How to get "cut" abs?
March 18, 2004 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Vanity is fun! Ok I want a six-pack like those sexy beasts in magazines. I did a lot of research hoping that I'd find a wealth of information. Unfortunately the most I can find on usenet and Prescription Exercise is geared toward building strength, not that cut look. Most other information I found says all the situps can't help you if your body fat is not 5-6% (apparently that's really low, ahd how to measure body fat). So lacking any other clear sources, anyone here have experience with abs? Do they just magically appear at 5-6% body fat? If you work them out is that when the appear?

Some more detailed information, I started a month ago doing 100 situps a day. Then doing as many as I could till "failure" (a method suggested on ExRx and elsewhere). I've cut back to about 150 every other day. My stomach is getting stronger, as I could barely do 100 and now I can easily make it to 150, it's usually my lower back that gets strained first. My abs are hard and show somewhat if I contract them, but otherwise it's just a normal stomach.

I know this sounds really vain but I the fact I can't find clearcut answers is so frusterating. Plus the fact Ive been workign my ass off to look good as it gets warmer and I'm not looking like Baywatch dammit.

I should mention I realize spot reduction is a myth and I don't believe I have any fat (no belly), but 5-6% doesn't sound like no belly but absolutely no fat at all on a person.
posted by geoff. to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Double negative hell. Must. Proofread.
posted by geoff. at 10:42 AM on March 18, 2004

I think everybody has abs, it's just that they are covered by fat. You can make 'em bigger, but the key thing is to lose the weight.
posted by callmejay at 11:27 AM on March 18, 2004

but 5-6% doesn't sound like no belly but absolutely no fat at all on a person

I'm not a doctor, but I've known a few people to get their body fat tested and 5-6% is pretty low. I've seen super fit people in their early 20s that are borderline pro atheletes clock in at 9-10% consistently. If you want to compare it with a "normal american" I've known 30 year olds with a spare tire to usually hit around 30% fat. I think the only way you'll see your abs is to get your torso fat down really low, and I think it's entirely possible to be fit and in shape but still have more than 5-6% fat.

I've had vegan friends that eat hardly anything and don't work out that probably had around 2% body fat show their abs pretty prominently. When you get ultra thin, everything shows.
posted by mathowie at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2004

Also keep in mind that not all body types will show defined abs - you can be as ripped and fat-less as can be and those muscles will not define themselves.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:37 AM on March 18, 2004

okay, listen to me on this. marines are all about upper body strength.

STOP DOING SITUPS. that's step number 1. it'll increase your ab size, not give you definition. if you keep doing it, your upper solar plexus area, right under your rib cage (i.e. the top 2 of your six-pack) will be huge. it'll look like you have a beer belly.

what you need to do are targetted crunches. you need to read up on the different crunches, and work your upper abs, lower abs, obliques, and sides. plus, they have the side advantage of not being so hard on your back.

you'll need to get to a point where you're doing around 400 crunches per target. if you're at that point, you've got a six-pack under whatever fat you have. basically, you need to do them fast, because it's about cardio, not strength, when it comes to abs.

your ab workout should take half an hour, by itself. after you get used to the crunches, start doing elbow to knee exercises (the movie flashdance comes to mind), and you'll start getting pretty cut. 6-8% is definitely your target body fat percentage...and you'll need to keep going if you're doing all this work and don't see any benefits.

a friend of mine works his abs for half an hour like, 3-4 times a week, and includes weights and medicine balls and stuff. he'll raise up, pass the weight under his legs, and then go back down.

also, stop putting your feet under something. they should be flat on the floor, and nothing should be holding them down. of course, if you can't work out like that yet, put them under something, but the moment you can do your workout without any outside assistance, do so.

can't think of anything else right now. marines are crazy into their abs; the physical fitness test demands 100 crunches in 2 minutes.
posted by taumeson at 12:17 PM on March 18, 2004 [1 favorite]

If you're not blessed with the genes for the right fat distribution to show a six pack, you can get liposuction also called "abdominal etching". I think it's more common in the modeling/acting/body building worlds than you might think.
posted by lobakgo at 12:21 PM on March 18, 2004

Lose body fat, and regularly (but not obsessively) do high numbers of reps of exercises designed to target the (i) upper (ii) lower and (iii) obliques. As someone else said, do not do situps. Also, be careful of not hurting your lower back. (Ouch).

