With the right combination of training and nutrition, lean abs can be yours.
Ok, so these aren’t really secrets. They’re relatively well known and established guidelines for getting definition in your abs, but you get the point. Everybody has the same abdominal muscles, but whether they’re visible or not depends on many factors. If you’re training consistently and specifically for this goal and have yet to see results then it’s time to look at the situation from all angles.
It’s a common refrain that abs are made in the kitchen. It’s true; without the right nutrition plan (for most people that’s relatively low-carb, with the right amount of protein & fat) you won’t see the results of your hard work you’ve done at the gym. Being lean overall is necessary for getting your abs visible. Leanness rarely happens on a diet of Ben & Jerry’s, cheeseburgers, and chocolate chip cookies. Sorry!
Hormonal balance, which can be influenced by factors including stress, medications, food, life stages, genetic disorders, and chemical exposure, plays a role in determining fat storage areas. Excess fat storage in the abdominal area is related to chronically high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress is constantly present in our daily lives, but it’s our response to stress rather than the mere exposure that’s important. Good quality sleep, meditation, and relaxation exercises help the body cope with daily stressors and reduce your chances of storing ab fat.
Most people now realise that endless crunches are a waste of time and are more likely to lead to back pain and neck pain than anything else. Many people with great visible abs don’t do any abdominal isolation exercises AT ALL. In certain cases (post-pregnancy, back injury, after long periods of sedentary activity) specific core and lower abdominal exercises can be useful for re-establishing muscular balance in this area.
Planks, supermans, lower TVA activation, and bird dogs are preferable to crunches, as they work the core in a more balanced fashion and protect the back. In general, it’s best to stick with strict form on large muscle group exercises like overhead squats and deadlifts to build your abdominal muscles functionally. For an efficient ab workout, spend your time on large multi-joint movements and occasionally add one or two isolation exercises at the end of your workout.
As for endless hours of low intensity cardio – skip it! Long duration steady-state cardio will increase your cortisol levels and actually cause you to store fat in the abdominal area. Excessive cardio also reduces your muscle mass, which slows your metabolism and makes it harder to lose fat.
High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is most effective for burning stomach fat and involves short (up to about 40 seconds) periods of intense work followed by a period of low intensity or rest. The work to rest ratio would be determined by the individual’s fitness and the desired length of the workout.
Omega 3 fats, preferably in the form of fish oils, are the first step in reducing your cortisol levels and getting your abs lean. A dosage of 1g per % of body fat (someone with 20% BF would take 20g per day) is a great start.
Vitamin C is also an effective tool for reducing cortisol levels and dropping belly fat. 2g after your workout provides a substantial benefit, and according to world-renowned Strength Coach and BioSignature creator Charles Poliquin, will increase free testosterone levels after 2 weeks. Extra testosterone helps increase muscle mass, making your body more metabolically active and able to burn off more of its fat stores.
DIGESTION & INTOLERANCES
If you’re following the guidelines above, are very lean (below 10% BF), and still suffer from a bloated tummy, it’s time to look more closely at potential digestive issues. Many people suffer from poor digestion and elimination and this can cause gut distension.
Digestive enzymes (particularly HCL supplementation) can make a huge difference in how your food is digested and may reduce bloating. Good quality probiotics can also improve digestion. If constipation is a problem, using a gluten-free (gluten can cause gut irritation and further exacerbate digestive issues) fibre supplement such as flax may help clear out the system. Any food that you consume regularly can result in intolerance or sensitivity, a negative response by the digestive system that can cause bloating, fatigue, and headaches. Wheat and dairy are common intolerances that may develop.
Getting a defined 6-pack is easier for some people than others. Genetics may play a role in fat storage and ab definition, but most of those who follow a sensible regime will be rewarded with flatter, leaner, and sexier abs. There really are no secrets to 6-pack abs.
Follow the tips above and you’ll be on your way to developing a respectable washboard.