The definition of your abdominal muscles is largely dependent on how low your body fat is. The less body fat you carry, the more defined your abdominal muscles look. Your body stores fat on top of muscle. The solution to this is creating an environment in which your body can start burning fat for energy.
Step 1: Create a Negative Calorie Balance. Calorie balance is the relationship between how many calories you burn and how many you eat. A layer of fat covering your abs means that you’ve been in a positive calorie balance for quite sometime. A positive calorie balance (calorie surplus) leads to fat storage and weight gain because when you eat more than you burn, your body stores that extra energy as fat. This fat sits on top of muscles in your arms, chest and midsection, obscuring any definition you may have. To burn the fat, reverse your calorie trend and create a negative calorie balance (calorie deficit): burn more calories than you eat. When you burn more than you eat, your body makes up the shortfall of energy from body fat. This forces the body to burn fat which increases your definition. This is the single most important step in getting abs. If you don’t follow this step, you will never see any definition. There are two steps in creating a negative calories balance: 1) use the calorie calculator to figure out how many calories your body burns each day and, 2) track your calorie intake to ensure you’re eating less than you burn. Don’t cut your calorie intake too drastically as it can adversely affect your metabolism: Diet vs. Exercise for Weight Loss.
Step 2: Eat Healthy Foods. Though calorie balance is the primary factor that determines how much body fat you burn, the types of food you eat can also help define your midsection. Foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates tend to increase fat storage. These two ingredients are digested and absorbed very quickly. The quick digestion process floods your body with a large amount of energy in a short period of time. Since your body doesn’t have the need for so much energy at once, it uses what it can and stores the rest as fat. Sugar/refined carbs (doughnuts, candy, sweets, fruit juices, sodas, sweet tea, white bread, breakfast cereal, white rice) should be replaced with options that are low or sugar free and high in fiber and complex carbs (vegetables, nuts, 100% whole wheat bread/pasta, old fashioned oatmeal, brown rice and beans). Foods that take longer to digest are less likely to promote fat storage.
Step 3: Eat Smaller More Frequent Meals. Another type of behavior that leads to excessive fat storage is eating large meals. Large meals provide the body with a lot of energy. Again, the body uses what it can and stores the rest as fat. Smaller meals and snacks are better utilized by the body because they only provide a small amount of energy that the body can burn right away. Instead of eating three large meals per day, eat smaller meals and snacks.
Step 4: Cardiovascular Exercise. Cardio helps burn a large amount of calories which helps you create a negative calorie balance. Cardio should be done 3-5 times per week, 30-60 minutes per session. The more fat you have to burn, the more time you need to spend doing cardio. Good examples of cardio include (but not limited to): running, swimming, playing most sports and any other activity that gets your heart rate up for a continuously long period of time. Avoid the fat burning zone available on most cardio equipment. The fat burning zone works on the fact that lower intensity exercises burn more fat than other types of energy. While this is true, a fat burning zone also burns less total calories than a higher intensity workout. At the end of the day, burning the most amount of total calories will help you shed fat the quickest.
Step 5: Strength Training. Strength training is an often overlooked area of fat burning. Strength training builds muscle. Muscle tissue is demanding on the body in terms of the energy it requires. Muscle burns calories, even at rest. The more muscle you build, the more calories you burn throughout the day. This will help burn more fat, helping you get a six pack. See a sample workout at: Full Body vs. Split Routine.
Step 6: Avoid Abdominal Myth #1. The biggest six pack myth (or misconception) is that doing lots of ab exercises (sit ups, leg raises…) will get you a perfect midsection. The exercises that target abs will make those muscles stronger but they won’t do anything to solve the problem that most people face; too much body fat. Spot reducing (burning fat from a specific area of your body) is impossible. You don’t choose where you burn fat from, your body does. Targeting your abs with specific exercises shouldn’t be ignored, but doing those exercises alone will not yield the results you’re looking for. You need to combine targeted ab exercises with lots of cardio/strength training and a calorie restricted diet.
The Bottom Line
Getting a six pack requires dedication and consistency. Don’t skip gym days and don’t cheat on your diet (too often). Consistent plans will lead to quick results.