Abs are muscles just like your biceps, your quads and your pecs. If you want them to be visible you have to train them like any other muscle. For whatever reason, abs are the one muscle on social media, and muscle magazines tried telling us that the best way to make abs were through super high rep, bodyweight exercises. While that may work at first in building you a foundation, at a certain point things would have to change.
High Tension, High Resistance
Treat your abs like any other muscle. They need a resistance you can apply more weight or reps to over time. You don’t need 30+ reps. 10-20 reps is the only range you should be putting your abs through.
I think what happens more often than not, is people go through the motions on ab exercises without actually feeling a connection to the abs. They’re going so high rep so they don’t spend the time actually feeling the ab do the work. Hanging leg raises are a perfect example. I see EVERYONE just swinging their legs up and down, and I can tell they aren’t even training their abs. That burn they feel is just their hip flexors curling the knees up and not the actual abs.
Whatever exercise you are doing for the abs, make SURE you are feeling the abs flexing at EVERY part of the movement. Try crunches on a physioball. That’ll allow you to lie back and get a little extra range, but as you come up, go as slow as you can and really feel your stomach flex at every vertebrae and engage every part of your core.
The other part about building your abs like any other muscle is they will be more visible at higher body fat percentages. If you don’t work your abs at all, it might take you to get down to 9% before you see any full lines because they’re just so flat and not developed. I started focusing on movements I could add weight and take through 10-20 reps and saw my abs get thicker to where I could see them all the way up to 12% body fat.
Nutrition is Still Key
We can’t go without addressing nutrition. If you want a FLAT stomach, and not a protruding belly, then that is all diet. No amount of exercise can REDUCE belly fat. You need to be in a caloric deficit. No exercise targets any part of your body in a way that it REDUCES the body fat that’s there. If anyone tells you a certain form of cardio or workout got rid of their belly, it doesn’t mean that particular exercise did something special. What they did whether they realized it or not was create enough of a calorie burn through exercise, while also reducing the amount of calories they were taking in. They dieted down until the belly disappeared. That is all a “flat” stomach is.
The other hard aspect of this is, for the majority of people, belly fat is usually the last part to go on a diet. For example, when I did my first diet ever for a show, I was at 20% body fat with a belly like anyone else’s. As I dieted, my face got sucked in, my arms got super lean, and even my legs got lean, but my stomach still had a pouch to it. I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it.
What I ultimately had to do was keep dieting down till my body had nowhere else to pull from. Keep in mind this is an extreme case. I don’t recommend this for everyone. What I usually tell clients who want to get rid of that last bit of belly fat but have been already dieting a long time is to take a 4-8 week break. Bring your calories back up to maintenance and try and maintain the current new, lean physique you have with much higher calories. Once you can maintain that, only then go back into a diet. What’s nice about this is you both get a nice break where you can rev your metabolism, back up, but also start a new diet at what should be a higher caloric starting point so that you don’t have to be as low as you were before because you are now leaner than you were before. It may take 2-3 total diet cycles, but you can get rid of that last bit. It just takes patience and understanding that your body prefers to pull from everywhere else before it taps into that area unfortunately.