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The 6 Rules of a 6-Pack

Written by Mr. WellCultured, Sunday, January 17th, 2010 in Culture, Fitness

Seemingly regardless of where you go, most magazine stands carry some variant of the standard articles about getting a 6-pack- from “Easy Six Packs!” to “Exercises to Carve your Midsection”, there are many journalists who erroneously promote schemes to get a quick six-pack- oftentimes lying to you in the process.

I’m quite tired of that. There are so many misconceptions about abdominal muscles nowadays (particularly in the realm of how to get them) that it seems no-one has it right. So, to fix that, I’m going to list out 6 simple rules about getting a six-pack- some you’ve probably never heard of before or that go against things you’ve heard before, but valuable lessons about yourself, your diet, and your training.

Rule 1: Body Fat is Everything.

The key to having a six-pack is body fat- and very little else. Despite a LOT of literature promising an easy six-pack via arcane exercises or odd machines, the main factor in having a carved stomach is actually losing body fat percentage, not necessarily having strong core muscles (though that helps, see below). This actually explains why a lot of rail-thin guys tend to have faint outlines of a six-pack, despite little to no exercise or effort: men typically store body fat quickly in the stomach, and having little of it exposes muscles that are usually rarely (if ever) shown.

Rule 1 is Rule 1 because it is the most important to getting a nice carved stomach: if you want one, lose weight, but maintain muscle. Hit the gym lots. Move lots. Weight lift. Eat better and eat well. Optimize your body to lose body fat while maintaining muscle mass and the like. Remember: it’s not about body weight, it’s about body fat– the former you need not care about as much as the latter (you can easily be 110lbs and be fat, or be 200lbs and be carved).

Rule 2: Ab Exercises are best done rarely.

Ab Exercises, like curls or certain tricep exercises, are often wastes of time with results better achieved through compound movements. This does not mean that they are entirely useless: however, ab exercises are best placed at a very low priority on any good weight lifting regimen, regardless of how badly you want a six-pack. Excessive crunches with 20% body fat will do nothing for you aesthetically whatsoever.

The real advantage of ab exercises (and core exercises in general), especially very isolated exercises like crunches, are to help build up rudimentary strength that can be used to assist stabilizing things like squats. To really work your abs and your core, find exercises that utilize them in a compound way- things like squats (especially front squats) and deadlifts are actually phenomenal ways to do this. They also, at least from my experience, seem to be 300x more efficient and utterly manlier than spending 30 minutes upside-down on a sit-up bench trying desperately to have a nice stomach.

Rule 3: Machines don’t do a thing.

If it is on TV and it promises something about abs, it is lying. If it is some sort of complex wannabe situp machine, it is useless. The only exception that I have personally found are expensive weighted oblique machines that go over ~100lbs, which are hard to find and can easily be replaced with other exercises. There is nothing more to say on this topic.

Rule 4: More Muscle, More Difficulty, Better Abs.

Let me go ahead and say something somewhat offensive: incredibly skinny people have an easy time getting fairly unimpressive abs. Impressive abs come from people who weight train hard and put on real muscle, not those who simply slim down enough to get tiny cuts to make them feel strong.

Many weight lifters feel really depressed when, even after years of exercising, they don’t get the six-pack they want- be it because  they eat a lot to continue building muscle or simply the lack of focus to lose the weight. However, this is okay- at higher weights, it can often become incredibly difficult to, without a focused diet and exercises, carve away fat and get a nice stomach. Still, it’s utterly more impressive: once you get those nice abs at over ~180lbs, the skinny kids who don’t touch the gym at 130lbs who manage to have a six-pack don’t compare.

Rule 5: Abs do not mean Strength.

Right along the lines of #4, having abs does not mean you have any sort of strength, as it is more of an aesthetic thing related to body fat than anything else. It is very easy to be slightly carved at lower body weights, especially if you manage to get rid of the body fat you carry on your body normally. This does not indicate any sort of power. Many incredibly strong power lifters have nothing even remotely close to a six-pack.

Rule 6: Never exercise for a 6-Pack.

If your goal in exercising is to merely get a six-pack, you’re really on the wrong track.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good and exercising to get there- however, the “get a six-pack” culture many magazines have created has utterly destroyed good exercise plans through half-baked plans with attractive fashion models attached to them. Focusing exclusively on a six-pack is ridiculous- and often, those who do it end up looking unbalanced and ridiculous.

In reality, no matter how tempting it may seem to focus on your six pack exclusively, such goals never really do much- rather, focusing on general fitness and whole-body workouts will not only give you the aesthetic perks you desire, but also realistic strength.

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One Response to The 6 Rules of a 6-Pack

  1. Jim Hart says:

    At 71 I’ve given given up 6-pack ‘lust’ in favor of staying active and fifteen minutes of intentional humdrum exercises. Dumb bells at 25 lb. max. Each year I have to do push-ups exceeding my age by three reps–clean no sag push-ups. Did 74 this year. Push-ups are my daily prayer session.

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