The "lose body fat" part can be the hardest, since it involves changing your diet and also doing a high amount of cardio.

The best exercise plan I've seen if your goal is vanity is The Men's Health Cover Model Workout by Owen McKibbin, ISBN 1579546501. It gives a decent total-body workout, including abs.
posted by profwhat at 12:24 PM on March 18, 2004

Genetics play a larger role than most people think. Also, while I do plenty of crunches, I also hit my obliques doing weighted side-bends, and my lower-abs doing yoga/pilates like leg lifts. ( fyi, don't use the word "lower-abs" on usenet, lest you get a bollocking, but we know what we are talking about ).

Unfortunately, crazy magazine cover-type abs are a result of VERY low body fat, genetics, and almost no fat/carb consumption.

Also, if you are already reading, you know about the Spot Reduction Myth
posted by remlapm at 12:31 PM on March 18, 2004

Actually, I think most of the people on magazine covers have a combination of flexing, lighting, airbrushing and liposuction. Also makeup is generally used to etch out abs in film and magazine covers. One of the funniest things I saw was footage on the making of "Frankenstein" with Kenneth Branagh, in the movie he looks cut but in the video footage you could clearly see his abs were just painted on.
posted by bobo123 at 1:23 PM on March 18, 2004

Response by poster: Wow, I was doing everything wrong. I had my feet under a barbell to keep me down and would do slow situps to build muscle. I'm going to start doing the Flashdance style elbow-to-knee crunches and see if I can make it to 400. Also while doing it all as fast as possible while maintaining form. Wow, I thougth this would be a "side workout" to the main upperbody workout but abs are a huge deal. I'll update this thread with other information I get. Thanks.
posted by geoff. at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2004

Decline leg lifts are great for lower abs. Lay on a decline bench, (or a slide, or something), grab hold of the top with your arms, and raise your legs up up UP and over your head, if you're flexible enough. Do 20 of those, 3 sets. You'll feel the burn immediately.
posted by gramcracker at 2:18 PM on March 18, 2004

Don't forget tv adds weight so the people you see may be thinner in person than what you may think.

Bet Britney Spears eats like a bird besides the 400 sit-ups she says she does daily maintaining her abbs. Check out Bruce Lee's training after he injured his back that gave him his body you see in his Chinese movies.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:28 PM on March 18, 2004

Best advice I ever got was "Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym." Diet is the big key - you can crunch until you heave but if you don't lose fat it's not gonna show. You're going to lose weight first where you gained it last. For men, abdominal fat hangs on to the bitter end (less so for women). It wasn't until I got wheat out to reduce bloating and did 1 hour of cardio 3x a week on an empty stomach, plus a diet of low GI carbs (why does bread taunt me so!) that I really started to strip it down.

(Plus, ditto with all the stuff about photo retouching - wish someone would do this for men's fitness models)
posted by ao4047 at 2:38 PM on March 18, 2004

The bodyfat thing is highly variable. I start to show abs somewhere around 12%, other men don't until below 10%. Nonetheless, you can have big strong abs and they'll be invisible until you have lost enough fat.

The size of your abs does make a difference, and here I must differ with those who advocate 15 squillion crunches 27 hours per day. That may promote growth, but there are much quicker ways. Visible abs from 400 crunches are probably a result of the fat loss more than the muscle growth. (This isn't to say that those hi-rep every day approaches won't help, but I think my way will help more).

