abs of steel take more than 20 minutes a day
March 25, 2013 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Lots of exercise videos out there promising bikini abs are guided by people with incredible bodies. I know they don't get or keep those bodies using their own routines. What do they actually do?

I'd like to know what the daily life of someone in incredible shape looks like, especially the lives of people who aren't professional fitness types. What do those really in-shape doctors, lawyers, teachers, and managers do to get in and stay in such incredible shape? Or, if it's easier, what do the people who make exercise videos do? It can't possibly be that they follow the advice they sell, so what's the difference, as specifically as possible?
posted by Capri to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
They eat well. Really, really, really well.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:19 PM on March 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


As far as getting really good abs goes, the thing they do is eat very little (calorically speaking). You're never going to get a flat stomach or six pack because you're working it out really well; you get that by dieting.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:21 PM on March 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


The key to looking so fit is having very little body fat so that you can see muscles. You can have fantastic abs, arms, rear, etc, but if they're covered with a layer of fat, it's unseen. So, they eat very carefully, do enough cardio to burn most of the fat, and do exercises to build the muscle.
posted by quince at 1:22 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


It can't possibly be that they follow the advice they sell, so what's the difference, as specifically as possible?

A lot of them do in fact use the equipment/system they sell (unless it's a celebrity endorser, in which case, probably not). They're also generally blessed with good genetics, and they carefully monitor their nutritional intake (in particular, you don't make abs in the gym, you make them in the kitchen).

Also, despite the before/after stuff, most of them have been working out for years and years and years. I can't find it at work, but I read a great article a year or so back from a guy who did his own before-after shots within the span of a single day that could have come straight from an exercise infomercial. He used basic weight-cutting techniques (like wrestlers use to make weight), lighting and different poses to show how easy it was for even someone who was in great shape to look like a blob.
posted by Etrigan at 1:23 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


They are disciplined about how they eat, exercise, and rest. By which I mean they exercise and eat consistently, they exercise with enough intensity to constantly challenge themselves, they give their bodies the appropriate amounts of nutrients and calories, and they get enough sleep and take enough time in between workouts. And they do this day in and day out for months on end.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:23 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two or three intense core workouts per week + a good diet to build muscle gives you abs then you have to maintain a low body fat percentage so you can see them. It's really that simple.

Having said that, a lot of those people don't just have "nice abs". Many fitness models are supporting their semi-pro beach volleyball or surfing or triathlon or mountain biking career by doing videos. They have a generally well developed musculature with broad shoulders and muscled legs (which makes you look thinner), low body fat and a very healthy cardio system. When you're already in good shape and have a strong body it's a lot easier to develop showy visible six pack abs because you can work out harder and stay leaner more easily.

Also no beer. Sad but true.
posted by fshgrl at 1:24 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't find it at work, but I read a great article a year or so back from a guy who did his own before-after shots within the span of a single day that could have come straight from an exercise infomercial.

Etrigan may be thinking of the video linked from this post, which shows that a great deal of the "cut" look, even from individuals with very very low body fat, is influenced by hour-to-hour variables like salt consumed, water retention, amount of blood filling the muscles due to exercise, etc.

(Here, "etc" also includes spraying yourself the fuck down with a can of Pam cooking spray)
posted by Greg Nog at 1:33 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


What do those really in-shape doctors, lawyers, teachers, and managers do to get in and stay in such incredible shape?

Most people would be surprised just how effective 20-30 minutes of truly daily exercise can go towards improving one's fitness level and body shape. The problem is not that these programs don't work, it's that most people find it incredibly difficult to keep with them. You really have to be obsessive about it. Granted, someone who makes a living in the fitness industry probably does spend more than that working out, and probably has decent genetics on top of that. The effects may not be visibly apparent for months, even a year, but it can work.

Similar things can be said about dieting. Exerting rigorous control over one's dietary intake does have positive effects. Like with exercise, the problem is frequently discipline and follow-through. Again, genetics and other factors do matter, so watching what you eat doesn't work as well for some as it does for others. But the idea that actually sticking to a sensible dietary regimen doesn't do anything is just wrong.

So those "really in-shape doctors, lawyers, teachers, and managers" wouldn't be where they are if they didn't have a higher than average amount of self-discipline, which they devote to their diet and fitness regime as well as their professional lives. Again, they probably also have decent genetics--which may contribute to their self-discipline as well as their physical condition--but one doesn't get to be an attorney or physician by failing to show up to things.
posted by valkyryn at 1:33 PM on March 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was watching something a few years ago where the Buns of Steel lady was talking about how she got to doing the Buns of Steel videos, and she said that when the Buns of Steel folks were looking to cast someone for their workout tapes, they looked for someone who already had the Buns of Steel butt, and then had her do the exercises. (Which, duh, but it was actually the Buns of Steel lady coming right out and being all "it wasn't the Buns of Steel method, it was just my butt.")

