Updated: Feb 18
This article dispels the myths that surround abs and also divulges the secret behind how to get that super chiselled six pack.
Have you been chasing the dream of that washboard belly but for one reason or another found it to remain irritatingly elusive?
So then you’ve probably faithfully followed that infallible 5 minute ab blast brought to you by the good people at Men’s ‘Health’, or you’ve adopted that animal protein-laden diet that’s touted as being the next best thing for unveiling the six pack.
And what did you discover after wasting 5 minutes of your day for the past month doing crunches and suffering meat sweats?
‘Why did I get born with the obstinate ab gene!’ you said with seething contempt whilst pointing threateningly at that gelatinous tub of recalcitrant lard that just won’t budge.
Firstly, before we proceed any further, let’s clear one thing up.
If your motivation for exercise is a six pack you are a sad person - really sad. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t insult my readership but of all the aspirations and positive exercise outcomes – such as reduced risk of CHD, stroke, cancer (see my other article The Benefits of Exercise) – one of aesthetics should be way down the list. Shouldn’t be on the list.
Yet it could be argued that any motivation to exercise, even if it is really crappy, is a good one; certainly better than the sedentary alternative I suppose.
If this is the case for you I will divulge the secret of how to get abs like rock solid slabs.
But before I share this secret with you, you must first make a solemn, cross-your-heart-hope-to-die promise. The promise: that once I have shared this secret, which I am prepared to divulge for free, you will not use if for commercial gain. Promise?
Ok, then, here goes . . .
How to Get Abs!
Firstly: stop doing sit-ups!
‘What? Is this guy an idiot?’ I hear you exclaim. ‘You’re telling me that to get abs I’ve got to stop doing sit-ups?’ Uhum. That’s precisely what I’m saying. ‘But that’s a grotesque contradiction. It’d be like telling a fat person that to lose weight they need to eat more cake.’
Honestly, I could see how this may come across as contradictory but if you give me a minute to explain you might see the logic in the statement.
Imagine this. You take a trip to the Uffizi gallery to see Michelangelo’s David. When you get there you have to endure a mile-long queue in the searing Mediterranean heat. Finally, after half a day of suffering chronic ankle cramps you eventually gain admittance into the gallery. You quick step it to where David stands, anticipation building the closer you get. But alas! when you enter his quarters you find that he is concealed behind a thick curtain.
Ahhr! All you want is a couple of seconds to glimpse his super sleek torso, modest manly bits and eye-popping(ly) pert rear.
In a state of despair you stand and stair. Behind that inch thick veil stands quite possibly the single most splendid sculpture ever etched into marble.
Now, and here’s the point I’m trying to make, to behold that beauty you wouldn't think: ‘If only a brilliant contemporary sculptor could go behind the curtain and put a bit of spit and polish into David, buff him up some more, chisel and carve more defined features.’
The mere thought of that idea is preposterous. You agree? Good.
What’s the solution? ‘Simple,’ you say. ‘Tear down the curtain.’
Correct: Tear down the curtain! Tha-daaaaaa!!!!!!!
In that analogy David represents your six pack and the curtain the veil of fat that keeps it concealed. You with me?
So, now you understand why I said to get abs you must stop doing sit-ups. For you can do crunches, V-sits, flutter kicks, Russian twists and toe touches until the cows lumber home, but if you are carrying subcutaneous belly fat you’ll be daily engaging in an act of hopeless futility.
Ab exercises do not burn fat because they do not sufficiently stimulate the aerobic energy system.
It is for this reason why, when people ask me how to get abs, I tell them ‘Do cardio!’
I also advise against doing sit-ups because they can lead to lower back injury. Regularly flexing and extending the thoracoabdomen area, which causes acute compressions of the intervertebral discs, can, over time, result in a weakening and destabilisation of the vertebrae. I’m sure you see where this is going.
To demonstrate what can happen when the vertebrae is repeatedly flexed, a pig’s spine, which apparently shares many anatomical similarities to that of a human’s, was placed in a mechanical contraption. This contraption would simulate the flexion/extension action similar to sit-ups. After a few thousand flexions the spine doesn’t break – it shatters. (There is a video of this on YouTube but I was unable to locate it – apologies.)
So far I’ve divulged one secret of how to get abs. They are:
Don’t do sit-ups! Sit-ups do not burn fat but bugger-up your back.
Do cardio. Cardio metabolises fat which shrinks fat cells which unveils that washboard.
But there’s more!
As well as getting plenty of cardio into your training regime, including HIIT training and circuits, you should look to clean up your diet. Now I don’t know why chicken is supposed to be the food of choice in the fight for a flat stomach, but there is precisely zero credible evidence to support this cluckery.
Perhaps one of the best diets for improving muscle tonality is plant based. A diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, essential oils and fats and whole grains is the nutritional equivalent of having Michelangelo chiselling away at your torso (and the rest of your body).
Why? Those foods that rob us of our internal health also work to erode our external appearance. It is common knowledge that processed foods, sugary foods and saturated fat derived from animal protein are pernicious. By cutting them out and transitioning to a plant based diet we will enjoy the double benefit of a significant reduction in visceral and subcutaneous body fat.
And finally . . .
I enter the final part of my secret with mounting trepidation. For this point that I’m soon to raise is highly contentious. And I neither have the learning nor inclination needed to conduct the research on which to support what I’m about to say.
Anyway, as I see it, some people just don’t have the genetic endowment needed for a six pack.
Years back a training partner of mine desperately wanted washboard abs. He tried every Men’s Health ab workout he could get his hands on; he tried every quack diet; ate chicken until he started to spit feathers; and he even dabbled in cardio – which, for a pumping iron protégé, is saying something; truly, an instance of the leopard changing its spots.
But his obstinate abs refused to rear their six heads from behind that immovable layer of belly fat.
I remember asking him one day if he thought it possible that he’d hit a biological barrier that, without resorting to extremes – cosmetic intervention – was insurmountable. He didn’t want to capitulate because doing so would not only be an admission of defeat but also an acknowledgement of so much time and energy wasted.
So what did he do? You guessed it. He subscribed to Men’s Health and doubled his chicken portions. What did this achieve? You know it. Precisely nothing.
What can we take from this anecdote? Two things. Thing 1: The clever person learns from their mistakes whereas the philosopher learns from the mistakes made by others. Thing 2: You can't beat your biology.
Six super simple steps to get your super chiselled six pack
Step 1: Stop doing sit-ups! They'll bugger your back up
Step 2: Stop eating animal protein
Step 3: Stop eating refined carbohydrates and processed food
Step 5: Do lots of cardio
Step 6: Do lots of circuit training
Why not consider canning your aspiration of ‘getting abs’ and instead make augmented health your exercise and fitness motivation? By doing so you will be pursuing a goal that could have a dramatic positive impact on your life.
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.