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How Can I Get A Six Pack? 5 BIG Reasons Why Your Abs Aren’t Growing

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After 1000′s of crunches and seven brutally intense ab workouts per week, you’d think that it would all add up to that one coveted, magic number — 6.

It’s sad and discouraging when someone puts in a TON of effort to sculpt a rock-solid, well-defined set of six pack abs, yet the results are nowhere to be found. It can be unbelievably deflating. What’s an innocent, ab-happy person supposed to do?

One of the most redeeming things about fitness in general is that there’s typically a direct correlation between time, effort, and results. It’s a simple equation — if you do cardio 45 minutes per day, 6 days per week, you will lose a lot of weight. Given that you do the right exercises, if you follow a comprehensive chest routine and increase the amount that you’re pressing over successive workouts, your chest will grow. It’s just the way exercise and training works.

Looking at fitness holistically, ab development tends to be MUCH more challenging; bordering on excruciating. I suppose that’s why you don’t see six packs endlessly populating the earth. And the truth isit’s because most people approach ab training completely wrong and spend their time focusing on things that aren’t effective.

Getting a phenomenal set of abs requires smart training, a LEAN, clean diet, and minimal equipment…not ab workouts 7 days per week, ridiculous ab machines, or crunch, after crunch, after crunch.

If you’re used to asking “how can I get an amazing set of six pack abs!?we’ve got answers. Below are the top 5 reasons why your abs AREN’T growing.



 

The Top 5 Reasons Why Your Abs Aren’t Growing


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“Big lifts are the sledgehammer; isolated ab exercises are the scalpel. Leverage both and reap the rewards.” — Bryan DiSanto

 

1. You Can’t See Them.


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This might seem brutally obvious, but at the core (no pun intended) the most important — and fundamental — piece of ab development is being able to see them.

Bombshell.

I don’t care if you can do the ‘Plunging, Deep V, Lower Abs Workout‘ 18 times over. If your body fat % isn’t low enough no one will be able to see what you’re packing underneath. For men, body fat should be sub-10%; for women it should be sub-18% for the ab muscles to really pop.

If you want to get your body fat down to 6-pack levels, make sure to incorporate a solid dose of high intensity cardio and emphasize a healthy, LEAN diet.

 

2. You Try to Crunch Away the Fat.


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Drill it into your cranium. There’s NO such thing as spot reduction.

You can’t crunch off the fat covering the lower section of your abs — nothing about our physiology supports this misconception.

The only way to strip the fat from your abs is by gradually burning it off from your entire body through cardio, diet, and weight-training. Unfortunately, the fat covering the abs is usually the last to go and the first to come back, which makes getting/keeping abs all the more difficult.

Stay persistent with a clean diet, resistance training, and cardio regimen and you’ll be able to maintain low body fat permanently. Abs require a lifestyle shift and a TON of discipline — not a quick fix.

 

3. You Workout Your Abs Every Day.


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Give your core a rest. STOP training your abs every day, or even every other day.

Like the biceps, chest, shoulders, legs, etc., the ab muscles need time to rest, recover, and rebuild in order to grow. Would you do biceps curls, bench press, or squat 7x per week to build bulging biceps, a hulking chest, or massive thighs? Never.

I recommend doing abs once every 3 days. That’s 2-3x per week. Not only will this allow your abs to actually recover and grow, but it’ll free up significant time to funnel into more intense, more transformative training (e.g. compound weight-lifting and cardio).

Most of your bandwidth in the gym should be spent divided across the major muscle groups (legs, chest, shoulders, back) and cardio; and then accessorized with targeted abs work. Don’t sacrifice that in pursuit of a six pack — not only do compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, bent-over barbell rows, clean & presses, and dumbbell swings shred major calories/body fat and stimulate muscle growth, they also work the core as hard — if not harder — than direct ab exercises.

Big lifts are the sledgehammer; isolated ab exercises are the scalpel. Leverage both and reap the rewards.

 

4. You Only Do Crunches and Sit-Ups.


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Crunches and sit-ups primarily work the top of the rectus abdominus, aka the 6 pack muscles. Even though building up the top is an incredibly important part of a stellar midsection, relying ONLY on sit-ups and crunches will cause the obliques, transverse abdominus, and lower abs to lag behind.

Think of the transverse abdominus as a belt that runs around the waist and sucks everything in tight. Exercises like the plank can help build up the transverse and make the entire torso more compact. The obliques run diagonally along the side of the torso into the pelvis, which forms the V-cut that everyone craves so much.

