Getting a visible six-pack won’t happen overnight. That’s the secret number one. Getting to any physique goal takes tenacity, discipline and patience. But it is likely that no physique goal takes as much perseverance as it takes to achieve (and maintain) a six-pack.

It’s a common misconception to think that the missing link to getting six-pack abs is a certain ab exercise. As if an ab crunch done 100 times a day in a certain angle is the answer. If anything, that probably leads to back pain down the line. Or that all needed to get six-pack abs is the special ab equipment sold in an infomercial. This is not needed for a great set of defined abdominals.

Here’s another secret that over-rules all else when it comes to abs: abs start and finish in the kitchen. To show a sizzling six pack requires a low enough body fat so there is not excess fat covering the muscles that are already supporting the trunk.

You can have the best possible training program but if the diet is not there, the abs won’t show. Simple as that.

Body fat percentages for visible abs

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For most men it’s possible to see a bit of abs at around 15%. At this number the outline is usually there but the abs are not clearly defined. The lower the total body fat gets the more definition there will be. In contrast, women (who naturally carry more body fat compared to men) start to see the visible abs outline around 20% of total body fat.

There are of course individual differences as some people carry more fat around their midsection (often men) and some store it in other parts of the body, such as hips and thighs (often women). These are not clear cut rules, and there is variance between individuals.

As with any physique goal, genetics also play a part. Some people have better genetics for defined abs than others. The same way as someone’s arms respond better to training than the next person’s.

Don’t drop your body fat percentage too low

Before you start working toward a low body percentage and six-pack abs it’s good to acknowledge that getting to an ultra-low body fat number (below 8% for men, 14% for women) doesn’t carry a whole lot of health benefits or improved athletic performance. In fact, maintaining an ultra-low body fat might just do the opposite by negatively affecting how your body regulates hormones, the immune system etc.

Fitness competitors, models and bodybuilders drop below these levels, but rarely stay there for long periods of time. These professionals often go above and beyond to reach certain looks for brief periods of time such as magazine covers, competitions etc. It might include dehydration tactics and other advanced techniques and should be left to professionals who need it to see success in their chosen field of work or sports.

Nutrition habits for visible abs

Use common sense

Frequent helpings of burgers, fries and chocolate bars will take you further away from a six-pack. Eating lean proteins, nutritious vegetables, healthy fats and matching your carbohydrate intake to your activity levels will take you closer to getting a six-pack.

If you are leaning out, keep doing what you are doing. If nothing is changing with your body composition try tightening up your diet by cutting out junk food and treats. If that doesn’t work cut down your servings just a little bit.

Whatever you do, focus on one thing at a time. Doing this makes it more manageable to maintain your defined abs as you are not running the body to the ground. Go too hard from the get-go and it’s harder to pinpoint what worked.

Drink less alcohol

In all honesty, this is what holds a lot of people from getting a six-pack. It’s not just that drinking alcohol adds up to the total daily calories. But people often make poor food choices when under the influence.

You don’t want to over do it and make it harder for yourself than it has to be. Only make things as complicated as they have to be, no more. And getting a six-pack with a smart diet doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Training habits for visible abs

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Training definitely plays a part in making the abs bigger, but it’s not about adding multiple variations of crunches to your routine. Doing planks and other ab exercises will improve your core strength but won’t do much to make the abs themselves more visible. After all, the trunk (the core) is meant to resist movement and create a stable base for the limbs to move.

Keep in mind that it is not possible to spot reduce fat by only training abs. Abs will only be visible once the total body fat is low. To get a six-pack you need to train the full body, not just the abs.

What are the best six-pack exercises

In training focus on big multi-joint exercises to promote muscle growth which in turn improves metabolism. There is no point over-emphasising targeted ab exercises when your time in the gym is better spent focusing on big exercises that really deliver.

When a defined six-pack is the goal focus on:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Presses
  • Rows
  • Chin ups
  • Carries

Train hard but smart and keep on top of your basic eating habits. Ignore ab crunch machines, fat loss pills and other gimmicks the world is full of.

The basic principles of smart training and eating combined with discipline and patience are your friends when trying to achieve a six-pack.

You can follow ICON’s fitness expert, Jono Castanoacero on instagram @jonocastanoacero