While getting six pack abs isn’t rocket science, it is nutrition science. Thankfully, the knowledge you need to know is easily learnable and implementable.
Do you have a regular workout schedule? Are you knowledgeable about how to build muscle and best split your weekly routine? Do you ever look in the mirror and wonder why you don’t have a set of six-pack abs, despite all your healthy efforts to build one?
This is a more common experience for many people than you might think. Even with regular workouts and a fundamental understanding of how to train, many avid gym-goers don’t have six-packs. This can be due to a number of various reasons depending on the individual, their routine, and other lifestyle habits they do (or don’t) have.
Six-packs are definitely attainable, though!
Can Anyone Get Six Pack Abs?
With the right set of behaviors, it’s possible for anyone to see their abs, including cisgendered men and women, as well as nonbinary, intersex and transgender folks. Cisgender (“cis”) is a description for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.
Regardless of your gender identity, learning about how to get a six pack is an opportunity to sculpt your body in the ways that feel right for you.
While different bodies have different starting points, depending on your level of body fat, internal biochemistry, age, activity level, and metabolism, everyone has the potential to increase muscle mass while decreasing body fat, which is the key to getting a six pack.
However, you will need to be mindful in your work to transform your abdominals.
11 Tips for Getting a Six Pack (Fast)
Here are eleven tips to help your abs get the look and strength you’ve been dreaming about. As you read them, ask yourself, which one of these areas should I focus on first? Improve in one area first, and after that new habit is solidified, move onto the next tip.
1. Use a Caloric Deficit (Your Mid-Section is Fat-Friendly)
Abs are made in the kitchen. It’s not just a cliche saying, it’s true. Because the mid-section of the body tends to be a fat-friendly area, you have to work just as hard to have good eating habits as you do in the gym in order to get a six-pack.
Of course, the fitness community loves to argue about this statement, correcting it with slogans like, “Abs are made in the gym, but revealed in the kitchen.”
However you want to word it, you won’t see your abs if you don’t have a relatively low body fat. Period.
The most effective way to drop body fat is to put yourself into a slight calorie deficit of around 300 to 500 calories per day.
Because one pound of fat is equates to about 3,500 calories, eating within this range will have you losing a pound of body fat every 7-10 days.
On average, you’ll see your abs really start to take shape when you get to 15% body fat or lower. In the photo below, my body fat is beneath this cut-off, which is why my abs are visible. I know this, because I measured it on an Inbody Body Composition Analyzer, which is a machine that uses electrical impulses to determine your fat, water, and lean muscle composition.
For cisgendered men, 2-5% body fat is generally considered an essential fat level that you won’t want to drop below. For cis women, 10-13% body fat is approximately the essential fat that you’ll need.
If you’re not already familiar with the term, essential fat is that fat your body requires to perform bodily functions, with most of it being stored around your organs to cushion them, within your bones, and within your central nervous system (CNS). For example, your brain is around 60% fat.
However, there is natural variation even within groups of cis men and women.
Some cis women are naturally very lean and may require (and sustain) lower levels of body fat, regardless of whether they focus on diet and training. Other women may experience the opposite effect and quite easily store body fat. The same is true for cis men.
This is what is known as Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph body types:
- Ectomorph: These individuals are naturally very lean but typically have more difficulty with building and sustaining muscle mass.
- Mesomorph: This individuals have balanced tendencies to add both muscle and store fat.
- Endomorph: These individuals generally add muscle mass easily but have a greater tendency to store body fat.
For these different body types, body fat storage characteristics will vary. Also, there are nonbinary, intersex, and transgender people for whom body fat tendencies will vary as well.
For nonbinary folks, body fat levels will be incredibly unique to you. I identify as nonbinary and tend to sustain lower ranges of body fat. However, my body fat percentage has also been dramatically impacted by decades of strength training, playing rugby at the U.S. and international level, and following a disciplined, scientifically-based diet plan for many years on end.
For intersex people, you may fall somewhere between the body fat range for cis men and women. For transgendered folks, your norms with depend on several factors, including your genetic set-point, your time on hormones (estrogen or testosterone), and the overall hormone levels that you are sustaining.
While different bodies have different starting points, I will re-iterate that everyone has the potential to increase muscle mass while decreasing body fat, which is the key to getting a six pack.
