Let’s face it:
You might be big (or curvy)…
You might be lean…ish… 😉
And you might be strong…
But all the cool kids have abs.
And the fact the you’re here reading this article tells me that you probably want a shiny new six pack of your own.
There’s a problem, though.
What happens when millions of people just like you want something so badly that it keeps them up late at night, wallets in hand, searching desperately for answers?
You got it.
A rogues’ gallery of fake “guru” hucksters line up like carnival barkers to shill their “six pack secrets”–pills, PDFs, powders, and the lot.
Okay, okay…I’m being dramatic (but not entirely inaccurate…).
But here’s the reality:
There is an overwhelming amount of misguided, misleading, and even malicious advice out there about how to get “six pack abs.”
- Some people say special types of ab exercises and workouts are all you need…and they’re wrong.
- Some people say ab exercises are useless…and they’re wrong.
- Some people say you just need a low body fat percentage…and they’re wrong.
- Some people say you have to eat certain foods and avoid others…and they’re wrong.
- Some people say it’s all in the supplements…and they’re just lying.
The good news is this:
If you can do just two things well, you can have killer abs.
And that’s what this article is going to be all about.
By the end, you’re going to know exactly what to do in the kitchen and the gym to get the core definition you’ve always wanted.
And no, you won’t have to buy anything, subscribe to anything, or even try anything else.
Everything you need is right here.
So let’s get started.
- The No BS Truth About How to Get Abs
- The 6 Best Ab Exercises
- Remember-Progression Is the Key
- How to Create the Ultimate Ab Workout
- Can Supplements Help You Lose Belly Fat?
- The Bottom Line on Ab Exercises
- Want More Workouts?
Table of Contents
You are two simple steps away from abs.
This is true regardless of how fit or fat you might be and how little or much you exercise.
It’s true whether you’re a guy or girl, whether you’re 20 or 50, and whether you love “clean eating” or not.
Here they are…
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1. Lose the belly fat.
Let’s start with the obvious.
You can’t see your abs because you have too much fat covering them.
If you shrink that layer of fat, you’re close to a six pack if not there.
The sixty-four-dollar question, though, is how to actually do that.
And the first thing you need to know about losing belly fat is you can’t directly “target” it for elimination.
In fact, you can’t target any area of your body for fat loss.
No individual workout can “slim your thighs,” “tone your butt,” or “sculpt your midsection.”
You simply can’t burn away the fat covering muscles by training them.
The reason for this is fat loss (and gain) is a whole-body process.
And as you’ve probably noticed, some areas (like the arms and face) lean out faster than others (like the stomach). (More on that in a minute.)
What this tells us, then, is if we want abs, our body fat percentage needs to be in the right range.
That range is about 15% and below in men and 25% and below in women.
Here’s what that looks like:
Now, I mentioned earlier that some areas lose fat faster than others.
And unfortunately, if you’re like most people, the fat covering your abs is particularly stubborn.
Well, there’s a scientific reason for this and science-based solutions, too.
Learn more here.
2. Develop your abs and other core muscles.
You’ve probably heard that you don’t need to do ab exercises to have great abs.
That’s true if you have great genetics.
Some people–#blesstheirlittlehearts–get lean for the first time in their lives, look down, and wouldyalookatthat, a fully hatched set of abs.
Most of us aren’t so lucky. We have train our abs to get the look we want.
To understand why, let’s quickly review the anatomy of the core muscles.
When people talk about “abs,” they’re talking about the *rectus abdominis.”
Here’s how it looks:
And when people talk about the “core,” they’re usually including several other muscles such as the obliques, transversus abdominis (or “TVA”), and serratus.
Here those are:
The rectus abdominis gets the most attention, but these lesser-known muscles play an important role in achieving the overall look we want.
For example, here’s what a semi-developed rectus abdominis and under-developed core looks like:
He has a better core than most guys, but if you look closely, you’ll see there’s very little v-taper at the waist, no serratus, and no TVA line.
This can go the other way, too: too much core development and too little rectus abdominis.
Case in point:
This “thick-waisted” look is due to overcooked obliques and poorly developed abs, TVA, and serratus.
