holds true for the core. It’s time to wake up those muscles, get them training to support your back, but also to get you a lean flat stomach.
When training abdominal muscles, you want to be sure you’re training the RIGHT muscles for your goals. Having a visible 6 pack does not mean you have a strong core. You must work the deep inner core muscles along with the outer 6 pack for a strong & snatched core.
You have multiple layers of abdominal muscles with four main muscle groups. You must train all muscle groups, but most importantly the inner TA muscles to sinch the waist. If you only work on the outer 6-pack muscles, your core will appear wider and lose that hourglass shape. Therefore, it’s important to know which core muscles you’re stimulating in your workouts, so let’s review.
- Transversus Abdominis (TA)– deepest core muscles that stabilize your trunk and support back muscles
- Rectus Abdominis– “6 Pack” outer layer of muscles responsible for movement between the ribs & pelvis
- External Obliques– outer side muscles near hip bones attaching to ribs for twisting motion
- Internal Obliques– inside layer running in the opposite direction of external obliques for twisting
We all have abs like we all have biceps, the difference is that abs aren’t as visible since they are typically covered with a layer of fat. This means that you need a low body fat percentage since abs aren’t visible until you’re lean enough. The trick is to train your abs and adjust your diet to reduce body fat and make them pop.
How To Build Abs: Exercise
Your abs are just like any other muscle that needs to be worked out to “pop” and get more defined. However, many people train their ab muscles all wrong. The problem is that with traditional crunches and sit-ups, you’re training the outer muscles, the 6 pack, and causing a wider abdominal appearance. Instead, we should work on the inner and outer core muscles for strength, stability, and snitching the waist.
Before you do any core exercises, I recommend that you feel where you’re targeting by doing belly breathing/vacuums to activate those deep TA muscles. These keep your waist pulled in essentially like wearing a corset.
Belly breathing isn’t sucking in, but an inward pulling of your belly button to your spine and hold while simultaneously letting out all your air. Really force every bit of air that you can out of your lungs and feel that downward pulling of your belly and hold.
- Let’s do this together: inhale big then exhale and pull your belly button inward towards your spine. Continue to let out all the air in your lungs, hold a few seconds, release, and relax. Repeat this about 3-5 times.
Now we’re ready to do some core exercises that activate, engage, and build strength.
To activate, I like to start with body weight only like walk-out plank holds and bicycle holds. When doing any core exercise, it’s about being slow and controlled. The faster you move, you’re really just going with momentum and not working the right muscles.
Next, engage all those smaller muscle groups to work on stability and balance exercises like standing core exercises. Using a balance pad or board can add an extra element of challenge.
And lastly, add weights and resistance with dumbells, ankle weights, and resistance bands. Build intensity over time by adding more weight, longer holds, more reps, and more challenging moves.
Diet for Abs
Now let’s get into the kitchen portion for defined abs. Reducing your body fat amount is the goal, but unfortunately, we can’t spot target only abdominal fat. Belly fat can be stubborn, especially around the lower abs. For women, we fluctuate with water retention and bloating at certain times of the month adding just that extra bonus of a challenge, but you can still get the abs you want!
It’s important when building muscle that you eat enough protein. Protein is the building block for all cells and is required for muscle growth and development. If you don’t know how much protein you need click here to find out your Macros.
Next, be sure you’re staying well hydrated. According to the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the daily recommended intake for water is:
- Men: 3.7 L (125 oz) = 7 bottles (16.9oz) of water, basically a gallon of water
- Women: 2.7 L (91 oz) = 5 bottles (16.9oz) of water, more than 1/2 a gallon of water
However, if you’re working out/sweating more, you will need to consume more water. Staying hydrated helps to flush out toxins and reduce bloating. Focus on whole fruits and veggies, lean meats, and heart-healthy fats.
Things to Avoid/Limit:
- Processed foods like fast food and anything prepackaged. Not only packed with unhealthy ingredients that promote belly fat, but is also high in sodium, which causes more water retention and bloating. This means skipping anything deep-fried.
- Soda, Alcohol, and other sweetened beverages
- Added sugars and refined grains
- High Stress- too much stress leads to too much cortisol (the stress hormone). Cortisol promotes belly fat accumulation.
- Engage Abs first thing in the morning so that they are activated throughout your day
- Belly breathing & vacuums for inner TA muscles
- Don’t only focus on abs! Your core is meant to be functional during all types of movements. Instead, perform total body movements with a focus on keeping the core tight.
- Interval Cardio- HIIT can get you faster fat loss results while still maintaining muscle compared to long cardio endurance training.
- Stretching the abdominal muscles can encourage elongation of the core muscles and prevent strains.
These are some of my favorite fitness accessories to really work your core!
Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website. Some links in this article may contain affiliate links.