Freaky Abs! The Monster Guide To A Shredded Six Pack
Shredded six pack. Freaky abs. Nearly everyone on the planet wants a flat stomach or ripped abs. At times this goal can seem impossible. But if you are like most you continue to eat healthy and knock out crunches by the hundreds, determined not to give up.
Is it really that hard to forge a waistline you are proud to reveal at the beach? Well, the truth is this: having a great set of abs is not easy! Nothing worth having is ever easy. Unfortunately, most people make the quest for a six pack much more difficult than it is by focusing too much on ab workouts, while putting very little thought into a proper diet.
Just what exactly does it take to have great abs? Simply stated, you need to do the following:
- Build your abs – To build a thick and impressive six pack your ab workouts must be challenging.
- Reveal your abs – To reveal your thick abs you need to diet properly and shed fat while maintaining muscle.
This article will help you to do both. We will explore common abs myths, look at some of the best ab exercises and workouts, and detail how to best eat to shed some fat and reveal your abs. We will also present cardio and supplementation strategies to help you amplify your fat burning efforts.
So let’s get started. The beach is waiting!
Quick Jump to the Sub-Sections of This Guide:
- 12 Common Ab Myths
- Top Exercises For Building An Amazing Six Pack
- Thick Abs! Making Your Abs Workouts More Difficult
- Abs Blasting Workouts
- The Big Reveal! Diet And Cardio For Eye-Popping Abs
- End Notes
12 Common Abs Myths
Myth #1: Endless crunches and situps will tone the abs, and result in a six pack!
Wrong. You can perform 1,000 crunches and situps every day for the next 2 decades and you still won’t tone your abs and carve out a six pack. While ab exercises can help to build strong and thick abs, they won’t strip away the fat that is currently covering your abs. Only a proper fat cutting diet can tone your midsection, revealing the abs that lie beneath.
Myth #2: As long as you are eating healthy you will lose fat and tone your abs!
False. While eating healthy is a good start, it doesn’t guarantee toned abs. It is possible to eat only “good foods” and still gain weight. It is also possible to eat the wrong types of healthy foods, which might cause you to lose muscle, making it harder to see your abs! To lose fat the right way you will need to focus on the total amount of calories you are eating each day, while keeping an eye on protein, carbohydrate and fat consumption.
Myth #3: Resistance training isn’t needed when dieting for six pack abs!
While resistance training isn’t needed when on a fat stripping diet, it will help you to tone and maximize your current muscle mass. On the other hand, if you don’t utilize some form of resistance training, you risk losing fat AND muscle while dieting. The end result might be six pack abs, but not much else to go with it.
Myth #4: Abs must be worked as frequently as possible with high reps!
No, not exactly. While the abdominals are a smaller muscle group, and can generally be worked more frequently, you should still train them like any other muscle group. Far too often the abs are not trained with progressive resistance, meaning that the workouts do not become more difficult over time. It is more important to make ab workouts challenging than it is to perform an endless amount of easy repetitions.
Also, abs should be worked about 1-3 times per week. As a rule, the more frequently your train your abs, the less daily volume you should use. Working abs everyday provides very little benefit, and makes it harder for your ab muscles to grow. As previously mentioned, an excessive amount of ab work will not tone your abs. Challenging your abs with more resistance will help to build a thicker six pack, and the larger your abs, the more prominent they become!
Myth #5: Working your abs will give you a bad back!
While overworking your abs, or any muscle group for that matter, could create lower back strain, a moderate and sensible amount of abs work will actually strengthen your lower back. The abs and lower back are opposing muscles and work synergistically during ab training.
Myth #6: Crunches are the best ab exercise!
Not so much. Crunching your way into oblivion is not the best strategy for building thick, six pack abs. Most of us can perform 25 to 50 crunches (or more) right now without stopping. The fact that crunches are relatively easy to do, or will become relatively easy to perform after only a week or two, indicates that they are not providing enough resistance. Once the body has adapted and is no longer challenged it has very little incentive to “grow” a muscle.
Myth #7: You can stay “freaky” shredded 365 days a year!
