Getting to visible abs is a goal many people have (sometimes out loud, sometimes in secret because admitting you care for aesthetics is looked down upon by society.) The question is how long will it take YOU specifically to get abs if you were to start a diet and exercise program?
And by YOU I’m referring to:
- Your current body fat percentage
- Your diet
- Your exercise program
I’ll walk you through the process to find out exactly how long it’ll take to get abs, considering the three factors above.
Let’s use the hypothetical Mary to help guide us through the steps.
How to get visible abs (even a 6-pack.)
#1: Drop your body fat percentage to “athlete” level.
The most important factor for developing visible ab muscles is body fat percentage. If there is a layer of fat over the abdominal muscles, you won’t be able to see them, no matter how strong your abs are. Mary has abs, but she can’t see them because her body fat percentage isn’t low enough.
And by “low body fat percentage” I don’t mean low just to be healthy. I’m referring to “low” in order to see abs, which is still healthy for most people but lower than what’s needed for general health.
(Yes, getting 6-pack abs is no walk in the park.)
What is the optimal body fat percentage for visible abs?
- For men: 6 – 9%
- For women: 16 – 19%
At these body fat percentages, you will likely be able see definition of ab muscles. These percentages are considered to be within the athlete body fat range, which is why it takes dedication to get to this point!
Let’s compare this to average body fat percentages:
- An average male who weighs 200 lbs: would be expected to have a body fat 21% or have about 42 lbs of body weight made up of fat.
- An average female who weighs 165 lbs: would be expected to have a body fat of about 28% or have about 46 lbs of body weight made up of fat
This means the average male would need to loss around 12-15% body fat and the average female around 9-12% body fat to reach the optimal range for seeing abs.
You can see in the below chart some more examples of average body fat percentages and classifications
|Body Fat Percentage Chart (1)||Men||Women|
|Obese||? 25%||? 32%|
#2: Start doing muscle-building exercise.
If you’re not exercising, a flat belly will most likely be just that – a flat belly. Some people call that “skinny fat.” You may get some ab definition when body fat percentage is low, but nowhere near the definition you could get if you add strength exercise into the mix.
- Cardio exercise will help out by helping you burn fat faster, and hence reach your body fat percentage goal more rapidly.
- Strength-training exercise won’t just help you burn fat faster, it’ll also give shape to those muscles.
- Strength-training while losing body fat will help you retain lean muscle mass. After all, you want to drop the fat, you don’t want to lose weight by losing your muscle!
HIIT workouts that provide both strength-training and cardio will work best for super-busy people. These workouts are good if you have less than 1 hour a week total to exercise. For everyone else, a combination of isotonic and isometric exercises will be great.
Now do you need to focus on specifically ab-targeting exercises such as variations of crunches or different types of planks?
Nope, ab exercises can be a part of your workout but they don’t need to be the main part of your workout. In fact, I would argue that you could skip ab exercises altogether in favor of a total body strength-training program, and still get great results and visible abs.
Your abs help stabilize your body so they’re pretty much working all-the-time. Any standing exercise you do? Those abs are working to keep you upright. Back exercises like the lat pull down? Those abs are activated hard to help you pull that weight down.
Keep in mind I’m not advocating against doing ab-focused exercises. I’m just clarifying that you don’t necessarily need them to get abs.
Before you move on… Make sure to track whether you’re losing fat specifically
Your total body weight e.g. the number on the scales may not give you an accurate representation of body fat loss. As you gain muscle your weight may stay the same or increase even if your body fat percentage is decreasing. This is because you are building muscle which has a volume less than fat – fat takes up more space. So, make sure to keep track using weight and continue to calculate body fat percentage as discussed previously.
Tips to make dieting easier and/or more effective
- Remove liquid calories that don’t help at all with satiety
- Focus on nutrient dense foods such as vegetables and whole grains, these are high in fiber and will fill you up
- Cut back on empty calorie foods
- Eat enough protein for increased satiety and muscle building (4)
- Eat enough food post workout so you don’t become overly hungry at a later stage
- Also, don’t eat too much food post workout! Try not to pig out just because your worked out, eat within your calorie requirements
- Be prepared! Try meal prepping and take healthy snack options with you go out
- Make healthy options easy, put a fruit bowl on the table and cut up veggie sticks and put in the fridge
- Cut back on the beer and cocktails!
What if you decide getting a 6-pack is not worth the effort?
For all those out there that don’t have visible abs keep in mind this isn’t a measure of health of fitness. You can still be fit, healthy and strong without abs!
Getting a 6-pack you see is no walk in the park, it takes quite a bit of effort to get there.
So are you up for the 6-pack challenge or does this all seem like it’s too much effort? Leave a comment and let me know.
Click here to view the sources referenced in this article.