The key — diversify, diversify, diversify! Incorporating bicycle crunches, hanging leg raises, and a variety of other ab exercises into your routine can help chisel out all parts of the core region, beyond just the rectus.

 

5. You Don’t Increase the Difficulty.


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This is huge. Your abs won’t grow past beginner levels unless you force them to.

Muscles grow based on the principle of progressive resistance, meaning that you need to increase the weight lifted, the amount of resistance, or the difficulty of the exercise if you want to see any additional growth (or progress).

If you want massive legs, you need to gradually increase the amount of weight squatted — ab development works the same way. When it comes to developing core musculature, crunches and sit-ups are extremely basic and provide minimal stimulation. Instead of simply doing higher reps of something basic (ab exercises should stay between 12-20 reps per set), upgrade it by adding a heavier dumbbell/weight plate/medicine ball, or permanently shift to more advanced exercises.

For example, try crunches with a dumbbell on your chest, cable crunches, sit-ups on a decline bench, or the Lower Abs Trifecta. Adding a weight or more difficult angle can help make basic exercises significantly more difficult and kickstart brand new abdominal growth.

Use this advanced routine to effectively challenge and crush your abs.


Bryan DiSanto

Owner & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
Bryan DiSanto is the Owner & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, ACE-CPT & CSN, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness/nutrition nutjob.

When he’s not working on his (or somebody else’s) abs, whipping up Eggocados, or running a Tough Mudder, he’s probably off yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Follow Lean It UP on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for real-time fitness/nutrition tips, advice, info and updates.

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  • dr Funzo

    Sadly I think you left out the most important factor, Genetics.

    • http://leanitup.com/ Bryan @ Lean It UP

      You’re absolutely right, but bringing genetics into play just sparks people to make excuses for their inability to make a drastic change. Sure, abs and transformation overall will be MUCH easier for some than others based on their genetics, but everyone CAN make a change if they put in enough effort.
       
      If genetics are working against you, it’s best to acknowledge that early on so that you’re not discouraged enough to quit. It’s can be a long, arduous process, but stick with it. You’ll get there.

    • http://tenrepetitions.com/ Akin

      I’ve seen fat people strip weight and end up ripped. Genetics will determine the shape of your abs and that’s it. Training with correct form and good stimulation will make them grow. The ‘poor genetics’ excuse is for lazy people.

  • Roger Rabbit

    I enjoyed this article. Thank you.
    Please write about “realistic” diets.

  • Cb

    I need to get a six pack in 2 weeks how can I?

    • hello_kitty

      All the gas station have them for about $7.

  • jw

    What are the exercises that I should do to train my 6-pack, transverse and obliques?

  • Pingback: [WOTM, 7/2013] Cultivate A Dense, Chiseled Core With The Crunch-Free Abs Blaster Workout | Lean It UP

  • Navraj

    Help me to build I’m fifteen and have a layer of fat I really want abs in two weeks

  • Chris Harris

    Hi, i’m a 23yr old fire fighter. ive been trying to get a 6 pack for ages and ive been doing 30 situps 30 crunches and 30 cross body lifts each night and i think ive hit a plateau, take note i am an ectormorph so i think i might need more work but any more tips or hints or possibly a step by step walkthrough?

  • Mike Johsnon

    I couldnt get six pack abs then one day I did a massive fart and they appeared

  • Chris

    I am 14 I need help come to my house 319a mercer street I’m hot ok please help

  • Angel

    I have a question. I understand abs won’t show if fat is covering them. Do you have any recommendations on how to lose the last 10 lbs so I can lower the overall fat percentage? When I had more weight to lose it left a lot easier, but now that I’m to the end it won’t budge. I’m a super clean eater and I do mostly circuit training currently. Thank you!

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      Hey Angel —

      That’s expected; as you get LEANER it gets incrementally harder to lose weight. It sucks, but take it as a sign of progress :). You WILL get through it, you just need to be even more disciplined and work even harder.

      Three things:

      1. Make sure you’re following the diet rules here (vhttp://www.leanitup.com/complete-summer-beach-body-plan/). Cycling calories (#1) is especially powerful for chopping off the last bit of body fat and breaking through any stalls in weight-loss.

