Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to get your abs to show? You work hard in the gym and you can FEEL that they are strong, and your diet is pretty healthy. But for some reason, they’re not poppin’ through the way you want! The truth is, the abs are some of the last muscles to really show definition for most of us. In fact, setting a goal to “get abs” is not a recommended goal to start with because it’s sooo difficult for most people – especially for women!
It’s doable but it's also important to remember that having ab definition isn’t a way to measure how in shape you are. You can have an EXTREMELY strong core and be in great shape without a visible 6-pack.
1. Body fat percentage
Even if you’re in amazing shape and your body fat is healthy, or even at the “athletic” level, it might not be enough for your abs to peek through. Getting your body fat low enough to see your abs is definitely harder for women than men. Women may not start seeing much abdominal definition until their body fat is 20% or less. Even then, it's likely you'll only see the upper abs and obliques, IF your muscle structure is favorable (genetics help). For fully visible 6-pack abs, women need to get their body fat down nearer to 15% or less. And that’s really difficult. Most fitness pros recommend that most women don't go much lower than this, in order to avoid risking the negative effects of too little body fat.
Bloating loves to show up and mask our hard work! If you’ve been eating a lot of things that cause bloating like high sodium foods, carbonated beverages, sugar or sugar substitutes, and even high fiber veggies, you might have a little bloat.
Same thing for those of us who are on, or getting close to, our periods! Bloating makes your abdomen slightly distended, which will hide the muscles you’ve worked hard to strengthen.
Sometimes, standing up straight can make a HUGE difference! Slouching, letting your shoulders round, or not squaring your hips will cause a shorter folded look and your middle will compress.
Instead, pull your shoulders back and down, reach up through the crown of your head, and square your pelvis. Try to stay mindful about this throughout the day; strengthening your core will help with posture too. If you sit a lot throughout the day, your muscles will tighten, pulling your hips forward and making your belly push out. Try to sit with good posture, stretch each day, and take plenty of breaks to get up and walk around.
4. Effective core training
There’s way more to abs than crunches. Getting the definition you want involves ALL of the abdominal muscles. That means the transverse abdominals, the deepest of them all, whose role is like that of a corset. It draws your belly button towards the spine. Next are the obliques, internal and external, they’re in charge of rotating and crunching your torso from side to side. Lastly, you have the rectus abdominis, that coveted “6-pack” that lines the center of your midsection. Most people like to focus on just rectus abdominis, but it’s so so so important to build strength in all of the abdominal muscles. This 30 Day Core Challenge targets ALL of the abdominal groups!
5. Spot training
Spot. Training. Isn’t. A. Thing. You can’t just do abs every day and expect to have abs. You have to work the entire body to decrease body fat, increase lean body mass and eventually get those abs to peek through. Also keep in mind that most exercises involve your core, even if you don’t realize it! When you lift weights, run on a treadmill, or hold a yoga pose, your core is active and working! Connecting your mind to your core muscles during every exercise will help develop your ab muscles even more intentionally.
6. Consistent diet
At some point, you’ve probably heard someone say “abs are made in the kitchen.” It sounds a little diet culture-y, but there’s truth to this! Nutrition is a HUGE part of changing your body composition. It’s really easy to feel impatient when you’re not seeing the results you want, but changing your diet too often isn’t the answer! Changing your body composition (decreasing body fat and increasing lean mass) takes time and patience. Just because you don’t achieve the ab definition you want within one week doesn’t mean it’s not working.
Constantly changing your diet and trying this and that will only make it take longer. Plus it will make it hard for you to know what IS working!
Consistency, within a solid plan, is the key. Under eating is another mistake people tend to make. Even if you’re trying to lose fat, you have to fuel your body to avoid muscle loss and achieve results that are sustainable. The process is slow but worth it!
7. Everyone's abs look different!
Some people just don’t have the muscle structure for a 6-pack. For some people, only a few of the abdominal muscles will show definition. That's ok! We all store fat a little differently. If you’re someone who holds onto fat in the abdominal area or you notice weight gain there first, it will probably be more difficult to see ab definition than it is for someone who stores more fat in their hips and thighs.
So make sure you measure your progress against your past self, not someone else's accomplishments.
- Stay focused on strength even if your abs aren't showing -
Having a strong core is a supremely important for so many more reasons than looking good in a swimsuit. So before you get too discouraged that the abs you’re training for aren’t as visible as you’d like, pay attention to how a strong core is improving your body – better posture, less back pain, better overall workouts, better balance, and more efficient day-to-day function. So don’t let what you see (or don't see) dictate your progress, abs are definitely not the end all and be all of fitness measurements.
Remember, the deepest abdominal muscle – the transverse – can’t be seen at all, yet it’s crucial in developing core strength.
Building a strong core should be the goal!