Six pack abs are disturbingly unattractive—said no one ever. That being the case, visibly ripped abdominal muscles are often perceived as the embodiment of fitness. Men and women aspire for that midsection definition–an aesthetic treat that represents hard work, discipline, healthy eating and low body fat levels.
The lucky few who hit the generic lottery need no diet or exercise for their abs to come into view. The rest of us, well, we need to slave for it by working out and watching what we eat.
To be clear, everybody has a six pack—it’s an integral part of human musculature. The challenge lies in melting off the layers of body fat which hide our abdominal muscles from plain sight. Chipping away at stomach fat can be a painstaking experience. Sure, that slice of chocolate cheese cake drizzled with smooth, gooey caramel instantly gratifies your palate. But perhaps even more gratifying is working hard on a long term goal and seeing the results pay off over time.
If ripped and chiseled abdominal muscles this summer is too high of a bar to hurdle, we can at least make a go of shedding a few inches to lessen the bulge on our tummies and attain a trimmer look.
So what exactly do we mean by abdominal muscles? These are comprised of the following muscles:
1) Rectus abdominis (largely responsible for the appearance of the six-pack).
2) External obliques (runs diagonally from the sides of our bodies toward the midline).
3) Internal obliques (lying below the external obliques).
4) Transverse abdominis (wraps around the abdominal area similar to a weight-lifting belt).
Strong abdominal muscles are not only eye candy–they also provide benefits beyond aesthetics. Among them would be reduced back pain. Strong abs takes a load off your back muscles, making them less vulnerable to strain. It also improves our functional strength, making it much easier to perform mundane daily tasks such as carrying things around, and picking up heavy things. Strong abs also help improve our athletic performance.
Whether your goal is a slightly trimmer midsection, or sliced and diced next level abdominals, here are some points to consider:
Abdominal exercises alone will not get things done – There are countless exercises out there that will surely help build and strengthen our midsection. From crunches to planks to hanging leg raises. But such exercises do little help in burning the belly fat which obstructs the view from our potentially eye-popping six-pack. Firm and toned? Possibly. Visible? Maybe not.
Cardio is key – Cardio-vascular exercises such as running, swimming, cycling, walking and other forms of aerobic exercise are key to burning away not just belly fat, but lessening overall body fat content. Moderate walking or running for 30-40 minutes three to four times a week is a good start for trimming our waistlines.
Abs are made in the kitchen – Having a diet high in clean protein (such as lean cuts of meat, fish and eggs), heavy on vegetables, fruits and some whole grains are an essential part of arriving at destination six pack. Avoid, or cut down on simple carbohydrates such as white rice, pasta, crackers, chips and junk food. Stay away from liquid calories like that seemingly harmless glass of iced tea that contains enough sugar to cause a spike in your blood sugar readings. Take note that a high protein intake will help boost our metabolic rates.
Create a calorie deficit – This is a combination of finding the right mix of diet and exercise to support fat loss. This simply means expending more energy than what your food intake provides. If this is done with regularity and correctly, body fat levels drop, thin out, and eventually make your abs come into view. However, this must not mean resorting to starvation diets, but rather making healthy food choices aligned with our fitness objectives. It must be emphasized that in order to lose fat and not lean muscle via a calorie deficit, you must find the proper mix of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein) to consume on a daily basis. This will usually mean taking in more protein to preserve lean muscle mass as you shed off the fat.
If we could only buy toned or ripped abs from a store, things would be much simpler. Last I checked, they’re not for sale. You have to pay for them with hard work, an iron will, and uncompromising discipline.
Shed fat, build muscle, and look good. Sounds simple enough. Now let’s get down to work.
Male model Joaquin Valdes is an actor, director and fitness titleholder (IG: @jpedrovaldes).
Female model Mona Lisa Neuboeck is a raw vegan chef (IG: @monalisaneuboeck)