Our goal is something more like this:
Sure, Plitt had far better genetics than the other two guys, but he also has a far better developed core.
All the major players are balanced and proportionate, which gives his torso that tight, integrated, “interlocking” look.
My own body is a good example of how addressing a lagging core can improve the overall appearance.
Here’s a picture of me taken a few years ago:
As you can see, I was lean, had decent rectus abdominis development, and my obliques and TVA were at least visible.
Compare that to these pictures, though, which were taken a couple years later:
As you can see, I’ve worked hard on further developing every aspect of my core, and I think the results speak for themselves.
And this article lays out everything I’ve done.
So, now that we know exactly what we’re going for, let’s look at how to get there.
If you’re like most guys, you don’t just want abs.
You want thick, “blocky” abs with deep cuts that “pop” when flexed.
And that means you’re going to need significantly more muscle development in your core than you currently have.
(And if you’re a woman, you probably want something a bit more “elegant,” but even that’s going to require more muscular core than you might realize.)
Accomplishing that isn’t complicated, but you need to take a different approach than most people.
You can work up to a tremendous number of crunches and tremendous plank times and still have rather underwhelming abs.
The reason for this is simple:
If you want to build muscle effectively, you need to progressively overload your muscles, and the best way to do that is with resistance training.
That is, bodyweight training can build muscle up to a point but it can’t deliver anywhere near the results of resistance training (and weightlifting in particular).
This applies as much to your “upper chest” as to your abs. The muscle tissue covering your stomach functions like all other muscle tissue in your body.
What this means for your abs and core training is you must do weighted exercises if you want a great six pack.
And not only that, but you must progress on the exercises over time (by getting stronger).
This is why, as you’ll see, I recommend that every ab workout you do contains at least a few sets of weighted training.
Before we get into workouts, though, let’s talk exercises.
There are hundreds of ab exercises out there and thousands of opinions as to which are effective and ineffective, best and worst, and so forth.
I’m going to keep it simple here.
You only need a handful to develop a tight, chiseled core. And you’ll find them below.
This list is based on a bit of scientific research as well as my experiences with my body and the thousands of people I’ve worked with.
1. The Big Compound Lifts
This is one of the many reasons why each and every one of the most time-proven and popular weightlifting programs include and emphasize these exercises.
2. Cable Crunch
This is one of my favorite exercises for training the rectus abdominis.
It allows you to safely and comfortably overload your abs and core, making it particularly good for increasing the size and definition of the muscles involved.
3. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise
This exercise is really good for training both the rectus abdominis, including the “lower abs,” and obliques.
You can start with your knees bent but you want to work toward keeping your legs straight.
Then, as you get stronger, you can add weight by snatching a dumbbell in between your feet.
4. Hanging Leg Raise
This is a more difficult version of the Captain’s Chair Leg Raise because you have to keep your body stabilized.
Again, you can start with your knees bent but you want to work toward straight legs, and you can add weight by snatching a dumbbell in between your feet.
5. Air Bicycle
This exercise is simple but effective, and particularly good for training your obliques and TVA.
6. Ab Wheel Rollout
I generally shy away from gadgets and gizmos, but I do like the ab wheel.
The video above lays out the progression process nicely.
If you want to include this exercise in your ab routine, here’s a high-quality wheel:
That’s it for the best abs exercises. Those are all you need to get a washboard stomach.
Now, I mentioned earlier that your goal isn’t to just do these exercises. It’s to progress on them.
What that means in this context is:
1. Adding weight to your weighted exercises over time.
You do this by adding weight once you hit the top of the rep range you’re working in.
For instance, I’m going to recommend that you work in the 10 to 12 (or 12 to 15, if you prefer) rep range on your weighted work.
Thus, if you get 12 or 15 reps of cable crunches, increase the weight on the stack (most go up by 10 pounds), and work with that new weight until you can crunch it for 12 to 15 reps, move up again, and so forth.
2. Getting more reps on your bodyweight exercises over time.
Your goal in your bodyweight ab exercises is to simply get as many reps as you can.
If, in time, you make so much progress on a bodyweight exercise that you can do what seems like an endless number of reps (50+), you can increase the difficulty by adding resistance/weight or moving on to a more difficult exercise or progression.
