How to Get Abs: The Real and Most Effective Way
How does one get abs really? If there’s one lesson Thor taught us in Avengers: Endgame, it’s that having chiseled abs is almost impossible once you’ve let go of an active and healthy lifestyle.
The moment you decide to skip one too many workouts in lieu of happy hour beers (or beer round-the-clock like Thor) or switch out salads in favor of unli-rice, that’s pretty much a death sentence for your abs. While that sounds like a point of no return, you can still get Cristiano Ronaldo's chiseled mid-section if you do one thing: Put in the hard work! (Sorry, there are really no shortcuts.)
You read that right. Like breaking someone’s heart, there’s really no easy way to get your ab muscles to pop. But with the right information (read: based on science), you can definitely look forward to more moments when you can take your shirt off.
Here’s what you need to know to get there.
We all have that pan de sal
Ab muscles are something we are all born with. According to Jose Gemora, C.S.C.S, a strength and conditioning specialist and head coach at 360 Fitness Club, we are equipped to have not just six-, but eight-pack abs.
“They become two or four because the lower abs are hard to unleash. And as we age, we tend to store more fat in the area.”
To cut things short, you need get rid of the fat around the mid-section to unleash them. Roughly speaking, your body fat percentage needs to be around 12 percent for the ab muscles to show.
Getting there means achieving the balance between exercise and nutrition. “You won’t get visible washboard abs by doing [just] planks and ab work. You also won’t get them if you just eat too much or don’t eat at all,” says Timonty Jeffe U. Ting, a strength and conditioning coach, licensed nutritionist-dietitian, and owner of TimNutrition Clinic and Consultancy.
Exercise your abdominal muscles and your other muscle groups
If you’re wondering why every fitness montage in films involves the lead actor doing sit-ups, it’s because he already has visible abs. While ab moves like crunches strengthen the mid-section, they don’t do anything to burn the fat covering it.
“Those movements are isolated, and we need to consider the intensity of those exercises,” explains Emman Papa, assistant professor at the UP College of Human Kinetics in Diliman and strength and conditioning coach of the Magnolia Hotshots in the PBA. He adds that you should be doing more compound exercises, which target more muscle groups to add more muscle to your frame—making your body’s capacity to burn fat better.
To get abs, your workouts should include a balance of strength training and cardio. When you lift, you need to do more compound moves like squats, push-ups, lunges, pull-ups, and kettlebell swings. These exercises give more muscles in your body a pump, which in turn burns more calories, which includes the fat in your midsection.
As for cardio, variety is your friend. According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, doing steady state cardio (long bike rides or runs) and high intensity interval training (sprints, Tabatas) both improve aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance. Including both in your training regimen will increase your fitness and help you burn that tough mid-section lard.
To get abs, you must eat
It’s easy to think that by starving yourself, you’ll eventually use up all the fat in your midsection and have abs. There are also the many crash diets found online where you’ll pretty much eat the equivalent of air. In both cases, you’re doing your body more harm than good.
“It may help you lose weight, but weight loss is different than fat loss wherein we try to preserve as much muscle as possible. If you lose muscle weight along with fat, you will encounter what’s called ‘stubborn fat’ where you’ll become a smaller version of yourself but still have the same percentage of body fat,” warns Ting.
Yes, you might shrink, but then the fat remains in your midsection. Think skinny guys with protruding guts. That’s because when our body feels like it’s under threat (like, say, from starvation because you’ve been eating air), the fat clings to your midsection like white on rice. Factor in your age, and it gets even tougher to burn fat “since the body needs fat for survival and different physiological processes,” adds Gemora.
So what kind of meal plan should you follow? It should ensure balance and put you in what’s called a caloric deficit.
“Make sure you’re eating less than what your body needs and get enough grams of protein, anywhere between plus or minus 10 percent of your bodyweight in pounds is enough,” adds Ting.
Before trying any meal plan or lessening portions, consulting with a nutritionist helps determine your actual needs and the extent you need to tweak your daily meals. And no, you won’t need to be a stickler for daily nutrients and check labels like your life depended on it either. A nutrition professional will give you pointers that are scientific and will be practical in the long run.
“Having some basic knowledge in nutrition helps as it will allow for flexibility and sustainability once your abs finally show,” adds Ting.
How long does it take to get abs?
Sadly, unless you’re considering getting a six-pack tattoo or a procedure called abdominal etching, which is both costly and risky, there’s really no fast way to get abs. It will take time, patience, and mental fortitude to unleash them.
“Keep a consistent gym routine, get enough sleep to fuel your workouts, and be patient—You didn't gain fat overnight so don't expect that you will lose it overnight,” stresses Ting.
And if you’re going to train, might as well be practical about it. Remember, abs don’t mean you’re strong, it simply means a lower body fat percentage. “It’s not a measure of strength and some are just genetically gifted, naturally lean, love to workout, and eat less, and their abs just show,” says Gemora.
Looking good because you train and not just training to look good will be reflected through your body in more ways than just a chiseled mid-section. In fitness, remember that man does not live on abs alone.