This is nearly impossible, unless you are a freak of nature. Fitness models or bodybuilders appearing on the cover of magazines are often 5-7% bodyfat or lower. It is very difficult to maintain a bodyfat percentage this low for weeks at a time. With that said, it is more reasonable and possible to keep 10-12% bodyfat for extended periods of time. You are a little more “smooth” at this bodyfat percentage, but you will look and feel healthier and should still have abs!
Myth #8: A low or no carb diet is the “only” way to shred the abs!
While low carb diets have many benefits, and are used successfully by some natural bodybuilders and fitness models, they are not the only “carb game” in town. Many fitness models and bodybuilders achieve great results with carb cycling which can involve high, moderate and low carb days. In addition, some of you will not need to cycle carbs at all, and may only need to eat fewer calories each day to strip away the fat. We will address diet later in the article.
Myth #9: It’s just as easy for women to get six pack abs!
False. The female body naturally tends to hold higher bodyfat levels, and will often “fight” to retain bodyfat when it’s at lower levels. This does not imply that it will be impossible for a woman to have great abs, but rather it will be more difficult to have freaky shredded abs.
Myth #10: You must do an insane amount of cardio to have abs!
Not true. Having a properly structured fat cutting diet is more important. While cardio can certainly help burn fat and stimulate your metabolism, you do not need to spend several hours each day strolling at a fast pace on the treadmill, or Stairmastering yourself into a mind-numbing trance. First and foremost, dial in your diet. Once your eating approach is on point, you can add cardio as needed.
Myth #11: You need strong abs to have a great six pack!
In general, no. While resistance training will definitely help to build thicker, more prominent abs, you do not even need to train your abs to have a six pack. Everyone has ab muscles. At a bare minimum you don’t have to do any ab work to carve out a six pack. Once again, it’s almost all about diet. Many grade school age children have the outline of a six pack, yet they have very little ab strength. Remember this: diet reveals the abs, resistance training makes them thick. If you don’t care about having thick abs, and just want beach abs, you may not have to do any ab training at all.
Myth #12: Once you have abs, maintaining them is easy!
Sorry, but this is incorrect. For the average person maintaining great looking abs takes an incredible amount of discipline. This means eating clean and training hard several days a week. If you develop a six pack, it only takes a few poor diet days for it to soften or even disappear.
Top Exercises For Building An Amazing Six Pack
In this section we will look at some of the best direct and indirect exercises for building thick abs. Direct ab exercises are generally isolation exercises which only work the abs. Indirect exercises are compound lifts, and contribute to ab size because of the stress placed upon the core while performing them.
Best Direct Abs Exercises
The Muscle & Strength abs exercises database features over 60 different isolation-style exercises to work your abs. While the following list includes some incredibly potent and effective movements, you may find that some of these exercises are beyond your current capabilities. If that is the case, don’t hesitate to explore new exercises that are not on this list.
- Walking Planks. The walking plank takes an incredibly taxing exercise, the static plank, and makes it more difficult. From a static plank position, move one arm slightly forward, then the next. Hop, walk or slide your feet up several inches, keeping your body as straight as possible without bending your hips upward. Continue this pattern.
- Sit Up, Stand Up. The sit up, stand up turns the sit up into an explosive ab destroying exercise. Start in a conventional sit up position, back against the floor and knees bent. Now instead of simply sitting up, explode forward doing your best to thrust your glutes towards your heels and gain momentum, while also trying to stand up. This exercise can also be performed with resistance, holding a medicine ball, kettlebell or dumbbell.
- Weighted Roman Chair Sit Up. With your legs straight and anchored, place your glutes on the high point of the Roman chair pad. Holding a dumbbell or Olympic plate, slowly lean back until you are at or near a horizontal position. Sit up, and repeat.
- Standing Cable Crunch. Using a rope attachment, place your back towards the cable pulley system and hold the ends of the rope above your shoulders and near your upper chest. With knees slightly bent, keep your lower body stiff and crunch downward, trying to touch your elbows to your thighs.