I can’t overstate the importance of progression, so make sure to track your workouts and always strive to beat your last performance.
If you continue in this fashion and eat right, you will get abs.
Now that you know which ab exercises you should do and how to get the most out of them, let’s look at how to put together an effective ab workout.
Here’s how I like to do it:
1. Do both weighted and unweighted training.
I’ve found that this gets superior results to just weighted or unweighted training alone.
2. Do 2 to 3 ab workouts per week.
Thus, I recommend you do 2 to 3 ab workouts per week in addition to your compound lifting.
This seems to be a “sweet spot” for most people for maximizing results without adding too much additional stress on the body (which increases the risk of overtraining).
I also recommend that you separate your ab workouts by 1 to 2 days.
Personally, I do Tuesdays and Thursdays and sometimes Saturdays as well.
So, with those “rules” in place, let’s look at how to structure your ab workouts.
The best ab workouts involve doing “circuits” consisting of several exercises done back-to-back, without rest. I like 3-exercise circuits personally.
You rest in between circuits and repeat them several times per workout.
Here’s how to do the circuits:
1. Your first set should be a weighted/high-resistance exercise.
Some exercises are better for this than others.
My favorites are the cable crunch, captain’s chair leg raise (with weight added), and hanging leg raise (ditto).
I like to work in the 10 to 12 rep range on my weighted/high-resistance sets.
2. Without resting, do one set of an unweighted/low-or-no-resistance exercise.
Go directly into the next exercise and do as many reps as you can.
3. Without resting, do one set of another unweighted/low-or-no-resistance exercise.
Again, go directly into the next exercise and do as many reps as possible.
4. Rest 2 to 3 minutes in between circuits.
I like to do my ab circuits in between sets of major muscle groups to save time.
- 1 set of side lateral raise
- 1 ab circuit
- Rest 60 to 90 seconds
- 1 set of side lateral raise
- 1 ab circuit
- Rest 60 to 90 seconds
- And so forth.
I also usually do them later in my workouts, in between the sets of “easier” exercises (as opposed to early in my workouts, when I’m doing my heavy, compound work).
In terms of circuits per workout, a good goal to work toward is 3 ab circuits per ab workout (6 to 9 circuits per week).
When 9 circuits per week is no longer challenging, you can increase to 12 per week.
There’s no need to increase beyond that, though, as it’s not likely to improve your results. 12 is plenty.
My Favorite Ab Circuit
Here’s a simple but challenging circuit to get you started:
1 set of cable crunch (12 to 15 reps)
1 set of captain’s chair leg raise (to failure)
1 set of air bicycles (to failure)
Rest 2 to 3 minutes in between circuits
Give that a go and I think you’ll agree that it’s tougher than it looks!
No amount of weight loss pills and powders are going to make you lean.
If you’re trying to lose fat, pill popping, even to excess, is not going to be enough.
There just aren’t any safe, natural “fat burning” compounds powerful enough to, all on their own, cause meaningful weight reduction.
That said, if you know how to drive fat loss with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.
Based on my experience with my own body and with people I’ve worked with, I feel comfortable saying that a proper fat loss supplementation routine can increase fat loss by about 30 to 50% with little to no side effects.
That is, if you can lose 1 pound of fat per week through proper diet and exercise (and you can), you can lose 1.3 to 1.5 pounds of fat per week by adding the right supplements into the mix.
Another big benefit of taking the right fat loss supplements is they are particularly effective for reducing stubborn fat, which is usually belly fat for us guys and hip and thigh fat for girls.
So, as you can see, even the best “stack” of fat loss supplements isn’t game changing, but I think it’s worthwhile for both the lean looking to get really lean and overweight looking to get lean.
It makes the process of fat loss faster and more enjoyable and has no downsides or negative tradeoffs.
So, with that said, let’s look at my actual supplement recommendations (and personal “cutting stack”).
As weight loss boils down to energy consumed vs. energy expended, caffeine helps you lose fat by increasing your body’s daily energy expenditure.
Part of maximizing the fat loss benefits of caffeine is preventing your body from building up too much of a tolerance, however. The best way to do this is to limit intake, of course.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Before training, supplement with 3 – 6 mg caffeine per kg of body weight. If you’re not sure of your caffeine sensitivity, start with 3 mg/kg and work up from there.