So: genetics first and foremost, careful dieting, exercise last.

Mostly this was just an excuse to say Buns of Steel as many times as possible. Buns of Steel
posted by phunniemee at 1:36 PM on March 25, 2013 [32 favorites]


Abs are made in the kitchen.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:36 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


What do those really in-shape doctors, lawyers, teachers, and managers do to get in and stay in such incredible shape?

They probably also have a sport or two that they love that makes exercise enjoyable. I climb mountains all the time in the winter so I can ski back down them. I would not climb mountains if I had to just walk back down them. Ever. That is just nuts. People who love racing bikes or swimming are going to be equally motivated to stay in shape because they get actual serious pleasure from participating in that activity. Doing weights 4x a week makes a huge difference to most athletes so it's a no-brainer to do it.
posted by fshgrl at 1:45 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Genetics+very low-calorie diet+lots of exercise most days a week+tons of water drinking and/or taking diuretics+(taking steroids)+genetics.
posted by latkes at 1:55 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nthing the suggestions that it's mostly about diet. Few of us can maintain a body fat percentage low enough to make our abs stand out sharply (with the exception of some few, active teenagers/early-20s people). Genetics plays a role, although there exists a point on the curve between your current belly, and longterm starvation-level body fat, where the abs will be visible. Getting there can be supremely difficult, or merely really hard.

"It's really that simple" - but at the same time, it's anything but easy. That's like saying "running a marathon is as simple as taking 21097 strides in a row." Yep, simple.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:59 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


For my sample of one (me), it's mostly genetics. I am not "cut" but I've had six-pack abs since I was a little kid (currently in my early 40's). I occasionally throw myself into some demanding physical task like digging a big hole to plant a tree, or splitting a cord of firewood, or bicycling 10 hilly miles to pick my car up from a mechanic, but there have only been a few brief periods in my life during which I regularly worked out. I sometimes eat very poorly, and while doing so makes me feel like crap, it doesn't make me fat. I suspect I burn off a lot of calories through anxiety alone.
posted by jon1270 at 2:02 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Genetics, diet, and Preparation H, in that order.
posted by pullayup at 2:06 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was a collegiate athlete, and the guy on the team with the best abs eschewed carbohydrates way before cutting carbs was cool.
posted by lstanley at 2:08 PM on March 25, 2013


Just as a counterpoint to jon1270, I usually get 30-45 minutes of exercise 5+ days a week by commuting by bike and and going to the gym. In the past I've done even more, biking for up to two hours/20-30 miles per day five days a week. I have never even come close to having abs, and if you ran in to me on the street you probably wouldn't even think "that guy was in pretty good shape".
posted by pullayup at 2:19 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's no secret except for drugs. For people who make their living looking a certain way, it makes sense. Obviously the 300 lb. professional bodybuilders are on lots of drugs, but plenty of less-hulking fitness-model types take things, too. Testosterone, anavar, winstrol, clenbuterol, trenbolone, etc. Depending on exactly how lean/muscular your idea of an incredible body is, this isn't to say that you can't achieve that without taking drugs, and some people are genetically advantaged. But there's only so much muscle the body will carry naturally, or so much fat it will lose while holding onto that muscle without pharmaceutical assistance.

Other than that, it's just consistent exercise and diet. Lifting weights is the most efficient kind of training for improving appearance. All the basics are laid out here.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:31 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some of them work hard, some of them are born lucky, but all of them have low body fat. I have pretty good abs from doing a lot of squatting and overhead pressing, but it's hidden beneath a big layer of gravy, so it doesn't count (apparently).
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 4:39 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've met some of these folks and they eat clean, clean, clean and hit it hard at 'the box'.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:20 PM on March 25, 2013


"It's really that simple" - but at the same time, it's anything but easy. That's like saying "running a marathon is as simple as taking 21097 strides in a row." Yep, simple.

Simple and easy are not synonyms.

I know literally dozens of people with great physiques who are professionals in their 30s and 40s, none of whom are born world beating athletes. To do a better job of answering the original question a regular day for any of them would probably involve biking or skiing to work and back and at least one other activity of extended duration: surfing, xc skiing, biking or running for at least an hour. I often run 3 miles in the morning and/or bike commute 8 miles round trip and every single day I take the dog for a 60-90 minute walk/ hike/ ski/ run/ bike after work. On the weekends there is always at least one 3-4 hour hike or ski or bike ride or surfing session or what have you. Last weekend I skied for about 4 hours both days in the backcountry; ie up then down. Typically you are sweating buckets on the way up and generally hating life, it's a pretty good workout. I also did two 30 minute weight sessions, Fri night and Sun morning. I'd say I'm pretty average for my women peeps, the guys tend to go to the gym more often. I have a couple friends who are endurance competitors and they do a lot more long workouts and a couple who are really into weights and they care more about food than I ever will.