- Barbell or Ab Wheel Rollouts. Using a barbell loaded with 25 or 45 pound plates, or an ab wheel, kneel and place your hands in a comfortable position. Slowly roll the bar forward until your body reaches a near horizontal position. From here, roll the bar back to the starting position and repeat.
- Decline Bench Knee Raise (Reverse Crunch). Lie on a decline bench in the opposite position, with your head higher than your hips. Grab the padding of the bench somewhere near head level. Raise your knees, attempting to touch them to your elbows, then lower your legs and repeat. For added resistance, use ankle weights, or secure a cable pulley or resistance bands to your ankles/feet.
- Side Plank. Start by laying on your side with one hand on the floor and your feet on top of one another. If you prefer, you can rest on your elbow instead of your hand. Lift your hips up until your body is exactly straight. Now hold this position for as long as possible. You should feel this exercise in your abs and obliques. Do not let your body sag in the middle; always stay perfectly straight.
- Mountain Climbers. This exercise can be performed with your hands on the floor, on a bench, or upon an exercise ball. Start in a push ups position, with your arms locked and your body straight. Keeping your body still, raise your right knee towards your left elbow, and then return it back to the starting position. Repeat this motion, bringing your left knee towards your right elbow. Continue this climbing motion for the required number of reps.
- Hanging V-Style Leg Raises. Hanging from a pull ups bar, raise your legs until they are parallel to the ground, keeping them somewhat straight or in a locked position. Instead of returning your legs to the starting position of the exercise, flare your legs out until they form a V-shape. Bring them back together, keeping your legs parallel to the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Best Indirect Abs Exercises
Believe it or not, some of the thickest, most stunning sets of abs weren’t developed with an excessive amount of direct ab work. Compound lifts, or exercises that tax several muscle groups at once, require core strength and stability. They can help build great abs without the tedious need for set after set of situps. While it is not recommended that you forsake all direct ab training, the following exercises can help to varying degrees.
- Squats – Squats are considered the king of muscle building lifts, and require a strong core to help balance the body while descending and performing repetitions.
- Deadlifts – A very underused exercise, deadlifts are perhaps the most primal barbell lift. The abdominals work synergistically with the lower back while deadlifting to create an efficient and effective pull.
- Overhead Squats – Overhead squats may be the most obscure exercise in this list, and require an incredible amount of abdominal strength to perform.
- Overhead Presses – Not quite as taxing as overhead squats, overhead presses incorporate the abdominals and bring stability to this lift.
- Tricep Push Downs – During tricep push downs your abs are in a near constant state of contraction, working hard to stabilize your torso while you knock out reps.
- Straight Arm Lat Push Downs – Straight arm lat pull downs call the abs into play in the same manner that tricep push downs do, contracting hard throughout each rep.
- Kettlebell Wind Mills – If you’ve never trained with a kettlebell, you’re missing out on this incredible core blaster.
Thick Abs! Making Your Abs Workouts More Difficult
The cornerstone to building thick, rope-like abs is progression. Progression simply means making an abs workout more difficult over time. This change in difficulty does not have to be dramatic from workout to workout. Instead, you can focus on making small improvements on a weekly basis. Over time these small increases in progression will add up to big changes.
Progression, or the adding of difficulty to an abs workout, can be increased in the following ways:
- Add Reps – Try to beat your previous performance on any given exercise by at least one rep. Over time small rep increases create an incredibly strong set of abs, and lead to some amazing feats of physical fitness. If you can currently perform 10 situps and add 1-2 extra reps per week, you will be knocking out reps like a machine in no time!
- Decrease Rest – One of the best ways to increase the difficulty of an abs workout is to decrease rest between sets. If you start with 120 seconds of rest between sets, and slowly lower that time by 5 seconds on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, you will be challenging your abs to adapt to new demands.
- Add Sets – As mentioned in the ab myths section, you do not need to work your abs with a crazy amount of high rep sets. A good rep guideline is 10-25 per set. This is not a hard and fast rule, and can be adjusted based on the exercise performed and to your specific body, needs and goals. Once you can easily perform 25 reps per set, adding in an additional set will amplify the stress. Obviously, you can’t continue to add sets forever. Overworking your abs with set after set is not the most effective form of progression.