- Keep your daily. intake at or below 6 mg per kg of body weight. Don’t have 6 mg/kg before training and then drink a couple of coffees throughout the day.
- Do 1 – 2 low-caffeine days per week, and 1 no-caffeine day per week. A low day should be half your normal intake, and a no day means less than 50 mg of caffeine (you can have a cup or two of tea, but no coffee, caffeine pills, etc.).
Personally I get my caffeine from my pre-workout PULSE, which contains a dehydrated and concentrated form of caffeine (caffeine anhydrous) shown to be more effective for improving performance than what is naturally found in beverages like coffee.
PULSE also contains clinically effective dosages of 5 other ingredients scientifically proven to improve workout performance:
- Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that reduces exercise-induced fatigue, improves anaerobic exercise capacity, and can accelerate muscle growth.
- Citrulline Malate. Citrulline is an amino acid that improves muscle endurance, relieves muscle soreness, and improves aerobic performance.
- Betaine. Betaine is a compound found in plants like beets that improves muscle endurance, increases strength, and increases human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 production in response to acute exercise.
- Ornithine. Ornithine is an amino acid found in high amounts in dairy and meat that reduces fatigue in prolonged exercise and promotes lipid oxidation (the burning of fat for energy as opposed to carbohydrate or glycogen).
- Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found primarily in tea that reduces the effects of mental and physical stress, increases the production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow, and improves alertness, focus, attention, memory, mental task performance, and mood.
And what you won’t find in PULSE is equally special:
- No artificial sweeteners or flavors..
- No artificial food dyes.
- No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.
The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.
Yohimbine is a substance found in the Pausinystalia yohimbe plant.
Research shows that it enables your body to reduce fat stores faster, and it’s particularly useful as you get leaner and are battling with stubborn fat holdouts.
(Not a very technical explanation, I know–if you want to know exactly how it works, click here.)
(If you’re not sure what fasted training is, check out this article.)
I’ve cut both with and without fasted training and yohimbine and I can say with absolutely certainty that with is noticeably faster. So much so that I think the biggest benefits of fasted training are that it lets you use yohimbine and it makes the other supplements discussed in this article more effective.
By itself, fasted training will make a slight difference in how quickly you lose fat. Combined with these supplements, however, it’s quite dramatic.
In terms of dosages, research has shown that .2 mg/kg of body weight is sufficient for fat loss purposes, and that ingesting it prior to exercise is particularly effective.
Some people get overly jittery from yohimbine, so I recommend you start with .1 mg/kg of body weight to assess tolerance. If you feel fine, then increase to the clinically effective dosage of .2 mg/kg.
Furthermore, yohimbine can raise blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, I don’t recommend you use it.
In terms of which specific yohimbine supplement I recommend, I’ve included a clinically effective dosage in my pre-workout fat burner FORGE.
It also contains clinically effective dosages of two other ingredients:
- HMB. β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate (also known as HMB) is a substance formed when your body metabolizes the amino acid leucine.
Research shows that HMB is an extremely effective anti-catabolic agent, which means it’s very good at preventing muscle breakdown. And this means you will recover faster from your workouts and experience less muscle soreness.
- Citicoline. CDP-choline (also known as citicoline) is a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain that increases levels of another chemical called phosphatidylcholine, which is vital for brain function.
Research shows that supplementation with CDP-choline improves attentional focus, and I included this in FORGE because most people find fasted training more mentally draining than fed training and CDP-choline can help counteract this.
The bottom line is FORGE helps you lose fat–and “stubborn” fat in particular–faster, preserve muscle, and maintain training intensity and mental sharpness.
3. PHOENIX Fat Burner
PHOENIX’s caffeine-free formulation is quite a bit different than FORGE’s and is actually made to be “stacked” with it (taken together).
PHOENIX helps you burn fat in three different ways:
- It dramatically increases metabolic speed.
- It amplifies the power of fat-burning chemicals produced by your body.
- It increases the feeling of fullness from food.
