Everyone wants it….. The defined stomach.
The “toned”, flat belly that you can confidently show off at the beach during Summer. However, it still remains elusive to so many. After all the sit-ups, planks and crunches you still can’t get your abs to pop. What’s the answer?!
The answer, although you may not like it, is not more ab work. It’s not a super-secret, magical ab exercise. It’s not a “Do this exercise every day for rock hard abs!” infomercial.
It is simply.. eat better.
You see, “toning” is simply stripping fat and revealing muscle. We all have abs, believe it or not. They are just buried deeper under more layers of fat for some. Revealing them is simply a matter of burning enough fat to allow your abs to show.
Sounds simple, right? In theory – yes. In practice, not so much.
Afterall, if it was so easy, everyone would do it.
So how can YOU do it?
As mentioned above, your nutrition needs to be solid. You can’t be consuming excess calories and gaining fat or stalling fat loss. You need to eat enough to sustain your daily activities, but no so high that you will begin storing fat. The best way to figure this out is to count your calories/macronutrients and compare them to your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).
You can use this tool in my Steel Transformation Academy for free: HERE
It is important to remember these are rough estimates and can change depending on your body, exercise history and many other factors. Use it as a rough guideline to get started, you can then tweak it as you learn what your body can and can’t tolerate.
There are also 2 potential downfalls of the ‘activity level’ option:
1. Over-estimating activity levels.
If you choose an activity level that you don’t actually stick to regularly, you will be given a calorie goal that may be too high – halting initial fat loss efforts.
2. Under-estimating activity.
If you under-estimate your activity level and you actually burn more than you calculated, you will be given a number that is too low. This results in poor adherence and even mood swings, irritability and a greater chance of you giving up early on.
I recommend opting for a conservative activity level. One that is as close to accurate as possible, but if in doubt, on the higher side. This way, if it is too high and you don’t see results early on (provided that you have adhered to it perfectly) you can simply remove some calories and tweak it from there.
As with anything with fat loss and the human body, it may require some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.
Once you know roughly how many calories per day you should be eating, you can then set daily/weekly targets to make sure you are not going over these numbers. A small reduction below your TDEE 300-500 calories per day should slowly and healthily give you permanent fat loss.
THIS is how you reveal your abs. Not through 1000 sit-ups and crunches a week, but with steady fat loss and healthy nutrition.
But what if you’re eating is solid and you aren’t carrying excess fat already?
We have to make sure both of those statements are true. People frequently think they are doing better than they actually are when it comes to eating. Be honest with yourself and make sure you are in a position that requires extra work specifically to reveal your abs.
But let’s presume you eat well, you have a low enough body fat percentage to expose your abs and you just want to work them more – that’s completely understandable.
First, we have to look at the abs and how they function. Then we know exactly what muscles to target and how to work them for maximum efficiency.
The rectus abdominis are the “6-pack muscles”. These are the most superficial (closest to the surface) muscles in the abdomen. Increasing the size of these will give you a more defined 6-pack. The rectus abdominis is responsible for flexion of your lumbar spine. This action involves bringing your ribs towards your pelvis or your pelvis towards your ribs.
The 6-pack muscles, Rectus Abdominis
Exercises like crunches or leg raises directly work the rectus abdominis and will build the muscles to eventually show off your rock-hard abs.
Heavier cable crunches and hanging leg raises can also increase the difficulty to place more stress on the abs to induce further growth once bodyweight exercises become too easy. Bear in mind though, it will take some significant development of the core muscles and strength in the abs to progress to loaded exercises, so take your time and perfect bodyweight movements before adding significant load.
If you solely want to build abs for show, the exercises listed above will build the abs enough to reveal them.
If, however, you want to build an unbreakable core and make sure back pain, trunk instability and other midline problems are the least of your worries, I would include other exercises to strengthen the core. Rectus abdominis may be the muscles that everyone will see on the beach but there are a bunch of other muscles that contribute to a healthy, strong core.
Transverse Abdominis: The TVA sits deep in your trunk and is the major player in core stabilisation. Working with the internal and external obliques, the TVA creates a mesh of fibres around the abdomen.
Internal Obliques: Located deep in the abdomen, the internal obliques are responsible for spinal rotation and compression of the abdomen.
External Obliques: More superficial and next to the rectus abdominis, the external obliques help with trunk flexion and rotation.
From left to right: (L) Transverse Abdominis, (C) Internal Obliques, (R) External Obliques
Targeting all of the core muscles around the abdomen will result in not only the 6-pack you desire, but a strong and stable trunk that can withstand the rigors of regular activity. Not to mention, prevent lower back pain, hip instability and other problems caused from sedentary behaviour we all experience when sitting at a desk, on the couch or even driving.