- Add Resistance – Resistance is the force that works against you when trying to complete a rep. Resistance should be added very slowly over time. This gradual increase in stress will force your abs to be in a constant state of adaptation, leading to muscle growth and improved thickness. Resistance can be added with free weights (performing situps with a dumbbell or plate on your chest), ankle weights or a weighted vest (ankle weights on hanging knee raises), or with bands or a cable/pulley system (performing lying leg raises with one end of a band secured around your feet and the other anchored to a machine).
- Add Time – Certain ab exercises are performed in a static position, such as planks, side planks, and walking planks. By increasing the amount of time you hold these exercises, you are making the workout more difficult and forcing your abs to respond and grow.
- Slow Negatives – Slow negatives are an advanced training technique that involve performing a rep at normal speed, and then lowering the body back to the starting position of the exercise in a slow and controlled manner. This slow lowering is extremely taxing and should not be overused. Just as with other progression approaches, it is recommended that you add in slow negatives in a gradual manner. You can amplify the difficulty of a slow negative by increasing the amount of time it takes to lower your body. When using this technique, start with 3-4 second negative reps and slowly build up to 10 seconds.
Abs Blasting Workouts
Use the following guidelines when deciding on which stage of ab workouts to use:
- Stage 1 – Stage 1 workouts are for someone who has not trained abs in quite some time.
- Stage 2 – Stage 2 workouts are for someone who is currently training abs but doesn’t feel like they are making good progress.
- Stage 3 – Stage 3 is the advanced stage. These workouts are designed for the hardcore abs fanatic, and are incredibly taxing.
Note: Remember to focus on progression. Make it a goal to beat your last performance, even if it’s only by a rep or a small amount of weight.
How to train your abs properly to maximize results
To maximize results utilize the following ab training “rules”:
- Workout Frequency – Train your abs 1-3 times per week. Set aside the belief that more is better. Instead focus on training intensity, followed by adequate rest.
- Workout Volume – Don’t add additional sets to these workouts. If a workout isn’t challenging enough, find a way to make it progressively more difficult.
- Workout Timing – If you are using a muscle building workout, train your abs towards the end of your workout. It is best to focus on abs after you have trained all major muscle groups for that day. If you are not trying to build muscle, abs may be worked at any time during your workout.
Start your first workout with the minimum number of sets and reps (for planks, start with the minimal amount of time). During the first several weeks try to progress slowly, performing more reps each time. When you can perform 20 reps, add a second set. For planks, when you can hold a plank for 45 seconds add a second set.
When you are able to perform 20 reps for 2 sets, add a third. When you can hold 2 sets of planks for 45 seconds (or more) each, add a third set. Move on to Stage 2 workouts when you are able to perform maximal reps for all sets in a given workout.
For standing cable crunches, pick a weight that is challenging and makes it difficult to perform 20 reps.
Stage 1: Workout #1
Stage 1: Workout #2
Stage 1: Workout #3
You will have developed a fair amount of core strength and abdominal conditioning by now. At this stage of your training you will need to incorporate some new forms of progressive, including limited rest between sets and the addition of resistance to certain exercises. There is no set standard for how long you can use Stage 2 workouts. Continue to challenge yourself, and only move on to the advanced Stage 3 workouts if you feel you have amazing abs conditioning.
Weighted Sit Ups – Hold an Olympic plate or dumbbell on your abs or lower chest, and perform sit ups. When you find that you can easily perform 25 reps with a given weight, add more resistance.
Planks and Side Planks – Focus on decreasing rest between sets of planks, or superset planks with another exercise.
Hanging V-Style Leg Raises – If you are unable to perform 10 reps, perform as many V-style raises as you can, and then finish a set with standard leg raises (or knee raises). If this exercise becomes too easy either superset it with another exercise, or add ankle weights as resistance.
Weighted Decline Bench Knee Raise – Add resistance either via ankle weights, or by attaching a cable or a band to your ankles/feet. If using a band, make sure that the opposite end is anchored properly.
