Body fat percentage:
Everyone has abs, it’s just that for the majority of people there is a layer of fat covering them up so they are not visible. Abs start to become visible once this layer of fat has been removed which only happens at very low body fat percentages.
What percentage you need to get to will ultimately depend on your individual genetics and where you store body fat, but is generally around 15% for men and 20% for women. Unfortunately, you can’t spot reduce when it comes to fat loss (doing tons of ab exercises won’t shift the fat over your abs) so to lose belly fat you’ll need to reduce your overall body fat percentage by creating a calorie deficit through nutrition (reducing your calories), training (increasing your output) or a combination of the two.
Doing hundreds of ab exercises is not going to get you a six-pack. Abs are relatively small muscles, so working your abs alone won’t burn as much energy as working larger muscle groups, meaning it will take you much longer to create a calorie deficit.
The most efficient way to create a calorie deficit is to perform big ‘compound’ movements, like squats, deadlifts and pull-ups, with heavy weights (and remember – ‘heavy’ is a relative term to each individual).
These exercises have a larger metabolic effect on your body whilst also requiring a huge amount of core strength (you should be bracing your core hard during compound exercises to support the rest of your body).
If you want sculpted abs (visible in a variety of lighting) the main priority should be burning fat through a combination of large compound movements and isolation exercises.
As is the case with any muscle building process, if you want to grow your abs, you need to follow the principles of progressive overload whereby you are adding more weight or volume each time you train to ensure the muscles are getting progressively stronger.
Performing bodyweight exercises is great as a starting point but will only get you so far. To get strong, sculpted abs, you need to be progressively adding resistance or reps over time.
To create the calorie deficit you need for fat loss, you should be moving your body as much as possible, so adding regular cardio sessions into your training schedule will get you there quicker – the more you do, the bigger the deficit.
Nutrition plays a key role in reducing your body fat percentage. Tracking your calorie intake, eating a high protein diet with lots of vegetables and reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates (sweets, cakes, biscuits), are some of the best ways to create and maintain a calorie deficit.
High levels of stress also contributes to fat storage in the abdominal area so taking steps to decrease this where possible may help to combat the effects of this. Try taking time out for relaxation, meditation, deep breathing and sleep to help relieve stress.
For Fight Club-worthy abs you need a low body fat percentage so your main focus should be decent nutrition, full-body strength training and lots of movement to burn those extra calories. Once this is in place, some additional ab specific work will help fine tune and sculpt those core muscles.