The Brutal Truth About Six Pack Abs and a Fresh Approach on Training Them

Everybody wants a 6-pack.  When searching the most commonly Googled fitness related terms, “abs workout” was tops on the list with “Kim K booty exercise” trailing just a few clicks behind.  This post is my way of giving the public what they want.  I could take a guess at how that famous pair of glutes looks as flawless as it does for the Gram, but I’ll leave that alone and focus on unlocking the great mystery of 6-pack abs.  We are all born with abs.  If you can pull yourself out of bed and stand up and walk around, congrats! you have abs!  Read on to figure out the best ways to reveal them.

First, lets narrow our focus.  This article will be discussing abs as they relate to aesthetics (how they look with your shirt off).  We aren’t going to discuss how to hold a 2-hour long plank or how to perform banded squat thrusts with pink dumbbells on top of a bosu ball while “holding the core tight”.  None of that.  While most of the exercises discussed will assist with lifting and life in general, the goal of this post is to provide a road map to visible abdominal definition you are proud to display when the time comes to hit the pool or beach.  Shallow? Maybe.  But don’t tell me you aren’t interested, Google doesn’t lie!

You Have to Be Lean

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This is rule #1.  There is literally no way to have a six pack when you are carrying too much fat.  This sounds obvious but you would be surprised how often folks that have decades of overeating congregating at their midsection try to display abdominal definition with an infinite number of weighted crunches.  It isn’t going to happen.  Herniating a disc is a much more likely scenario.  If your abs are buried under adipose tissue, even if they are the strongest abs on the planet, they won’t be visible.  If you aren’t lean enough to see abs, get lean enough to see abs.  This generally happens at 10%-12% body fat for men and 17%-19% for women.  If you are hanging out closer to 25%-30%+, crunches are the least of your worries.  Choose a comprehensive training program (Ignition Protocol is a great option, click here for details!) and nutrition plan to start getting leaner, stronger, and healthier.  Worry more about abdominal definition later.

Thor Bjornsson (The mountain on GOT) is by all accounts the strongest man on Earth. He may not always display ab definition, but I can say with relative ease that he has stronger abs than 99.9% of human beings walking around with 6-packs. To see abs, you have to be lean enough, bottom line. If his abs are strong enough to support over 1000lbs while deadlifting or squatting yet lack definition, do you think tossing that 2.5 lb plate on the ab machine is whats going to get you a 6-pack? Doubtful.

Thor Bjornsson (The mountain on GOT) is by all accounts the strongest man on Earth. He may not always display ab definition, but I can say with relative ease that he has stronger abs than 99.9% of human beings walking around with 6-packs. To see abs, you have to be lean enough, bottom line. If his abs are strong enough to support over 1000lbs while deadlifting or squatting yet lack definition, do you think tossing that 2.5 lb plate on the ab machine is whats going to get you a 6-pack? Doubtful.

Muscle Up

Having some lean muscle mass is going to make your six pack stand out.  If you try to cardio and starve yourself to abs, you’ll wind up looking like Christian Bale in the Machinist, a skinny pre-pubescent teen, or Bieber.  Those aren’t the abs we’re looking for.  Thick, chunky, abs that show well and provide stability for the rest of your frame under heavy loads in the gym look nothing like the photos below.  Again, building muscle mass will require strength training and targeted nutrition. If you focus on heavy compound lifts (squats, rows, deadlifts, presses, etc.) and are lean enough at the midsection, you may not even need to worry about direct ab training to see abs, the following program is to make sure they stand out.

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Ab Training Breakdown

This program is split into 2 parts:

1)     Ab training for those that are not lean

2)     Ab training for those that are lean.

Leanness for our purposes means you can see a hint of abdominal definition in the mirror, 10-12% body fat for males, 17-19% for females, or really, any other metric to show that you are indeed; not carrying too much fat to see abdominal muscle.

Section 1: Not Lean

Ab training in this section will be focused more on stability and transverse abdominis and less on hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) of the rectus abdominis to support fat loss efforts.  While I’m focused primarily on aesthetics in this post, if you can’t see them, what’s the point? You need to drop the fat first and focus more on functionality for now until you reach the level of leanness that will show definition.

This is to be ADDED TO A COMPETENT STRENGTH TRAINING PROTOCOL.  Doing these exercises alone or paired with 25 minutes on the elliptical will not produce the results you want!  After you have finished your strength work, choose 1 exercise from the list below and perform 3 sets.  Do this 3 or 4 times per week and cycle through the movements so each one gets the love they deserve.