Barbell or Ab Wheel Rollouts – If rollouts become too easy, incorporate slow negatives to increase the intensity.
Stage 2: Workout #1
Stage 2: Workout #2
At this stage of abdominal training you should be very familiar with the various forms of progression, and what is needed to have a great abs workout.
Sit Up Stand Up – This is a very difficult exercise to master. Do not attempt it with weight until you feel completely comfortable with its execution.
Walking Planks – Instead of time you may also focus on repetitions, counting each stride as a rep.
Weighted Roman Chair Sit Ups and Hanging V-Style Leg Raises – These are performed as a superset. Add resistance, and/or other advanced progression techniques such as slow negatives and decrease rest as needed.
Stage 3: Workout #1
The Big Reveal! Diet And Cardio For Eye-Popping Abs
The hard work is done, but the battle has only begun. You’ve made the effort in the gym and now it’s time to drop the excess fat and reveal the hidden six pack.
This section will focus on both diet and cardio. A properly structured eating plan is the key to efficient fat loss, so that you can get ripped without losing muscle. Cardio will help you during that journey but it is not the be all end all. While both are important, remember that cardio alone won’t create amazing abs. A well-planned diet with minimal cardio can help you shed fat, but cardio with a poor eating approach puts you on the road to nowhere!
Dieting For Fat Loss
Cutting fat isn’t just about reducing calories and eating more healthy. Believe it or not, you can eat healthy and eat fewer calories but still be eating wrong. In addition, many generic diet approaches actually make it hard to shred up and reveal your abs. Let me explain…
While healthy eating is, well….good for your health, it’s not the most efficient “beach body” dieting approach. Healthy eating is a generic term, and 9 times out of 10 it lacks focus and the key ingredients that are required to shed fat and reveal your abs. A proper fat cutting diet will help you to maintain muscle while losing fat, and this is what you want.
When you are “only” eating healthy, your diet is probably working against you because you are losing muscle AND fat. This makes it difficult to reach the proper bodyfat levels required to see your abs. Simply stated, you become thin, but a good portion of the weight you lose is muscle, so your bodyfat percentage drops more slowly. This prolongs the length of your diet causing you to lose more and more muscle.
With this approach there’s a good chance you will never reach the goal of seeing your abs. If you do, you won’t have much of a physique to go with it. Here are the cornerstones of a proper cutting diet approach; one that allows you to retain most of your existing muscle while losing fat:
- Meal Frequency – It’s better to eat every 2.5 to 3 hours than it is to eat a small breakfast, a salad for lunch, and a random healthy evening dinner. Frequent, small meals not only help you mentally (because your next meal is only a short amount of time away), but they are also proven to be an extremely effective method of getting ripped.
- Protein – Most diets don’t include enough protein. Protein is required to repair and build muscle tissue. Without enough dietary protein you make it difficult for the body to hold on to the valuable muscle you worked so hard to obtain. As a general guideline, men should eat about 30-35 grams of protein every 2.5 to 3 hours, and women should consume about 20 grams every 2.5 to 3 hours.
- Fat – Don’t avoid healthy fats! The body needs fats to function properly. Forget the idea that eating fats make you fat; it’s not true. 20 to 35% of your daily calories should come from healthy fats.
- Calorie Intake – Rapid weight loss is not the best way to get shredded abs and a great body. If you are losing more than 1.5 to 2 pounds per week, there’s a good chance that much of this is muscle loss. Dial in your daily calories so that you are losing the right amount of weight each week.
- Resistance Training – Don’t make the mistake of using lighter weights and higher reps while trying to get ripped. This is a major mistake! You need to train just as hard in the weight room while cutting as you did when trying to build muscle. Using lighter weight sends a signal to your body that the current muscle mass you are carrying is no longer needed, and that it’s ok to give it up.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to provide a specific eating plan, there are many resources on Muscle & Strength that can get you on the fast track to a shredded six pack. Use the following articles as resources. If you have questions or need further advice, consider joining the Muscle & Strength forum.
