If you're getting tired of doing endless crunches and seeing no results, then it might help to learn the ins and outs of your core anatomy and the science behind building muscle. For one thing, your abs aren't just one muscle — and you'll need to diversify your exercise routine to work every type of abs muscle and really see results.
Here, get to know each type of abs muscle, plus how to work them in the most effective ways. (BTW, core strength is about so much more than just having a six-pack.)
Meet Your Abs Muscles
First, a little anatomy lesson. Along with muscles in the lower back, these key abdominals make up your core:
- External Obliques: The outer layer of the abs on your sides; these run diagonally downward.
- Internal Obliques: Just underneath the external obliques, these run diagonally up your sides.
- Rectus Abdominis: Two paired sheets of muscle from the ribs to the pelvis that flex you forward. (These are the ″six-pack" muscles most people visualize when thinking about the abs.)
- Transversus Abdominis: The deepest muscle of the abs, which wraps around the waist to support the spine.
Yes, there are separate muscles, but they all work together. The external obliques are the V-shaped muscles running diagonally down your sides that, along with the internal obliques underneath them, help you rotate your spine. The rectus abdominis, meanwhile, is the straight-down-the-center muscle which, yes, can make you appear to have a six-pack. The one remaining type of abs muscle is the transversus abdominis: The deepest-down of all, it does a complete wraparound of your midsection and pulls it in like a corset.
And while everyone has the same muscles, their appearance differs from person to person. The shape of your midsection boils down to a formula that includes factors such as body type, fat composition, and possibly even the shape of the pelvic bone, where your abs muscles attach, says Carrie McCulloch, M.D., a musculoskeletal anatomy expert and the medical director for Kinected Pilates studio in New York City. Some people build muscle more easily than others, and everyone's waist shape is different. That means that, theoretically, a wider pelvis can translate into a broad lower abdomen and hips, compared to what's above the belly button. "These are all variations on normal, and genetics can play a big role," says McCulloch.
What Determines the Visibility of Your Abs Muscles?
Think of your abs muscles as the meat in the middle of a fat sandwich: On top of them is subcutaneous fat, the stuff you can potentially see from the outside, depending on your body composition. Below them is visceral fat, which is the type that takes up residence next to your internal organs, which is protective in small amounts, but can lead to health consequences when too much builds up.
"When you fill up those subcutaneous areas, fat winds up getting stored where it shouldn't: in your deep abdomen or your liver," explains Arthur Weltman, Ph.D., an exercise physiology professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Visceral fat has been linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, he notes. It's impossible to know how much visceral fat you have just by looking in the mirror, so seeing a doctor is the only surefire way to find out if you have too much. However, factors such as your Body Mass Index (BMI) and your waist circumference can help you determine if you may be at a health risk.
You can also implement these strategies to help reduce visceral fat:
Limit Trans Fats
Step one to combat visceral fat is to toss the trans fats, which used to be found in prepackaged treats under the alias "partially hydrogenated oils." These are being phased out and are mostly absent from supermarket shelves since scientists discovered how unhealthy they are for your organs and beyond. (The World Health Organization aims to eliminate artificial trans fats worldwide by 2023.)
Instead of trans fat, seek out more monounsaturated fats, found in foods such as olive oil and avocado, and polyunsaturated fats, found in foods such as walnuts and salmon. These fats can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the Food and Drug Administration. (More: The Expert-Approved Guide to Good Fats vs. Bad Fats)
Get More Exercise
High-intensity aerobic exercise is even more effective at burning off visceral fat than the same amount of low-intensity exercise, notes Weltman. In one of his own studies, he had overweight women walk or jog five times a week; one group worked out for a longer amount of time at a low intensity, while the other did shorter stints of high-intensity work. Even though each group burned the exact same number of calories in each workout, the high-intensity group lost more visceral fat. "We speculate that there's a relation between the intensity of the workout and the amount of growth hormone released, which is a powerful mobilizer of visceral fat," explains Weltman.
