As someone who designed an entire fitness program around getting and maintaining six-pack abs for life, I understand the allure of chiseled abs.
We all want to eliminate belly fat and have a flat stomach.
If we’re being honest, our Google search histories are littered with results for six-pack shortcuts, belly flab blasting pills, or topical gels that promise us miracle results.
I just hope none of us would go so far as to wear a slimming body vest out in public.
Don’t believe the hype—there are no shortcuts to a flat stomach and six-pack abs.
In this post, we’re going to cover why abs are so coveted, the scientific reasons why it’s difficult to get rid of belly fat, and exactly how you go about earning that six-pack.
It won’t be easy, but neither is fitting into a pair of Spanx.
Abs Are a Surefire Sign of Fitness
A flat stomach is the simplest barometer people use to judge someone’s fitness level.
We base this snap judgment on someone’s gut because no other body part is so obviously visible.
You can cover up most of your body with clothing, but if your gut protrudes out of your shirt, there’s no way to hide it.
As we’ll see, abs don’t happen by accident, so what may seem shallow is actually pretty intuitive. A carved out six-pack doesn’t just inform others of our fitness, though.
If you’re a guy, your abs have a huge impact on whether women find you attractive.
A Western Illinois University study found that women rated abs as the sexiest muscle on a man’s body.
Says bro science bible askmen.com in an article about the study: “It could be its warmth, but it may also be the intimacy associated with touching a body part that is reserved for the one closest to you.”
No wonder over 75% of guys tell me they want to get rid of their belly when I ask them what their fitness goals are.
In today’s dating scene, a nice smile doesn’t seal the deal quite like rock-hard abs do.
Why It’s Hard to Get Rid of Belly Fat
A disclaimer before we begin: This section can be a bit science-y, but the information we’re going to cover is essential to understanding why there are no shortcuts to a flat stomach.
Every person is born with a finite amount of fat cells in their body.
When you’re little, the fat cells are small. As you get older, energy from the food you eat that isn’t burned off is stored in your fat cells, which grow in size as a result.
As your fat cells grow, certain parts of your body will become noticeably bigger.
On the flip side, fat cells go through a process called lipolysis by which their energy is released into the blood. Fat cells shrink in size during lipolysis, which leads to a reduction in overall body fat.
Triggering lipolysis to burn energy and shrink fat cells starts with chemicals known as catecholamines.
Every fat cell contains alpha and beta catecholamine receptors that affect how the cell reacts to lipolysis. Think of them like radio towers for your fat cells.
Beta receptors accelerate lipolysis, which is what you want.
Alpha receptors have the opposite effect—they hinder lipolysis.
But here’s the kicker: Not all fat cells are created equal. So if a cell’s composition is skewed heavily toward alpha receptors, it will be harder to shrink that fat cell because it’s resistant to the lipolysis being triggered.
Now, I’ll give you three guesses as to what the composition of the fat cells in your lower belly is, and the first two don’t count.
Bingo - the composition of fat cells in your belly is skewed toward alpha receptors.
Belly fat isn’t stubborn because God hates us; the composition of fat cells in that area make it stubborn.
The Shortcut To Belly Fat Loss Isn’t Worth the Risk
Being born with a finite amount of fat cells means you don’t gain new ones or lose old ones as you age.
The exception to that rule would be liposuction—a complete removal of fat cells from part of your body.
But unless you are morbidly obese or your doctor says you need liposuction, you should never consider it.
Not only are you going under the knife unnecessarily, but your laziness can sabotage your results.
Liposuction can get rid of your gut, but if you keep eating junk and don’t exercise, fat is still going to be stored in parts of your body where fat cells haven’t been removed.
Your stomach may stay flat, but your face, legs, and arms will get puffy.
Do you really want to look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man if he had a flat stomach?
If you hate your gut, liposuction is not the answer.
There are natural ways to getting the body that you want. It requires hard work and determination, but it’s completely achievable and doesn’t require a risky surgery.