It accomplishes this through clinically effective dosages of several ingredients, including…
- Synephrine. This increases both basal metabolic rate and lipolysis, inhibits the activity of certain fat cell receptors that prevent fat mobilization, and increases the thermic effect of food (the “energy cost” of metabolizing food).
- Naringin. This stimulates the production of a hormone called adiponectin, which is involved in the breakdown of fat cells, and that it activates a type of receptor in fat cells that regulates fat mobilization (the PPARα receptor).
Through these mechanisms, naringin also works synergistically with synephrine and hesperidin to further accelerate the basal metabolic rate.
- Hesperidin. Like naringin, this also stimulates the production of adiponectin and activates the PPARa receptor. It also improves blood flow and reduces the inflammation of blood vessels.
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This inhibits the activity of a different enzyme also responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters that induce lipolysis. It has also been shown to reduce abdominal fat in particular.
- Forskolin. This increases blood plasma and intracellular levels of a molecule known as cAMP. When cAMP is high, it signifies a lack of ATP (the most basic form of cellular energy in the body) and thus initiates a process to make more ATP by burning through energy reserves (body fat).
- And more…
The bottom line is if you want to lose fat faster without pumping yourself full of stimulants or other potentially harmful chemicals…then you want to try PHOENIX.
“Six pack abs” are the biggest honeypot in the fitness game.
If someone is in the gym or watching what they eat, one of the reasons is they probably want abs.
And if someone trying to sell you a product or service, one of their big promises is probably a chiseled core.
Well, you now know what it takes.
There are no shortcuts or “secrets.” Just some basic know-how, elbow grease, and patience.
Stick to the advice in this article, put in the work, and you will get there.
What’s your take on ab exercises? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- Goldstein, E. R., Ziegenfuss, T., Kalman, D., Kreider, R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Taylor, L., Willoughby, D., Stout, J., Graves, B. S., Wildman, R., Ivy, J. L., Spano, M., Smith, A. E., & Antonio, J. (2010). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Caffeine and performance. In Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (Vol. 7, Issue 1). J Int Soc Sports Nutr. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-5
- Mora-Rodríguez, R., Pallarés, J. G., López-Samanes, Á., Ortega, J. F., & Fernández-Elías, V. E. (2012). Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PLoS ONE, 7(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0033807
- Beck, T. W., Housh, T. J., Schmidt, R. J., Johnson, G. O., Housh, D. J., Coburn, J. W., & Malek, M. H. (2006). The acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on strength, muscular endurance, and anaerobic capabilities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(3), 506–510. https://doi.org/10.1519/18285.1
- Astorino, T. A., Rohmann, R. L., & Firth, K. (2008). Effect of caffeine ingestion on one-repetition maximum muscular strength. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 102(2), 127–132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-007-0557-x
- A Astrup 1, S Toubro, S Cannon, P Hein, L Breum, J. M. (n.d.). Caffeine: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Its Thermogenic, Metabolic, and Cardiovascular Effects in Healthy Volunteers - PubMed. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2333832/
- Bishop, P. A., Jones, E., & Woods, A. K. (2008). Recovery from training: A brief review. In Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Vol. 22, Issue 3, pp. 1015–1024). NSCA National Strength and Conditioning Association. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816eb518
- Martuscello, J. M., Nuzzo, J. L., Ashley, C. D., Campbell, B. I., Orriola, J. J., & Mayer, J. M. (2013). Systematic review of core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises. In Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Vol. 27, Issue 6, pp. 1684–1698). J Strength Cond Res. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e318291b8da
- Nuzzo, J. L., Mccaulley, G. O., Cormie, P., Cavill, M. J., & Mcbride, J. M. (2008). Trunk muscle activity during stability ball and free weight exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(1), 95–102. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31815ef8cd
- Kostek, M. A., Pescatello, L. S., Seip, R. L., Angelopoulos, T. J., Clarkson, P. M., Gordon, P. M., Moyna, N. M., Visich, P. S., Zoeller, R. F., Thompson, P. D., Hoffman, E. P., & Price, T. B. (2007). Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body resistance training program. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(7), 1177–1185. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b0138058a5cb
- Stallknecht, B., Dela, F., & Helge, J. W. (2007). Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism, 292(2). https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00215.2006