The good news is that high intensity — the level at which you feel the effort and can no longer hold a conversation — is different for each person, according to Weltman. "You may have to run to get to that level, while someone else may just have to jog or walk," he explains. "It all depends on your level of fitness, but the great thing is, you can do it whether you're a competitive athlete or just starting out," adds Weltman. (P.S. This is the simplest way to gauge the intensity of your workout at any point.)
Does the thought of strapping on your running shoes fill you with dread? Well, lifting weights has also been shown to reduce visceral fat (as well as these other health and fitness benefits). A study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that subjects who strength trained lost more visceral fat than participants who just did cardio. Plus, they kept that visceral fat off after a year if they kept up the weight training, even if they gained weight overall.
The most important factor to consider? When choosing which type of exercise to do, prioritize what you like to do and feel motivated to keep up.
How to Build Stronger Abs Muscles
If you want visible, defined abs, losing weight is not a prerequisite — just work on toning the muscles, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., senior clinical professor of exercise physiology at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. To build up your core strength, it's important to work every type of abs muscle in your body (instead of, say, just focusing on the rectus abdominis). And, turns out, the abs are pretty hard to fatigue because they work all day long to keep you upright.
But you don't come home after a long day at the office with a sore core from sitting at your desk, so how busy could they really be? "When you're seated, your back muscles and spine help keep you upright and the abs are in a slack position, especially if you slouch," explains Joseph Herrera, D.O., a doctor of osteopathic medicine and the director of sports medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Department of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York City. "Although you would end up reclining without the opposing muscle forces they provide, intentionally contracting your abs is the only way to activate them as you sit," he notes.
So how do you wake up those deep abs muscles if you're working at a desk all day? In a standard chair, your core muscles need not pull their own weight. But sit on a pumped-up stability ball (with no backrest) and the rectus abdominis activates to support your spine. "The stability ball requires your torso to balance on an unsteady surface. It forces your abs to fire," says Dr. Herrera. (You can also do these advanced core exercises with the help of a stability ball.)
In addition, you can activate the rectus abdominis and obliques by simply pulling in your belly button. To get functional benefits from your core workouts, you'll want to prioritize movements that activate more than one type of abs muscle. Previously, there was a tendency to isolate the abs muscles to give each one an individual workout (crunches for your rectus abdominis, bicycles for the obliques, and so on), but that's not the way it works in real life, notes Olson.
"When you're reaching up to get something, picking up a baby, or bending down, you need all the muscles to work together," explains Olson. "Instead of targeting each one, you should aim for functional fitness, where the muscles work as a unit," she recommends. (This hardcore abs workout is full of exercises that target multiple core muscles.)
- Check your diet. Getting a six-pack requires lowering your body fat percentage. ...
- Do cardio. Cardio can help you achieve a low body fat percentage, which is key for having a visible six-pack, Root says. ...
- Build your core. ...
- Heel tap.
- Leg lower.
- Side plank dips. ...
- Russian twists. ...
- Oblique crunch.
So how often should you train your abs? 2-3 exercises 2-3 times per week is plenty to maximize development without overdoing it. If you are already working out 3 times per week you can just tack 1-2 ab exercises on to the end of your workouts.How fast can you get abs if you're skinny? ›
Your timeline to a six-pack depends on the body fat percentage you're starting with. A good rule of thumb (and a safe one) is to aim to lose 1 to 2 percent of body fat per month. So, unveiling your abs can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years.How can a 12 year old get abs fast? ›
- Decrease the number of calories in your daily diet. Use an online basal metabolic rate calculator to determine your personalized basal metabolic rate. ...
- Do cardiovascular exercise at least three times per week. ...
- Complete an abdominal exercise routine between two and three times per week.