2. Switch to Lean Protein Sources
Thankfully, reworking your diet for abs doesn’t have to be an extreme shift if you’re already a healthy eater.
For most people, a key adjustment that will help you to see your abs is to switch to lean protein sources. The reason to do this is that many protein sources contain fat. Examples of high-fat protein sources include marbled steak, 80% lean ground beef, dark chicken meat, and whole eggs.
To reveal your six pack, switch to lean sources of protein, such as white chicken meat, fish, shrimp, pork loin, and egg whites.
When it comes to ground beef, opt for 90% lean or better (preferably 95-96% lean). While lean ground beef is a bit more expensive, if you buy it in bulk, you can usually get the price back down.
3. Learn the 3 Macros
- Fats (Lipids)
The reason that an awareness of three macronutrients can help you with fat loss is that they vary in their caloric density:
- Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram
- Protein provides 4 calories per gram
- Fat provides 9 calories per gram.
For this reason, reducing fat intake is one of the fastest and easiest ways to reduce your total caloric payload.
Meaning, if you’re used to have cream in your coffee or peanut butter or cream cheese with your breakfast, you might want to cut that out.
Similarly, while free-range eggs are a healthy and high protein food, be aware that a large egg yolk contains 4 to 4.5 grams of fat. For this reason, you might want to switch from eating two to three whole eggs in the morning to eating one whole egg scrambled together with 2-3 egg whites.
Or, switch to egg whites for a couple months to observe what impact it has on your physique.
It’s also helpful to increase your fiber intake and drink more water than usual when training for a six-pack. Carbs should be in a slight deficit, but not so much that you’re not eating enough to give your body the energy it needs.
4. Eat Way More Vegetables (A LOT More)
When in doubt about what to eat, fill your plate with plenty of vegetables and try to cook at home as much as possible.
Personally, my wife and I eat vegetables with every single meal. Yes, we even eat vegetables with breakfast.
For each meal, vegetables compose between two-thirds to three-quarters of our total food intake. Personally, one of our favorite ways to achieve this is to eat what we call a “BAS.” BAS stands for “Big Ass Salad.”
Another approach that my wife and I commonly use is to use sautéed cauliflower rice as a vegetable base and then add protein, salsa, cilantro and other flavorful additions on top of it. We can bulk prep sautéed cauliflower rice by buying bags of it at Costco (sold in 4 lb bags) and then cook it using the “Sautée” setting on our Instapot.
Alternatively, you can mass prep mixed vegetables and eat them with every meal.
Most grocery stores will sell jumbo-sized bags of frozen vegetable mixes, which you can then roast in the oven on a few cookie sheets.
Regardless of what approach you take, you’re simply not going to take 30-60 minutes to prep vegetables before every meal, so instead, either plan to eat a lot of BAS’s (Big Ass Salads) or bulk prep a whole lot of veggies in advance.
5. Limit Fruit Intake (Unless It’s Around Your Workout Window)
Because most of us were taught as children that fruit is healthy, we tend to think we can eat a limitless amount of it. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true, at least not if you’re trying to drop body fat to reveal your abs.
What is critical to understand is that from a macronutrient standpoint, both fruits and vegetables are carbs.
Remember, there are only three macronutrients, so fruit and vegetables either have to be a carb, fat, or protein. Logically, our brains know they’re not a fat or protein, so it shouldn’t surprise you that they are a carbohydrate source.
The important distinction here is that vegetables tend to be very low in carbs (and therefore, low in calories), while fruit tends to be very high in carbs (and therefore, high in calories).
Fruit contains fructose and glucose, which are natural sugars and what makes fruit taste sweet. For this reason, if you want to reveal your abs, you’re going to want to monitor your fruit intake.
Having said all of this, there is one distinct exception to this rule, which is that your body processes carbs very differently pre, during, and post work-out. If you’re about to do or have just completed an intense workout, then you can eat fruit (or other carbs) and it will actually assist your recovery.
This is particularly true around strength training or high intensity workouts, when you should be consuming both protein and carbs to assist with muscle recovery.
However, if you are either new to nutrition science or are not regularly training at a high capacity, then your abs will likely benefit from limiting your fruit intake.
Personally, I regularly eat fruit as as carb source around my peri-workout window (peri means “about” or “around”), but limit my fruit intake at other times of day.
If you really want to dive into the topic of when to consume carbs, that is the called the science of nutrient timing and I’ll write more about it soon.