      2. Make sure you’re following a high-intensity resistance training plan (our newest WOTM fits http://www.leanitup.com/wotm-012014-torch-fat-spark-muscle-growth-lean-ups-2014-body-reconstruction-workout-gauntlet/). Your workouts should run about an hour.

      3. Do 15 mins of HIIT cardio, post-lifting, 3-4x per week. This is my favorite strategy for zapping stubborn fat really quickly.

  • wallie

    Hi im.. A jr in highschool and im about 6 feet 150 pounds and i started doing stringlift 5×5 late july to late september… And to my surprise i was getting some gains…i just recently started going back because of break… Long story short i want a six pack by july and the picture u see is how i currently look when flexing my gut …. Is it possible and what must i do?

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      Hey Wallie,

      Of course it’s possible, you’ve got an amazing place to launch from.

      Plain and simple — you need to EAT and bulk up a little bit first. Even if you build up strong abs right now, the rest of your frame really won’t support the look.

      My advice would be to spend the next 3-4 months (through April) really emphasizing a weight-gain phase to slap on some lean muscle mass. Then spend May & June cutting off any body fat you gain.

      For now: cut out all cardio; focus on HEAVY, compound lifts (our newest plan makes sense http://www.leanitup.com/wotm-012014-torch-fat-spark-muscle-growth-lean-ups-2014-body-reconstruction-workout-gauntlet/); and then EAT MORE. Eat 500 calories per day more than what you’re eating now, and see if you’re gaining weight. If nothing’s happening, add 300 more/day, and so on until weight starts forming.

      Obviously the extra cals should come from healthy complex carbs and healthy fats; plus, make sure that you’re getting at least 1 gram of protein/lb of bodyweight every day (that’s 150g/day for you right now).

      -BD

  • Evan

    Awesome article…I have found that cutting back on my carbs and drinking mainly water has really cut my body fat % down…It is truly a great way to lose belly fat!

  • Cj

    Is that ok if I’m doin abs 3 times a week for almost hour each time ?

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      Hey CJ — that’s WAY too long. Spend 15-20 mins max, 3x per week, on targeted abs work.

      Use the rest of that time on other full-body work — you’ll end up working your core HARDER via most compound exercises anyway (squats, deadlifts, clean & presses, etc.). Ab exercises are important for a nice core, but don’t sacrifice time working on larger muscle groups. THOSE movements pack the biggest metabolic benefits and stimulate larger muscle gains; two things that are absolutely critical to staying lean.

      • Olivia

        Does this apply with all muscle groups? like butt and legs?

        • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

          Absolutely. Legs should make up a large chunk of the workouts you’re doing — they pack the biggest all-around benefit.

  • mike

    help im currently 14, almost 15 and i want abs. im flat right now and doing 3 sets of 30 crunches every 2 days. im worried that im doing something wrong. i know im doing all the correct procedures but could you give me some advice on a better faster ab workout?

  • manny wil

    like the post

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      Thanks Manny.

  • Josh

    Great Great Article. Thanks man

  • Joseph

    Hey im 19 years old Im a size 32 but I have a mid section not huge but by july I want to be well put together I want abd but what am I required to do more then jogging and squats?

    • das

      i find the best way to shred fat fast and ( tone ) is to implement rowing into your workouts ,i suggest you do 30 min sessions 4 times a week ,every session will be HIIT ,start off rowing at around 30+ RPM for 60 seconds ,then aim for 40+ RPM for 60 seconds ,and repeat ,to make it easier u can do this in 3x 10 min sets ( go on the exercise bike for 10 mins between rowing sets to cool down and gain some energy

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      To bounce off of Das, I’d suggest a few things beyond what you’re doing —

      1. REALLY emphasize a clean diet. Nutrition drives all else and forms the foundation.

      2. A well-rounded, comprehensive lifting plan. Choose any of our workouts — you should be hitting all muscle groups. Stretching, flexibility, and mobility are critical also.

      3. HIIT Cardio. It’s a quick and efficient way to burn fat, and avoids sapping muscle tissue. http://www.leanitup.com/hiit-interval-training-the-full-guide-to-fat-incineration-infographic/

  • RESONANCE

    Bruh, I’ll be 34 in June. When I started martial arts, I was OBESE. I used the, “Kreb Cycle”…picking foods that don’t convert to fat and/or sugar, and lost the weight. I’m training now, but my goal is to lower my body fat, to see more muscle definition…especially in my abs. I’m bi, trying to get to know a gay dude who loves abs….GAY DUDES LOVE ABS, LMAO!