The upper abs are the first to show and the easiest to work, because most of the best-known abs exercises target them specifically. That's why we say sit-ups don't give you a six-pack. The lower abs are a tricky area to home in on.What happens if you do abs everyday? ›
Not only can working out abs every day lead to postural problems, but also muscle imbalances. Your abs complex, which is all your abs muscles are comprised of the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, internal obliques, and external obliques.Is it OK to do abs every day? ›
Your abs are a muscle group that requires rest (just like any other muscle group) and training abs every day won't allow them adequate recovery. If you want to maximize the results from your ab workouts, then you need to ensure that you're giving them at least one full day of rest in between.What are the disadvantages of six pack? ›
- Reduced bladder control.
- Irregular bowel function.
- Hormone imbalance.
- Weaker immune system.
- Muscle aches and pains.
- Inadequate cushioning around joints and organs, which increases the risk of injury.
- Increased fatigue, tiredness and mood swings.
The primary obstacle to unveiling abdominal definition is, unsurprisingly, fat. “If you have fat covering your abs, you're not going to see a six-pack, and as a result, it's a not a realistic goal for most people,” says Kathleen Trotter, personal trainer and author of Finding Your Fit.What body fat do you need to see abs? ›
Doing targeted exercises like crunches is great for toning abdominal muscles, but losing both subcutaneous and visceral fat is the first step to unearthing your abs. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), you'll need to lower your body fat to about 14 to 20 percent for women and 6 to 13 percent for men.
- Crunch. "The ab exercise that all other ab exercises are measured against is the simple crunch," Weil says. ...
- The plank. ...
- Bicycle maneuver. ...
- Captain's chair. ...
- Back extensions. ...
- Crunches on an exercise ball. ...
- Vertical leg crunches. ...
- Reverse crunches.
The American Council on Exercise says a 1 percent body fat loss per month is safe and achievable. Given that math, it could take a woman with average body fat about 20 to 26 months to achieve the appropriate amount of fat loss for six-pack abs. The average man would need about 15 to 21 months.Is abs hard to grow? ›
Proper nutrition, fat-loss dieting, and a low body fat percentage are still of paramount importance when it comes to achieving a six-pack. But what many people fail to realize is that the abs are just like any other muscle. If you choose the right abs exercises and get stronger with them over time, the abs will grow.What age can you get a 6 pack? ›
You can achieve six-pack abs at any age.
His phenomenal before and after images are a testament to what can be achieved with the right approach to nutrition and training.
Not only are defined abs not signs of good health, they can actively contribute to poor health — especially in the long term. “Maintaining a six-pack isn't healthy for your body,” author and personal fitness trainer Leena Mogre told Times of India.Which part of abs is hardest to get? ›
Pretty much everyone does the standard ab crunches, but crunches aren't going to develop your obliques. Your obliques are the muscles at the sides of your abs. You have both internal and external obliques and they are really big, potentially strong muscles that need specific exercises to target them.
Unfortunately for some, the answer lies in genetics. Everybody has two rectus abdominis muscles, but not everyone has the same number of bands of connective tissue. These bands run horizontally across the abdomen and give the appearance of a 6-pack or 8-pack, and the number you're born with is completely up to chance.How long does it take to get toned? ›
The answer: Depending on how often you exercise and the intensity of your workouts, give it between four to eight weeks for your muscles to get ripped, says Kawamoto.Can I do abs workout if I have belly fat? ›
In order to have defined abs or a six pack, you need to get rid of subcutaneous fat from your abdominal area. Bottom Line: Exercising your abs will help them become strong and muscular. However, you won't be able to see them if they're covered by subcutaneous fat.How long should I workout my abs a day? ›
"If you're going to the gym two to three times per week, I suggest doing 5 to 10 minutes of ab or core work during your workout. Then, give yourself a day of rest in between workout days," he says. Yes, your abs need time to recover just like the rest of your body.