Supplements And Fat Loss
Dieting presents a whole new set of challenges for the body. By restricting calories you are also restricting nutrients. One could make the argument that supplementation during fat loss is more important than supplementation during the muscle building process. In either case, the following supplements are worth considering:
- Multivitamin – It is simply not good enough to eat healthy and hope that all your nutritional bases are covered. Weight training and cardio tax the body, depleting it of vital nutritional resources. In addition, you are placing your muscles in repairing and building mode, meaning that you will need more than an average share of vitamins and minerals. A good multivitamin product will fill in all the “holes” in your diet.
- Fish Oil – Fish oil, or healthy essential fatty acids, should be a staple for anyone that trains hard. Healthy oils and essential fatty acids are well known for improving overall health, vitality and brain function. But healthy oils also play an important role in muscle building and fat loss. A Danish study proved that supplementing with the correct ratio of essential fats can increase stamina, improve muscle development, speed recovery and improve cardiovascular function.
- Pre-Workout Formula – A pre-workout supplement allows you to train longer, stronger, and with more energy. Simply stated, a pre-workout supplement functions in a synergistic manner with your fat loss supplement, and with your aggressive training approach, amplifying your efforts and maximizing fat loss.
- Fat Burner – There are many fat loss supplements available that can help you burn fat fast. To find the fat loss supplement that’s right for you, check out our fat loss supplement guide.
Cardio For Fat Loss
While cardio can be beneficial to the fat loss process it is often overused or used incorrectly. While cardio can help you shed fat, performing too much cardio when it’s not needed can result in the loss of muscle tissue. It’s best to only incorporate a moderate amount of cardio when starting a cutting diet, perhaps no more than 3-4 sessions of 20-30 minutes per week. If you feel that this is not enough, or that your fat loss diet has hit a plateau, slowly add in additional cardio.
Here are some tips to maximize your cardio:
- HIIT vs. LIT – HIIT is high intensity interval training, such as cycling between periods of sprinting and light jogging. LIT is low intensity cardio, such as walking on a treadmill or using a Stairmaster. There is a heated debate over which of these is most effective for burning fat. The bottom line is this…exercise is exercise, and all forms of cardio help to burn calories and elevate your metabolism.
- Cardio and Resistance Training – If muscle retention is a primary goal, perform cardio after weight training. If you enter your resistance training sessions fatigued, it will make it hard to perform at 100%. The human body needs all the incentive it can get to retain muscle while losing fat. Sub-par resistance training workouts can put you on the fast track to muscle loss.
- Cardio on Off Days – Cardio can also be performed on off days, or on days in which you are not performing resistance training. It may also be convenient to perform cardio first thing in the morning or several hours before your weight training session. If you use this approach make sure you feel 100% before hitting the weights.
- Cardio Monotony – Cardio does not have to be mindless and boring. Pick an enjoyable form of cardio, and if one doesn’t exist, create one! Cardio can be performed in intervals, using everything from sled dragging to swimming to kettlebell swinging. Don’t chain yourself to a treadmill. Exercise should be fun.
Carving out a six pack or flat stomach is hard work. Maintaining one is even more difficult. Make sure to set realistic goals. Even the most shredded and ripped bodybuilders and fitness models will tell you that it’s impossible to stay in peak condition year round. With that said, you don’t have to allow your bodyfat levels to get out of control.
If you find that your bodyfat levels are beyond a comfortable and manageable level, go on a short term cutting diet. If you are already lean, losing 6 to 8 pounds of fat over a month’s time should help to shred you up.
Also, never allow yourself to get more than 20-25 pounds past your ripped to shreds body weight. Losing 25 pounds of fat will require a 16 week cutting diet. 40 pounds of fat would require you to diet for half a year!
Remember that a healthy fitness lifestyle is a balanced lifestyle. Allow yourself one reasonable cheat meal per week. If muscle building is a goal, keep in mind that it can be very difficult to add muscle without adding some fat.
Become a master of your own body and know the food you put into it. This will lead to success, and to an amazing set of six pack abs.