If you can hold a true plank for :45 with no back pain or pressure, move on to the exercises listed.  If you can’t, hit standard planks until you can before you attempt these exercises.

 

1)     Physio ball Roll Out x 10-12 reps

Locate a physio ball of smaller or medium size. Assume a plank position on the ball. Keeping abs braced, extend the elbows out in front of you as far as you can without falling or feeling any lower back pressure. Next, return to the plank position.

2)     Garhammer Raise x 15-20 reps

Assume position on a back supported leg raise station with bodyweight supported at elbows and back firmly located against the pad. Bring the knees up to waist height to form a 90-degree angle at the hip. From this position, drive the knees towards your chest as high as you can while keeping your back against the pad.

3)     Pallof Press x 10-12 reps

Please excuse the crappy video, the lighting in my kitchen at the time was awful, and yes i know, my sons artwork on the fridge is legit.

This exercise can be done with bands or cables from any pulley system. Grab the handle or band and hold at mid chest. Extend elbows straight in front of you until the elbows are locked, pause for a second or 2 and then return to the starting position. Keep abs BRACED for the duration of the set. Do both sides.

4)     Crunches (using ab mat) x 12-15 reps

Use an Ab Mat under your low back to achieve extension at the lumbar spine during the starting position of the movement. This well ensure hitting the rectus abdominis through it's maximal range of motion. Simply crunch forward and focus on closing the distance between the bottom of your rib cage and pelvis.

5)     Body Saw x 10-12 reps

Locate a hard floor and place a towel or sliding disc down. Get into a plank position, placing the feet on the towel or disc. Brace abs as hard as possible and keeping straight line between ankles and shoulders, use your arms to slide your toes back and forth on the floor. Go back as far as you can and then return to a normal plank position to complete a rep. Keep the tension in the abs. If you feel lower back pressure than either you went back too far or you aren’t ready for this movement. (In this case, go back to planks)

Section 2: Kind of Lean

Before you tackle this routine, you should be able to see some definition in your midsection or at least be close.  Some folks are luckier than others and lack fat deposits around the stomach enabling them to have visible abs at a higher percentage of fat.  Nobody likes these people because they suck.  Now is when most of us who didn’t win that lottery need to focus on hypertrophy (muscle growth) of the rectus abdominis to put the six pack on display.

The exercises will be used at a higher frequency and focus less on stability and more on hypertrophy.  Use this program for 6-8 weeks along with whatever strength protocol you are following (did i say Ignition Protocol is a good option? click here). 

After your strength work, choose 1 exercise and perform 4 sets. These should be done 5 or 6 times per week.  Cycle through all of the exercises.

1)     Rope Crunches x 10-12 reps

Thanks to bodybuilding.com for the assist. Excuse the ad, they did a really good job explaining this movement so I got lazy and went with that. I cant stress enough how important it is to exhale on the way down and contract your abs as hard as possible at the bottom, that’s the key here, not more weight.

2)     Garhammer Raise x 20 reps

3)     Body Saw x 10-12 reps

4)     Crunches (using ab mat) x 12-15 reps. If necessary, use a weight at the chest to provide resistance.

5)     Hanging Knee Raise  x 12-15 reps        

Once again, thanks to bodybuilding.com for the video. Great description. Make sure you are not swinging here, this makes the exercise pretty much useless in terms of abdominal activation.

 

This regimen is not to be done year-round, it’s to push the extra 2% to look your best.  After 6-8 weeks, give your abs a break for a week and go back to a more well-rounded and slightly less frequent abdominal training program similar to the one outlined in section 1. 

*Bathroom selfie alert (this was hard for me to post as selfie’s aren’t my style. It made sense in the context of this post, so against my better judgement here it is)   * This was me flexing in the mirror a couple years ago after blitzing my abs with a similar protocol for 8 weeks. While great for the 6-pack, this program does nothing to cure a man’s inability to put the toilet seat down after use.

*Bathroom selfie alert (this was hard for me to post as selfie’s aren’t my style. It made sense in the context of this post, so against my better judgement here it is)* This was me flexing in the mirror a couple years ago after blitzing my abs with a similar protocol for 8 weeks. While great for the 6-pack, this program does nothing to cure a man’s inability to put the toilet seat down after use.

Traditional strength training with loads that provide the right amount of intensity for growth will do most of the work for the abs, direct ab training is the cherry on top of the sundae.  Use this program to ensure they stand out!    

 
Ignition Protocol. Available for free (limited time) 4.19.19 on Amazon

Ignition Protocol. Available for free (limited time) 4.19.19 on Amazon