How to Get a Flat Stomach
If you’re frustrated that the million crunches you do every morning aren’t melting your belly fat and giving you the six-pack abs you crave, there’s a simple reason for that:
“Exercise is not the main barrier to losing your love handles. It’s diet.”
That’s a quote from Craig Ballantyne, an author, trainer, and coach who is basically reiterating the old saying that you can’t outwork a bad diet.
I’ve said before that fitness is 85% diet and 15% exercise, so even if you’re working out six days a week, if your diet is not in check, you’re never going to come close to having six-pack abs.
If you want to get a flat stomach, start reducing your body fat percentage.
This answer might seem simplistic if you’ve spent years searching for a shortcut. The reason you might have overlooked it is because, while obvious, reducing your body fat is not easy.
But if you follow these five steps, you’ll burn body fat and uncover that glorious six-pack:
1. Learn the simple science behind energy balance
You have to know how many calories you’re consuming and how many you’re expending.
You can only lose body fat by eating fewer calories than you’re burning.
It’s simple math—calories in vs. calories out.
2. Maintain a proper balance of macronutrients
The three macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fat. Your body—and abs—need all three.
Depending on your fitness goals, your diet should be comprised of different amounts of each macronutrient. Once you find the balance that your body needs, stick to those numbers.
3. Clean up your diet
Natural foods are the best building blocks for any lifelong nutrition plan.
Take it upon yourself to learn which foods are good and which are bad. You might be surprised to see meals you thought were healthy are actually sabotaging your fitness.
For example: Eating a salad drenched in salad dressed is not as healthy as you think.
4. Start a strength training program focused on compound lifts
Many “fitness” websites will tell you excessive cardio is the best way to shed fat and uncover your abs, or that high intensity interval training is the shortest way to see your six-pack.
We know that’s not true.
All the people I’ve worked with have gotten seriously lean without doing a single minute of cardio.
The most effective way to shed body fat and build lean muscle is with compound lifts.
5. Be patient, damn it
Stop looking for quick fixes and weird tricks. Six-pack shortcuts don’t exist!
Crunches won’t spot reduce your belly fat. Your whole body fat percentage needs to go down in order to reduce belly fat and uncover your abs.
You didn’t gain a belly overnight, and the process to get rid of it won’t happen overnight, either.
So where is Early Fat Loss Most Obvious?
There’s a natural pecking order in your body when it comes to fat loss.
For men, this is generally how fat loss progresses throughout the body:
First to go: Pecs, arms, chest, face, legs
Last to go: Back, hips, stomach
When it comes to your stomach, the upper abs are less stubborn than the lower abs.
For guys, the lower abs are where the most stubborn fat cells are located. So don’t get discouraged when your top abs come in and there’s a strip of belly fat below them.
In the body fat royal rumble, your lower abs are the last man standing.
For women, here’s the progression of body fat loss:
First to go: Upper body, arms, face, stomach
Last to go: Legs, hips, glutes (butt)
Women’s bodies are built differently than men’s bodies, plus women carry more body fat than men.
If you’ve ever seen a woman at the gym with a fit upper body and extra weight in her hips and legs, now you know it’s because her “last mile” is different from her male counterparts.
How to Know You’re on Track
When you’re trying to lower your body fat percentage, the scale does not determine your success.
You can drop weight and still end up skinny fat or fat jacked if your body fat percentage doesn’t change.
Either outcome is going to leave your belly fat intact.
For visible abs, the level you’re aiming for depends on gender:
Men: 10% or lower
Women: 15% or lower
Those are the levels at which your abs will begin to show. Guys will likely need to get down to single digits before their bottom abs will become visible.
I know...I know...after a few weeks you may be tempted to think, “That slimming body vest doesn’t look too ridiculous” or “my favorite Spanx are on sale this week.”
Stay strong, my brothers and sisters in fitness, and do not settle for faking a flat stomach.
Stick to your diet and exercise program and your belly will go from flab to fit before you know it.
Jay Kim a full time desk jockey and fitness hacker. He works with world-class athletes and other high performers to help them achieve the fitness results they need, and shares his methods at http://hackyour.fitness