6. Do More Cardio
While you’re switching up your eating habits, you should also adjust your cardio. If you’re not doing any cardio at all, it’s time to start. If cardio is already part of your workout routine, it may be time to re-think how you fit it in and what you do for cardio.
For example, instead of 20 minutes of the same type of cardio, try gradually increasing the intensity, doing intervals, or doing a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine. These forms of cardio will get your heart rate pumping much higher than a steady speed/intensity workout can.
It’s also critical to find cardio that you enjoy doing. You can use the stationary bike, elliptical, rower, or other machine.
Personally, I love playing rugby as cardio, because it keeps me running up and down a playing field, all while being entertained by the competition, the movement of the ball, and spending time with friends.
I’ve been using rugby as my cardio for a long time now, having represented the USA Rugby Team and lived overseas to compete within international leagues, which you can read about here.
This results in more fat burned during your workout, leading to more toned abs.
7. Diversify Your Core Work
As great as better eating habits and smarter cardio routines are, you still have to put in the core work to make your abs stronger. Traditional situps and planks are a good place to start, but they won’t cut it if you’re trying to get cut.
It’s important to focus on the different areas of your abs and to challenge your abs as a whole with various workouts. For the hard-to-reach lower abs, do leg lifts and scissor kicks. For upper abs, crunches aiming to touch your toes or full-body sit-ups will do the trick.
Make it a point to learn other ab workouts and try some variations of your go-to’s though. Not only will it help build muscle strength for that strong six-pack, but this will also keep you motivated to work abs into your routine.
8. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Whether you’re in the gym or at home, make sure you’re hydrating properly while working toward your six-pack goal. Drinking enough water throughout the day supports your journey to being toned and defined in many ways.
For starters, proper hydration facilitates fat burning; it helps your body breakdown fats and other lipids by hydrolysis.
At the same time, being hydrated can help you feel full, lowering the intensity of hunger you may feel whenever you sit down to eat a meal.
Together, the increased rate of fat burning and lowered hunger cravings caused by proper hydration bring you one step closer to having strong, toned abs.
9. Increase the Intensity of Your Other Workouts
Have you done all of the above, but still have a little work to do before your six-pack is fully defined? Shift your focus to building strength in other areas.
Go progressively heavier in weight when you do deadlifts, squats, presses, or pull ups. Try pyramid sets for some of your workouts and see if you can increase your max weight by a few pounds as well.
If you’re not familiar with how to do the big compound lifts, consider doing at least one session with a personal trainer who can each you proper technique.
If you’re serious about getting a six-pack, this is a long-term investment in yourself that just might be worth making.
This will help you build muscle all over, and when your body has more muscle (no matter where it is), it burns more fat. This may be just what you need to make sure all your abs really show!
10. Learn to Engage Your Core in Every Exercise
Another way to keep working toward your six-pack is to work your core in everything you do. This isn’t to say work it to its limit (remember tip #4), but you should have some level of core engagement when doing things like squats, deadlifts, or pull-ups.
Keeping your core engaged will help make it stronger, even if just the slightest bit. It’s also a great way to maintain your form when doing these workouts, protecting you from injury while increasing your strength and stamina.
11. Be Patient
The final tip to keep in mind when working on your six-pack is to be patient. This kind of physical transformation won’t happen overnight, and it wouldn’t be as rewarding to suddenly have a six-pack, either.
It’s much more worthwhile to watch your body change over time. Don’t let the process, however long it may seem, discourage you from your goal. Instead, use your small improvements to stay motivated for more.
On average, it takes 6 months or longer of dedicated training and dieting for most people to get their abs to appear. If you’re starting at a higher level of body fat, it might take you 8-12 months or longer.
The more you follow the tips above, the more you’ll see that abdominal definition you’re looking for when you wake up in the morning or wrap up a workout.
Maintain Your Six-Pack
It’s one thing to build the six-pack of your dreams and another to maintain it. As you work on adding the tips above into your current workout routine, be sure to do so in a way that’s sustainable.
Maybe focus on a few of these tips first rather than trying to master them all at once. In a similar light, if you ever feel like your six-pack starts to fade, keep these tips in mind to help you maintain the appearance and strength you’re trying to build.
And no matter what your abs look like today, tomorrow, or a few months from now, remember to always celebrate the work you put in to take care of yourself. That matters more than anything you see in the mirror.