I really feel like discussing fitness is not something metafilter does well, often because it gets conflated with attractiveness and general worthiness as a person and people get really hyperbolic about it. It's really not magic, you just have to get out there and hit it every day. The best way is swimming or surfing imho, every surfer I know has a ripped upper body. The worst is slow running; you can run slowly forever and you will not really change your body at all.
posted by fshgrl at 7:05 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sure, fshgrl, but for the folks who don't have the resources or time to ski/hike/bike/pay for crossfit/pay for a gym membership etc., eating a low carb, low calorie diet and, in my super-ripped friend's words, "working out like a convict" does the trick, too.

I also know plenty of really athletic people - track bike racers, marathoners, etc. - who carry around extra pudge because they don't watch what they eat.

I really feel like discussing fitness is not something metafilter does well, often because it gets conflated with attractiveness and general worthiness as a person and people get really hyperbolic about it. It's really not magic, you just have to get out there and hit it every day.

For reals.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:22 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure, fshgrl, but for the folks who don't have the resources or time to ski/hike/bike/pay for crossfit/pay for a gym membership etc., eating a low carb, low calorie diet and, in my super-ripped friend's words, "working out like a convict" does the trick, too.

Working out like a convict isn't sustainable for most people over the long term though because it's not fun. Working out and eating solely to look good is demotivating, especially as you age or if you get hurt and have to take a break.

I was skiing last weekend on about $250 worth of mostly used xc gear* I've had for years. Hiking, running and walking the dog are free. Bikes can be had for cheap plus I save gas money by commuting and my "weight" workouts are convict style, done at home for free. I've never taken fitness classes and I don't know anyone who does in my activity-social circle, specific coaching for racing maybe but crossfit? no just go outside and run around and do some pushups would be our take on that.... Most of all it has to be fun, and you have to enjoy it.
posted by fshgrl at 8:52 PM on March 25, 2013


I am far from an ab expert (I haven't seen my own for 25 years, but just one anecdotal point without any backing references:

I read an article a few years ago about this very thing. As mentioned above (and as common sense would tell us) they get "ab models" who already have great abs to make the commercials. What I found interesting, though, was that even the ab models in this article said they could never maintain those kinds of abs all the time. They required weeks/months of notice so they could ramp up the exercise and cut down the calories to be in peak shape.
posted by The Deej at 8:55 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had great abs or years between high school and college. Typical late teen metabolism + ate whatever I want + cycled/skated everywhere = great abs.

Now ~20 year later I wish I could get back to that - but I'm sure I could if I just ate right & exercised half as much as I did back then I'd have a great physique.

It really is a about calories in vs. calories out.

I hit the gym 15-30 minutes a day (mostly just to lift heavy things), go cycling on weekends & if I ate better (I'm working on it) I'd be insanely fit.

It doesn't hurt that when I was 15-24 I had a body that most supermodels would die for & even through my lazy 20's and into my 30s I kept exercising - just ate too much.

So my advice would be to start exercising at age 15, don't overindulge & keep exercising sensibly into adulthood.
posted by MesoFilter at 10:39 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


MesoFilter: Now ~20 year later I wish I could get back to that - but I'm sure I could if I just ate right & exercised half as much as I did back then I'd have a great physique.

It really is a about calories in vs. calories out.
There's one very important aspect of that last equation people tend to forget:
calories out = exercise + daily exertion (walking, sitting, chewing) + metabolism.

Your exercise can vary from 0 to "Jeezus every muscle aches!". You can, with some mindfulness, control the daily exertion outside of exercise. But metabolism can vary wildly. Your body is wicked clever at using its hand on the metabolism thermostat to offset most demands on your calories. Insidiously clever. And it's working 24/7 on that thermostat.

It's obviously still possible to increase output and decrease input overall, but then the body throws tricks like depression and despair at you when your blood sugar levels drop... Again, what a clever, evil fucker it is.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:37 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The worst is slow running; you can run slowly forever and you will not really change your body at all.

Holy crap is this true. You'll kill your knees before you do anything about your love handles.
posted by valkyryn at 7:17 AM on March 27, 2013


The worst is slow running; you can run slowly forever and you will not really change your body at all.

Holy crap is this true. You'll kill your knees before you do anything about your love handles.


In general I agree, but running is probably good for your knees.
posted by pullayup at 8:15 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


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