Abdominal exercises such as crunches or sit-ups do not specifically burn belly fat, but they can help the belly appear flatter and more toned. Other exercises that can help whittle the waistline and tone up the belly include bicycles, planks, and side planks.Does running give abs? ›
“Yes, running can help give you defined abs,” said Todd Buckingham, Ph. D., exercise physiologist. But before you get too excited, it's important to note that running alone isn't enough to improve muscular definition in your midsection.Should I do abs before or after workout? ›
“People achieve better results when they do core exercises at the beginning of their workout instead of the end,” says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., coauthor of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs. Your core—the dozens of muscles between your shoulders and your hips—contracts first in every exercise, he explains.Do you need cardio for abs? ›
You don't HAVE to use cardio to get abs
You don't need to spend hours on the treadmill to build abs - but cardio can be a useful tool to burn fat and calories if fat loss is your goal. Just don't overdo it, says James.
When ABS is working properly, the driver may feel the brake pedal suddenly drop, followed by a rapid pulsing sensation. There may be a grinding or buzzing noise coming from the vehicle during the period ABS is activated. It may also feel like the brake pedal is pushing back when ABS activates.What percentage of people have abs? ›
Many people do not realize that only 2 percent of the world's population can claim to have six pack abs.Is it healthy for girls to have abs? ›
It is very unnatural for most women to have six-pack abs while maintaining a healthy relationship with food and exercise. This is because women generally need a body fat percentage of at least 20 percent in order to remain fertile and have regular menstrual cycles.What foods to avoid if you want abs? ›
"A fast-food meal [of a burger, French fries, and soft drink] is the perfect storm of lots of calories, sodium, and carbohydrates and when eaten frequently can lead to weight gain in the stomach region and can prevent you from getting or maintaining abs," says Michalczyk.What to avoid eating to get abs? ›
Generally, a good rule of thumb is to cut right back on sugar, simple carbs (such as bread and pasta), fried foods and alcohol, and to replace them with plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, foods rich in healthy fats (such as oily fish, avocado and nuts), and wholegrains and pulses.Are eggs good for abs? ›
1. Eggs are among the best foods for flat abs since they are high in natural fat burning elements such as protein. In fact, eggs are a great choice due to their amino acids which are the building blocks of the cells.
If you have a trim waist and minimal body fat and you still can't see your abs, then you need to work on getting the Rectus Abdominis (your 6 pack muscle) thicker. You will never be able to see your abs if the muscle bellies there are weak and small.Why cant I get abs no matter how hard I try? ›
You have too much body fat.
The single most important aspect when it comes to getting your abs to show is having a low body fat percentage. All humans have abdominal muscles that can be made more visible with training – but ultimately to see your abs you need to be at 10% body fat or less (18% or less for women.)
While some people are more naturally inclined to have defined abs, others aren't, and it may not have anything to do with how hard they train or how strong they are.Why do I have an Ab crack but no abs? ›
Because the ab crack is dependent on the underlying physical structure of your abdomen, there's no ab crack exercise or diet that can make one appear if your linea alba isn't deep or wide enough to form this divot. If you have the underlying structure for an ab crack, losing fat should bring it out.How do you show visible abs? ›
The key is consistency. It may take months or even years to uncover your abs, but if you stick to being smart in the kitchen, you'll eventually see results. The only way to strip the fat from your abs is by slowly and gradually burning it off from your entire body through cardio, nutrition, and resistance training.Can you get abs in a month? ›
Ultimately, abs in a month is just not feasible. It's possible if you are already pretty lean and in very good shape, but even then, it's doubtful. Changes to your body and your fitness take time. Imagine trying to build up muscle anywhere else on your body?What are the top 3 exercises for abs? ›
- The plank. Plank. ...
- The bicycle crunch. Why: In the San Diego study, this exercise was the second highest in terms of strengthening the obliques in participants. ...
- Side plank. ...
- Vertical leg crunch. ...
- Reverse crunch.
