The Quest for the Perfect 6-Pack Abs

October 21, 2008

The Quest for the Perfect 6-Pack Abs

The perfect “6-pack” abs are a much-flaunted media asset, and models of both genders are often seen sporting them in pictures for everything from affordable coverage health insurance to exercise equipment, and from cleaning products to vitamins. Judging by the folks on television, anyone should be able to show off a flat stomach, and rippling abdominals.

But is that really possible? For men, who lose weight rapidly once regular exercise is undertaken, it may be. For women, especially those who have never exercised before, it’s incredibly difficult, and often requires a drop in body fat so low that the menstrual cycle is disrupted. Nevertheless, women and men spend huge amounts of money on gizmos and gadgets to help remodel their bodies, when in most cases, what’s needed is elbow grease.

Three Key Factors

The key to defining your abs, most fitness trainers agree, is threefold: you must have good nutrition, cardiovascular conditioning, and an ab-specific workout.


There’s an old-school computer phrase “garbage in – garbage out,” which means that if most of your calories come from processed foods, your body will be unhealthy and malnourished. Making wise food choices, then is essential to defining that 6-pack. Eat natural, whole foods, with an emphasis on vegetables and protein, and not on carbs. Avoid sugar and too much fat. You don’t have to give up all sweets, but you do need to limit them.

As well, while you don’t have to starve yourself, you should be aware of how often, and how much you eat. Rather than counting calories, eat five or six small meals every day to keep your metabolism active, which not only gives you energy but also prevents over-eating.

Hydration is vital also. Eight glasses of water a day is a minimum recommendation, and if you’re working out, you need more. Be very careful of flavored waters, unless you’re squeezing in your own lemon or lime. Some have more sugar than a can of soda, and others are sugar-free but contain alarming amounts of sodium.

Cardio Conditioning

While improving your diet is never a bad idea, it won’t take off the fat layer and let your abs be seen. For that, you have to exercise, and when it comes to burning calories, that means cardio.

Cardiovascular condition comes in many forms: walking, running, cycling, spinning, aerobics, and dance all help strengthen your heart and lungs, while your burn calories. Unlike strength training, you can do cardio every day – and you should. It doesn’t have to be a lot – 30 minutes a day is sufficient for most people, but make sure you stretch and drink water before and after. Water can be sipped during your workout as well.

If you don’t include aerobic activity (and all cardio workouts are aerobic), you’ll be wasting a lot of time doing unnecessary ab exercises.

Ab Workouts

It’s true that a lot of abdominal focus is unnecessary, and “spot reducing” really doesn’t work, some strength training is necessary for muscle definition.

Your abs consist of three layers, which, from the deepest to the outermost are the transverses abdominis, which acts as a sort of girdle for your body, providing stability and support and helping with exhalation, the rectus abdominis, which flexes your spine, and the internal and external obliques, which allow you to twist and turn, and provide your body with lateral movement and rotation.

Just as with any other muscle group, abdominals respond well to slow, steady isolation techniques. A combination of stretching exercises and strength training is an excellent way to improve the condition of your abs, and you don’t need to overdo it. You wouldn’t do fifty bicep curls, and you don’t need to do fifty crunches. In fact, if you have a comprehensive weight lifting routine, that exercises every major muscle group, your abdominals will get a workout even when they’re not the targeted area.

Remember, however, that unlike cardio, you should never do strength training every day. Skip a day between workouts to let your muscles restore themselves, and you’ll see better results with a much smaller risk of injury.

Even better, anything that strengthens your abs, which are a core muscle group, benefits your entire body: you’ll have improved posture, less back pain, and more power behind golf and tennis strokes, as well as less pressure on your knees.

Achieving the Goal

It’s important to remember that most people who achieve the 6-pack look are in their twenties, and have never had issues with cellulite. For real men and women, especially those who are over thirty, you are far less likely to develop “perfect” abs.

However, with good nutrition, and a balance of cardio and strength training, you can still have a stomach you can be proud to bare in public, as well as being healthier overall.

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