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      EVERYONE LOVES ABS! Biggest things I see, personally, are:

      A) your abs aren’t big enough to begin with. This happens by increasing the difficulty of ab movements; either by upping the weight or choosing harder exercises. You should also be doing squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, rows, etc. — they’re all big moves that indirectly blast the core.

      B) there’s still a layer of body fat, even if it’s tiny. HIIT cardio is one of the best way to plunge into single digits. Diet is also especially important — it HAS to be clean, otherwise you won’t see your abs.

  • Ezra

    i’m 13 years old and 6 feet tall. I weigh 150 lbs, and im pretty skinny. I do Taekwondo and it really helps, but sometimes it goes way to over board. I’m also extremely lazy, so if you could tell me a quick, easy, and efficient way to get abs that would be great, thanks

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      Lazy and abs don’t go together, and they won’t ever. There’s no quick fix. I won’t even entertain that question until you’re willing to work for it.

    • kiki

      Being lazy wont help at all ! You have to grow out of that nature because if you really want it, then you will have to push yourself to do it to the max !
      answer: Sit ups, Crunches, Squats, Planks, Push ups.
      hope this helped :)

  • Max Warren

    I’m 12 and about 115, 5,8 and i really want abs. (all the girls at my school like them:)..) I need a sorta quick way to get them. I don’t think i can get heavy weights for crunches or any other equipment. My eating is pretty healthy yet sometimes we have fast food…
    I have 2 questions…
    1. What are some workouts i can do without equipment?
    2. What should i eat when we go out and also is sweet tea ok?
    thank you so much

    • Kierra

      It really depends on the type of diet that you do have.
      answer #1: Planks, Crunches, Sit Ups, Push Ups.
      answer #2: You can eat anything with low calories and fat. You also would want foods with good amounts of calcium because Calcium help your bones stay strong longer, help your heart rate, blood pressure and Calcium helps your diet. It would depend on what kind of tea. Like Arizona tea has only 90 calories which is good, but it has nothing else to benefit you such as vitamins or calcium, so that would be okay to have every once in a while. Pure Leaf would be bad for a diet because of all the sugars 18g and the carbs 18g.
      hope this helped :)

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      Hey Max —

      1. One thing to realize is that you’re still really young — it’s tough to develop major muscle mass when your hormones haven’t fully kicked in yet. So don’t freak out and keep keep your expectations in check; you will with time, but there’s no reason why you can’t START building up muscle definition now. Check out this section for do-anywhere workout plans: http://www.leanitup.com/category/muscle-it-up/workout-of-the-month/do-anywherein-home-workout-plans/

      You can literally do this abs plan in front of the TV: http://www.leanitup.com/workout-plans-home-tv-binge-ab-crunching-workout-circuit/

      2. Skip the sweet tea. Any sugary, sweetened, processed drinks are absolute ab killers.

      And as for eating, try to eat clean, HQ food whenever possible (IE not McDonald’s or Subway); center your meals around protein; and fit in plenty of veggies + roughage. Try to stick with meals that aren’t TOO carb heavy and focus on healthy fats (don’t go to Olive Garden and binge on pasta + breadsticks; avoid anything that’s deep-fried or plastered with butter).

  • TheUninvited

    would you please show me a diet plan i can use for 6 pack abs?

  • BlahpBlahp

    I am currently 8-9 percent body fat (According to my doctor) I do alot of Ab training and I can only see a little bit of result I am 5ft 9″ and weigh 125 I am 15 years old

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      If your body fat’s that low, then it definitely comes down to ab development. Up the difficulty by adding weight or doing more challenging exercises.

  • connor

    Im 17 and i train abs with 7×15 situps on an angled bench with a 18kg dumbell, i also do uphill sprints for cardio, ive cut down on eating and eat chicken and protein suppliment after workouts. I cant seem to get much definition and they dont stand out like ive seen others my age, any advice would be highly appreciated.

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      Hey Connor — I need more details. What type of training do you do on a regular basis? What’s your all-around diet like; is it clean, healthy, and lean? It could be a number of things.

      • connor

        I go to the gym and do 7 sets of 8 reps with curls, chest press, benchpress, chest flies , shoulder press,

        • connor

          Weighted oblique crunches, pull downs with tricep rope machine, squats
          I do each muscle area on different days, diet consists of chicken, salad/salad sandwiches, pasta, pint of milk and protein powder. I eat fast food rarely

          • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

            What’s your height, weight, body fat % (if you have it)? It’s very possible that you might need to increase your muscle development and pack on mass first for serious definition to show (as opposed to cutting body fat).