So, killer abs boil down to diet, cardiovascular exercise and resistance training. If you do all three at the same time, you can get some progress in about six weeks.How many sit ups a day for abs? ›
Sit ups are great for tightening your core. They strengthen and tone your rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and oblique abdominal muscles as well as your neck muscles. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions three times per week.What is the fastest way to strengthen your core? ›
- Lie on your back and place your feet on a wall so that your knees and hips are bent at 90-degree angles. Tighten your abdominal muscles.
- Raise your head and shoulders off the floor. ...
- Return to the start position and repeat.
Signs of Weak Core Muscles. Muscle weakness or decreased control of these muscles can be a result of surgery, injury or inactivity. Common signs of weakness or decreased control of your core muscles can lead to dysfunction in your movement and, ultimately, affect your quality of life.How long does it take to get the outline of abs? ›
The American Council on Exercise says a 1 percent body fat loss per month is safe and achievable. Given that math, it could take a woman with average body fat about 20 to 26 months to achieve the appropriate amount of fat loss for six-pack abs. The average man would need about 15 to 21 months.How do you get bear mode on abs? ›
- Eat in a Caloric Surplus but Maintain a Structured Diet. ...
- Gain About Two Percent of Your Body Weight Per Month. ...
- Make Sure You Are Actually Lifting Weights! ...
- Focus on Strengthening Your Compound Lifts. ...
- Focus on Neck, Traps, Shoulders, Glutes, and Forearms. ...
- Do Cardio Sometimes.
What % Body Fat Percentage is Needed to Reveal Your Abs? Having a six pack requires a leaner physique - typically within the athletic range. The body fat percentage needed to see your pack of abdominal muscles falls somewhere around 14 to 20% for women and 6 to 13% for men.Why is getting abs so hard? ›
The primary obstacle to unveiling abdominal definition is, unsurprisingly, fat. “If you have fat covering your abs, you're not going to see a six-pack, and as a result, it's a not a realistic goal for most people,” says Kathleen Trotter, personal trainer and author of Finding Your Fit.Does water make abs visible? ›
While the evidence is mixed as to whether drinking more water in general aids weight loss, recent research supports the conclusion that replacing sugary drinks with water can aid weight loss, potentially helping you burn fat and reveal your abdominals ( 15 ).Why are my abs not perfect? ›
Genetics. Genetics are the most likely cause of uneven abs, which are also referred to as staggered abs. With staggered abs, both sides of the rectus abdominis muscle are the same size, but the three segments on each side that make up the six-pack don't line up, creating an uneven effect.What to avoid while making ABS? ›
- Sugar-sweetened drinks. Sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and juice can increase body fat and stall progress on getting abs. ...
- Fried foods. In addition to being high in calories, fried foods like French fries, chicken strips, and mozzarella sticks are also high in trans fats. ...
- Alcohol. ...
- Sugary snacks.
The rectus abdominis is the section of the core that forms the traditional “6-pack” look, and even if these muscles are strong, they can still be hidden underneath a layer of subcutaneous fat.At what speed does ABS activate? ›
You won't feel your ABS kicking in at lower speeds, as it generally starts working only around 25 km/h or more (which is why you won't activate it when backing up, since you're usually going slower than that).
The Myth of 8 Pack Abs
Everybody has two rectus abdominis muscles, but not everyone has the same number of bands of connective tissue. These bands run horizontally across the abdomen and give the appearance of a 6-pack or 8-pack, and the number you're born with is completely up to chance.
Your abs are a muscle group that requires rest (just like any other muscle group) and training abs every day won't allow them adequate recovery. If you want to maximize the results from your ab workouts, then you need to ensure that you're giving them at least one full day of rest in between.What gives you abs the fastest? ›
To get six pack abs fast, do abdominal exercises 3-4 times a week. Focus on crunches and planks since these exercises will target your abs the most. If you need to lose weight, do cardio exercises like jogging and biking in addition to your ab exercises.