The basics: there is a question that should always be asked when someone says ‘how do you get great abs?’. It’s so simple but it’s not thought about often enough. The question is: Do you ever see a fat person with abs?
The answer is so obvious, but actually this is what needs to be remembered all the time (…the answer is ‘no’ just for clarity…).
Everyone has abdominal muscles, they are part of everyone’s torso and muscle make up. They are essential for everyday movements from walking to bending over to breathing. But you can only see these muscles clearly when fat levels are low enough for your skin to sit tightly on top of the muscles underneath – stored body fat sits between muscles and the skin – and this up to about 14% body fat for men and 18% for women.
So the next time you are pounding out crunches, ask yourself the question first…can you see your abs already? If the answer is no, then you aren’t focussing on the primary element of getting great abs. And no matter how many ab exercises you do, you need to focus on fat loss first!
It’s all incredibly simple. Everything you eat and drink has a number of calories attached to it. It is through calories that your body functions mentally and physically by using the food sources as fuel to maintain bodily functions and for movement. When we perform everyday actions – from walking to shopping to sleeping – the body burns calories. To lose fat, you need your body to be using some of the calorie sources found in your stored energy supplies – your adipose tissue (fat near the skin’s surface) – whilst also using up the calories that you input when eating during the day.
This negative energy balance occurs by consuming at least 10% less calories per day than you are expending. The negative energy balance means that your fat stores are tapped into for fuel, reducing the amount of stored fat. If this continues for an extended period of time, the skin will sit tighter on the muscles beneath as there is less fat between the muscles and the skin; and at some point your abdominal muscles will appear when this fat level continues to reduce.
Combine this with the idea of not eating foods that more easily store body fat (high sugar or processed products) and you will have an efficient nutritional process for removing stored fat to unveil your abs.
To complement the calorie control of a balanced diet, a negative energy balance can be more easily achieved by introducing daily exercise. Exercise expends more calories than sitting or performing menial tasks so the negative energy balance can be reached quicker or increased more easily when performing physical activity that burns a significant amount of calories. The top six exercises, as per my last article in the ‘Best exercises for weight loss’, include: endurance running, hill sprints, burpees, boxing, battle ropes and supersets/giant sets.
When you’re within range
The sensible time to start performing abdominal exercises (rather than purely core strengthening and stability exercises beneficial for posture correction) is when you are within 5% of the target body fat percentages as I have previously mentioned.
Then we can talk about cable crunches, rollouts, hanging leg raises, V sit ups, oblique ‘wood choppers’ and overhead plate leans. These will be covered in Part 2.