When I read articles with titles like this one (Six Pack Abs etc…), it disappoints me when the author chooses to explain the obvious to the reader: body fat reduction occurs evenly over the entire body, and abdominal muscles grow from abdominal exercises.
To that I would say:
thanks, guy. You’ve really solved a problem for me there.
Except he hasn’t and I’m being super sarcastic.
The two are necessary to achieve the holy grail of the six pack look but there are various paths to go down which ultimately lead to pretty different timelines for the results to appear.
One route, which is all to often followed by guys at the gym wearing white tank tops and gold chains, is to do lots of sit-ups followed by some uphill treadmill walking while uploading selfies to Instagram.
That will probably work eventually, provided their diet is in check, but their core muscles might not be well balanced and they won’t have achieved their goal within half the time that they could have.
Nonetheless, it is true that there are 2 key factors to getting a six pack.
- Fat loss
- Muscle growth
Losing (or Burning) Fat Effectively
Treadmill walking is a thing, and a thing a lot of people seem to believe is the best for burning fat.
Look at any treadmill and you will see the chart telling you what heart rate range equates to what type of exercise. And right there in the low to medium aerobic range is the “fat burning zone”.
The “fat burning zone” is a boring place where dreams of a carved physique go to die. It should be called the “point where your body is burning fat for fuel by using oxygen zone”.
That may sound like the winning formula, but if you walk for twenty minutes, you’ll have burned about as many calories as there are in a piece of toast and your excess post exercise oxygen consumption will be very little.
Excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is what occurs in the 24 hours after you have exercised, and it is responsible for the increased fat burning effect of exercise during those hours.
Aerobic exercise (the fat burning zone) doesn’t cause high EPOC. Anaerobic exercise on the other hand definitely does.
Twenty minutes spent doing high intense interval training, short burst sprint intervals, or some kind of explosive stop/start workout, will have a much greater fat loss effect than the slow and steady approach.
You can read more about your metabolism and how to use it to your advantage, starting with this article on boosting metabolism.
Intense, anaerobic interval training also helps trigger anabolic processes and hormonal changes that favour the growth of muscle tissue.
Perhaps even more importantly than anything else, you should follow a high protein diet so that you can maintain the muscle mass you are building through your strength and resistance training, and increase your fat burning rates even more.
Muscle Growth for Six Pack Abs
Now that you’re torching fat effectively, you need to build the muscle groups you need for the day your body fat is low enough to start showing them off.
Lots of sit-ups and crunches will exhaust the muscles in the six-pack area of interest, but there are better things you can do for both your abdominal muscle growth and your overall muscularity.
For starters, muscle hypertrophy and the anabolic growth processes behind it is triggered by the mechanical action of contracting and extending muscle tissues under load.
Generally speaking, lifting moderately high weight for moderately high rep sets is the best way to stimulate size increases. And if you want a carved six pack, surely bigger abs are the way forward.
I won’t go into the finer details of exercises here, but adding weight to your abdominal workouts, and increasing it over time as your strength increases will absolutely grow bigger abs. Exampled include rope pull downs, weighted sit-ups, weighted leg raises…the list goes on.
The ab wheel is probably one of the best total core strength and six pack builders in the game. And it has major room for improvement as you get stronger, going from rolling out from your knees to full body toe-to-outstretched-fingertips extension.
That said, working predominantly on the external – “showy” – ab muscles are really the icing on the cake.
Strengthening your total core, from your inner transverse abs, pelvic floor, inner obliques, external obliques, adductors as well as your posterior core connectors like the spinal erectors, quad lumbar, upper glutes and lats, is hugely important to your core’s stability, and ultimately, its muscularity.
Consider your inner core and the core connectors as the foundations and the structural framework for everything else. Your external abs are built on top of them, and they can only grow large and strong if the inner core is strong.
That means focusing on isometric exercises like the plank, which itself can range from easy to massively difficult, to strengthen your “true’ core.
It also means incorporating big compound movements into your regimen, such as squats and deadlifts.
Not only will all of this improve both core strength and muscle growth, it will increase your total body strength and muscle growth allowing you to lift heavier as time goes by.
Also once your inner core is strong and full, it will provide a firm base for your external abs, making any growth there show that much sooner.
Six Pack Abs Conclusion
Yes, six pack abs are achieved through fat loss and exercise. Everybody knows that, but they still want to know how to speed up the process.
The often seen sit-ups and light “fat burning zone” cardio is not the ultimate recipe for success by a long shot.
Explosive anaerobic intervals are the key to better quality fat burning, while the six pack abs are built more efficiently alongside other muscle groups and the more hidden inner core.
What’s more, working out for total body strength will increase the load you can bear with your abs and thus the muscle growth response thereafter.
As a final remark, and hopefully a lasting one, they say “six packs are built in the kitchen.” That is to say, following a rounded resistance program, including some intense cardio, will do all the construction work, but it’s your diet that will ultimately determine your success in showing it off.