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How to have great abs, #1

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The number one question from folks who write to us is "How do I get better abs?" We'll answer that question here.

A detailed answer would take many pages (such as those in Shawn Phillips' book, Absolution). Let's start out by addressing common myths, then working principles, then a six-point plan to get you those great abs.


  • Spot reduction works. The truth is that you cannot spot reduce. Your body fat distribution is genetically determined. There is no exercise that eliminates abdominal fat. Ditto for creams, pills, and potions.

  • More sit-ups=better. In fact, sit-ups can work against you. It takes about 3500 situps to burn a pound of ab-covering fat--so you'd have to do so many you'd have time for little else. But the real problem is the way sit-ups can alter the ligaments in your abdominal region. On top of everything else, they waste time that should be devoted to working the abs correctly.

  • Macro-nutrient diets (low carb, high carb, low fat, high fat, low protein, high protein) actually do something other than make you unhealthy. The truth is any diet that points to a macronutrient as the cause of or cure for excess body fat is unsustainable and unhealthy.

  • Only genetically-gifted people can have good-looking abs. The truth is far different. Don't buy this lame excuse.

  • Only young people can have nice abs. It gets harder as you get older. Yes, age is a factor--your testosterone is less as you get older, so your body stores more fat. But this is a minor factor. And it's an excuse people use prematurely. People with bad dietary habits put on more fat each year, so it seems to them age is causal to obesity--but that simply isn't true.

  • "I would have great abs, if not for my slow metabolism." You can now have your metabolism tested. Ask around at health clubs or clinics if they have a Body Gem metabolism tester. Most places charge about $65. Most "slow metabolism" people who get their metabolism tested find out they actually have normal or even fast metabolism. See our free article on hidden calories.

Working Principles

  1. Recognize that fat and weight are different.
    Weight: The combined mass of your lean mass and fat.
    Fat: A specific type of tissue, the quantity of which you cannot measue with a weight scale.
    Body composition: The amount of lean mass vs. body fat.

  2. Reduce overall body fat (and thus the area where you want less fat) by reducing caloric intake over a period of weeks.

  3.  Build more muscle overall, to change your body composition.

  4. Improve your posture (see below).

  5. Properly develop the abdominal structure. This means no situps. See the next section on posture.

More, below....




To correct bad posture, you need to learn what good posture is and analyze the posture you do have. Your spine needs to follow a certain curve pattern. In most of us, this pattern is disrupted. You may wish to consult a chiropractor (one of the rare instances in which I think they can help) or ask your family doctor for a referral to a posture expert.

To correct weak abdominal muscles, don't do sit-ups! This exercise actually creates an imbalance, and causes the wrong stresses on the connective tissue. Plus, it exacerbates posture problems. There are many effective exercises for your abs. Here are some:

  • Doing leg raises and crunches will help, but don't limit yourself to these. That is a common mistake.
  • Flexing your abs when you do your workouts really develops these muscles. For example, when working biceps, I flex my core hard to stabilize it. But, this takes a certain "feel" to achieve. You can get this "feel" by sucking your gut in and flexing hard during front squats. My abs are incredibly blasted after I do front squats.
  • Front squats. My abs "kill me" after my squat routine. If you are doing squats and not working your abs, you are doing something wrong. Very wrong. Ask for guidance. Tip: Use abdominal contraction as a natural weight belt when doing any weight training.
  • Hanging leg raises. Be sure to arch your back on the downstroke, for proper tendon alignment.
  • Crunches. These are not quite as good as hanging leg raises. Be sure to tense your abs while doing them. If you are doing these right, you can't do very many in a row. I like to do four sets of 10.
  • Deadlifts. Be careful with this exercise. Do it right, and you add strength to your back (while also building your abs). Do it wrong, and you hurt your back. Form is everything. Don't worry about poundage.
  • Good mornings. An excellent exercise for the back, spine, and abs--though it's aimed at the hamstrings. If you don't know how to do this exercise, get advice. It's dangerous if done wrong.
  • Vacuums. Suck in that gut and flex it. This improves everything. Do two sets of 10 after each workout.


Six Steps

  1. Measure your body fat level and chart the trendline. If you are not moving the numbers down, you are doing something wrong. Not sure how to track your body fat? Pick up a set of Accu-Measure calipers. They don't cost very much.
  2. Set specific goals. For example, "My body fat is 12%. I will drop by 1% each month, so at the end of four months I am at 8%." As you work toward your goals, you can adjust as needed. Without goals, you are unlikely to make any progress. So, don't blow this off.
  3. Reduce overall body fat. Eat green, not grain.
  4. Take a hard look at your hidden calories. If you think you are dieting perfectly but the problem is your genes or the alignment of the planets, taking this step is crucial to your progress. Don't assume anything.
  5. Work your abs during each workout. If you are not doing workouts with free weights, you have just identified a core problem in your program. This subject used to be debatable, but all honest and informed persons have reached the same conclusion on the subject.
  6. Do specific abdominal workouts once a week--maybe twice, but no more (this caution does not include vacuums). You need sufficient rest, or you will have high levels of cortisol and that means you'll store more fat.

There you go. If you follow these six steps, you will have abs you can be proud of.


Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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