            I’d also diversify your training and make sure that you’re consistently hitting your back and legs with high-velocity, compound movements: check out our latest WOTM for some inspiration (or just follow it as-is): http://www.leanitup.com/wotm-042014-sculpt-ultimate-beach-body-summertime-shred-workout-shuttle/

            Also, make sure you’re eating a ton of veggies, fruit, healthy fats, etc. — you’re eating protein-heavy foundational foods, which is great, but the nutrient content is definitely low.

            • connor

              Thanks for the advice, i am 6’1″ and 76.2kg, body fat is 13% – 15% (im a skinny guy) When you say pack on mass first do you mean eat much more to get bigger then burn it all off after to tone up? And what do you mean by high velocity compound movements?

              • connor

                Body fat % was calculated with a website

              • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

                I wouldn’t say eat MUCH more, but if you’re not gaining muscle it’s most likely 2 things:

                1) you need to eat a little bit (a few 100 calories) and/or increase your protein intake, and

                2) tweak your training — your body might’ve adapted to your workout. Increase the difficulty with more challenging movements that hit your ENTIRE body, and start to increase the weight (by reducing reps).

                By high-velocity, compound movements I mean explosive exercises like squats, deadlifts, clean & presses, dumbbell snatches, renegade rows, bent-over rows, pull-ups, squat thrusts, burpees, etc.

                You shouldn’t pack on much fat, if any at all, as long as you’re not overeating — that’s typically the main factor that’ll lead to weight gain (both muscle and fat). Our WOTMs are designed to gradually build up muscle, but also stimulate metabolism + fat burn, if you’re eating right around your maintenance calories.

                -Bryan

  • Christina

    I’m a 13 year old girl, and I’ve been eating clean and exercising more for about 4 months now. My legs are nicely toned and my biceps are showing, yet I’m having trouble working on my abs. I’ve done crunches, sit-ups, 2-minute planks daily, and I still am not getting anywhere. I keep my diet filled with lean meats, veggies, fruits and try to mainly drink water and almond milk (and completely exclude sodas and sugary drinks). I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong any tips or help? Or maybe you can tell what I’m doing wrong?

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      It’s likely #s 4 + 5 — you’re doing a very basic ab routine. I’d definitely add some more advanced exercises in and consistently up the challenge/difficulty.

      Also, and I don’t know what the rest of your training looks like, but moves like squats, lunges, bent-over rows, deadlifts, and standing shoulder presses are all killer for core development.

  • Rivierre

    I’m a 17 year old female and Im finding it so hard to lose weight I have a pear shaped body and when I work out I lose weight up top but never down bottom unsure of what to do?

    • http://LeanItUP.com/ Bryan DiSanto

      Hi Rivierre — don’t freak, pear-shaped body types are really common, especially for women.

      Typically, weight comes off from top-to-bottom, as you’ve noticed; and that’s why you’re not getting that instant gratification exactly where you want it. Unfortunately you can’t control that, it just means that you need to work harder and wait a little bit longer before you hit the areas you’re focused on.

      What you can control is A) your diet, B) your workouts, and C) how hard you’re working overall — diet, especially, plays a MASSIVE role when it comes to stripping off ab fat. If you’re not getting the changes you want, tweak something. Maybe that means honestly assessing your diet and making improvements, or maybe you just need a more intense workout plan (e.g. harder exercises + work) or workout schedule (e.g. 5 days/week instead of 3).

      I would also look into doing HIIT cardio (http://www.leanitup.com/hiit-interval-training-the-full-guide-to-fat-incineration-infographic/). It’s a phenomenal way to blast stubborn body fat, especially when other exercise isn’t working.

      Best,
      Bryan

  • Sherins

    Hi, I’m 23 years old, I run 12km every two days, 30 push up every morning and night, a little weight lifting. I started doing all this years ago and just doing it regularly back since 2 month ago.

    My height is 175cm and my weight is 70kg. I can see six pack starts to appear when I’m standing up, but when sitting down its not there.

    Can you suggest me what I can do with my exercise regiment or anything else in order to gain six pack?

  • Angerl

    What happens if I just run and do cruncheo you think I can get abs like that ?