Almost everyone who exercises wants a six-pack. Those that don’t are either a) telling lies or b) would be quite happy just to have a flat stomach instead of a beer belly! Either way, strong, flat, defined abs are a very common fitness goal.

With so many people wanting to get a six-pack, you’d have thought there would be more of them around but it seems that, in many cases, those seeking an elusive six-pack don’t really know how to go about getting one! Endless sets of crunches won’t do it and nor will thrice-weekly abs classes at your local gym. Wobbling about on a stability ball is pretty much pointless and even ab-centric Pilates won’t give you what you need.

The thing is, developing a six-pack requires a very holistic approach and simply banging out a high volume of ab exercises doesn’t work. If it did, every aerobics teacher in the world would have a washboard stomach – and they don’t! Focusing solely on ab exercises while ignoring the rest of your body or your diet is like putting Formula One tyres on a Ford Focus and hoping to win a Grand Prix… Instead of flogging the proverbial dead horse, follow this brief but effective guide to getting a six-pack. You won’t develop washboard abs overnight but, with sufficient time and perseverance, you can sculpt an impressive midsection!

Diet

Six-pack abs are made in the kitchen. This doesn’t mean you have to bake them though! Everyone has abs; it’s just that they are often covered in a layer of fat. To strip fat away and reveal your abs, you need to get your body fat down to around 10-percent for men and 15-percent for women. This means you need to start eating clean and creating a calorific deficit. There are plenty of diets you can follow but the best diet is also the most simple; cut down on sugar and carbs and eat more protein at every meal. This simple dietary intervention should result in a slow and steady fat loss of around one to two pounds per week. Example meals include...

  • Poached eggs and spinach
  • Grilled chicken with big green salad
  • Steak and roasted vegetables
  • Turkey and vegetable stir fry

Simple, effective and no calorie counting required.

NEPA

NEPA is not some new supplement but is short for Non Exercise Physical Activity. Even if you exercise for four-hours per week, you are probably sedentary for the remaining 164-hours. This means that, to create a significant enough calorie deficit, you will need to be very strict with your diet. That sounds about as much fun as going to the dentist to have root canal treatment so, instead, you need to be more active from one day to the next to increase your weekly calorie expenditure. To increase your NEPA consider...

  • Walking more and driving less
  • Doing some gardening
  • Playing catch or soccer with your kids or mates
  • Washing your car by hand
  • Take the stairs instead of using the lift
  • Carrying your groceries instead of using a shopping trolley
  • Standing more and sitting less
  • Walking your dog – or getting a dog if you don’t already have one
  • Looking for opportunities to be more active rather than looking for ways to avoid activity!

NEPA will increase your calorific expenditure but will not interfere with your ability to exercise as it should be non-fatiguing. Try and be physically active for at least 30 and preferably 60-minutes a day.

Train your entire body

While direct ab exercises are important, and are discussed next, you also need to train your entire body. Just training your abs will not work – period. Your body is a complex machine made up from over 200-bones and 600-muscles and everything needs to be in good working order if you want to develop a six-pack. This means that, in addition to working your abs, you also need to strengthen all of your other major muscles – preferably by lifting weights.

Focus on compound exercises like squats, pull-ups, deadlifts, lunges, bench presses and row as these exercises indirectly work your abdominals too. Building muscle will also enhance your ability to burn calories by elevating your metabolism. Whole body workouts two or three times a week are ideal as they use a lot of energy and are very time-efficient. Try 2 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions of the following exercises...

  1. Squats
  2. Bench press
  3. Seated cable row
  4. Lunges
  5. Shoulder press
  6. Lat pull downs
  7. Triceps push downs
  8. Biceps curls

Sprint to win

Cardio is an important part of fat burning but traditional, steady-paced cardio is inefficient and can be dull. It also interferes with muscle building which you now know if very important for creating that illusive six-pack. Instead, try short, sharp, sprinting workouts – often referred to as HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training. Using any exercise you like such as jump rope, rowing, running, cycling etc. go as fast as you can for 20-40 seconds and then take it easy for 60-90 seconds. Repeat six to ten times two to four times a week and then call it a day. Do your sprinting after your strength training workouts or on the days in between – it’s up to you.

Train your abs hard and smart

Finally – direct ab training! The reason this section comes at the end of this article is because if you ignore the other three sections it won’t actually matter what you do for your abs as nothing is going to work! So, don’t waste your time doing lots of ab exercises if you aren’t prepared to clean up your diet, crank up the NEPA, sprint and build the rest of your body.

To build your abs you need to work hard – not high-rep hard but actually develop strength. Sets of 50-crunches are demanding but it’s only the last few reps that are tough – all the work that comes before is really just a waste of time. Instead, look for ab exercises that cause you to reach fatigue in under 20-reps and, preferably, closer to 10. These lower rep/higher intensity exercises will build muscle which will make your six-pack much more impressive.

Also, consider that your abs are only one muscle that makes up your soon to be marvellous midsection. You also need to exercise your obliques or waist muscles, your erector spinae or lower back muscles and your transverse abdominus which is the natural corset that encircles your internal organs. Not convinced? You wouldn’t limit your arm training to just your biceps – you’d also work your triceps too. Working all the muscles of your midsection is the same principle.

Chose one exercise from each of the following sections and do them three times a week on non-consecutive days. Look for ways to make each exercise harder to ensure you keep getting stronger...

  • Rectus abdominus: Hanging leg raises, ab wheel rollouts, incline sit ups, incline leg raises
  • Erector spinae: Back extensions, hyperextensions, good mornings, stiff legged deadlifts, kettlebell swings, deadlifts
  • Obliques: Dumbbell side bends, side planks, Russian twists, cable wood chops, Samson side bends
  • Transverse abdominus: Planks, bird dogs, single arm waiter’s and farmer’s walks, dead bugs

Two to four sets of 10 to 20 reps of each will get the job done.

Because genetics play a big part in getting a six-pack, you may never quite reach this fitness holy of holies but if you follow this plan, you can guarantee that you will be a lot closer than if you do what the rest of the gym population are doing!