If you want hypertrophy (fancy word for muscle growth) then you must train appropriately. In my mind this would mean *weighted* crunches, no more than 3 sets of 10, no more than three times per week, and increasing the weight by a small amount regularly. Do them reasonably slowly, 2s up, pause, 2s down.

The best way to achieve this is to use a machine, if you have access to a gym that has one. If you don't, do ordinary crunches with a weight held to your upper chest. Start with a soup can and work up from there.

And, if you don't want to have back problems from your unbalanced physique, start thinking about how to train your back. I prefer stiff-legged deadlifts myself.

There is no point in stripping fat if there isn't anything to show underneath, and if you don't have developed abs there won't be much by way of muscle to give those coveted ridges and bumps.

Whichever approach you take, be careful with your crunch form. Arms behind the head can lead to neck strain. Many people think it's better to have them gently crossed over your chest with your hands on your shoulders. Don't throw yourself up; using momentum defeats the purpose. And don't go all the way up - once your abs are maximally contracted all you are doing is working your hip flexors. Overdeveloped hip flexors lead to an unnatural forward tilt of the hips, and thence to back pain, and you don't want that.

And stay away from those leg raise contraptions; they likewise don't really target your abs, they really work the hip flexors. Your abs feel sore in leg raises because they are used for stabilisation but other muscles are doing the lifting.

If you can stand the heat of a flame-filled kitchen, go hang out in for a while. They'll set you straight (having righteously abused you first).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:26 PM on March 18, 2004

On top of dieting, do situps with a basketball and a partner on a decline (head below knees) board. Have the partner throw the ball to you over your head, and catch the ball as you sit back. On the way back up, throw the ball back. Then have your partner throw the ball to one side, and catch the ball with one hand as you go back.Again, throw (sidearm lob) the ball back as you sit up. Then do it straight again, then to the other side. This will build up your obliques as well as your abs. Only do a couple rounds the first time; the first time I did this routine, I did it till I couldn't sit up, and my abs hurt for *weeks* from overexertion.

The other option is lots and lots of sex. ;)
posted by notsnot at 5:30 PM on March 18, 2004

oooh, one more completely different idea. take up some form of energetic latin partner dance, such as samba or tango. you will lose body fat, have fun, and meet a lot of goodlooking women or gay men, depending on your preference.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:42 PM on March 18, 2004

I was doing everything wrong. I had my feet under a barbell to keep me down and would do slow situps to build muscle.

As noted above, I completely disagree with taumeson. I think you were on the right track. You will see more progress if you a) add weight and b) lose fat so you can see the muscles in question. No progression in weight = no progression in muscle size.

I've seen the bulging gut described by taumeson, but I'm pretty sure you have to be abusing steroids/hgh to get this effect, hence the term "'roid gut".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:50 PM on March 18, 2004

I've seen the bulging gut described by taumeson, but I'm pretty sure you have to be abusing steroids/hgh to get this effect, hence the term "'roid gut".

that's fair. i've never heard of "roid gut" ... prolly cause i'm not a bodybuilder :) but i've seen a LOT of that major gut. it's a soldier thing, from my experience. soldiers don't have low low body fat.

Visible abs from 400 crunches are probably a result of the fat loss more than the muscle growth.

well, uh...yeah! but it's helping the abs get denser, which will help you have a solid six pack. and 400 crunches aren't that much when you're not doing them 5 seconds per. that's a great way of building muscle, no doubt, but if you're doing them aerobically... it's not a difficult amount to reach.

i've never been a major fan of "bodybuilding" cause often the muscle isn't that dense. we're not talking competition bodybuilding here...guys in competition shape are big AND dense. i mean, they're doing the right thing. but most bodybuilders i've met who aren't in competition form...well they have what i call "beefcake", that is, big water-filled muscle. they're not as "hard" as a soldier or marine straight out of boot-camp...and when you say you want to be CUT...well, i think of what i looked like out of OCS.
posted by taumeson at 8:53 PM on March 18, 2004

Try doing what this guy did.
posted by studentbaker at 11:02 AM on March 19, 2004

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