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 is — it’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
“Big lifts are the sledgehammer; isolated ab exercises are the scalpel. Leverage both and reap the rewards.”
1. You Can’t See Them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lean It UP is a web community that touches all ends of the fitness spectrum. We regularly publish workout plans, nutritional analysis, product reviews, supplement advice, recipes, and other related content that can help inform and educate on the most effective, practical ways to improve fitness levels, aesthetics, and overall health. We want to help YOU build your own perfect body -- hop on for the ride.