Updated: May 18
We see it all the time, movie stars, models, sportspeople, athletes and many other celebrities. The media bombards us with images of people with these “perfect bodies”. One of the standout areas for people and one that seems to get the most focus is the stomach region. We see people with amazingly defined abdominal muscles and perfectly flat stomachs so often in the media. How could we not want to have that!
There appears to be a lot of confusion as to how we can gain such a chiselled or flat stomach. With solid experience in the area of fitness and health I aim to shed some light on just how you can work on this troublesome area. I will give you the reality as to why it can be so hard to make your stomach look the way you want it to. The following information is based on experience and results, not the overly exaggerated truths you will often hear in many infomercials and alike.
The 3 main factors that affect having defined abdominal muscles and/or a flat stomach are:
1. Fat. This may seem obvious and it is, but there are some things I need to explain. I have often heard people say, “ look at that guy he has amazing abs but he can barely do 5 sit ups”. Why is this so? It is likely that he is just so lean or thin they there is nowhere for the muscles to hide. When this is the case, obviously the abdominal muscles become visible. Just because you can see them, it doesn’t mean, that particular person is great at sit ups or has a particularly strong core. Having worked in a gym with many members of Asian descent, this was often the case. Maybe some of them were strong or worked hard, but more often than not, because of their heritage and natural genetic predisposition to being thin, they had flat stomachs. So keep your fat percentage low enough and you will see abs. This can be hard and it is one of the areas bodybuilders have to really work at. Remember, Fat hides muscle.
2. Hypertrophy. For anyone who doesn’t know what this means, it simply means muscle gain. Here is where most people seem to go wrong. Do you think people with obvious abdominal muscles are great at sit ups? As I have explained above, this is rarely the case. If this is so, why do so many people spend forever doing sit ups? It's because they think sit ups are the key to great abs and a flat stomach, thanks to the media. Have you ever seen how great most body builders abdominal muscles look? They look great right? So they must do a lot of sit ups? WRONG. I have seen multiple body builders train for competition, who end up with amazing looking abdominal muscles and how many sit ups do you think they did? Zero, none. So why do their abs look so good? It is because of the core strength they develop through training with heavy weights. When someone lifts a heavy weight, heavier than what they are used to, the core of their body has to engage. When this weight puts a high demand on the core muscles, they are forced to compensate and evolve to cope with the extreme load. This, in turn requires the muscles to grow and become stronger and therefore more visible. The exercise doesn't have to be focused on the actual abdominal region. So trust me, sit ups are good, they allow a very small amount of muscle to grow and they provide some strength to the core, but endurance exercise rarely, if ever, promotes substantial muscle growth.
So when you think of getting more visible abs think of lifts such as, deadlift, standing military press, front and back squat. Anything with more weight and less stability will also force your core to work and stabilize your body; Mostly unsupported lifts where your body has to do all the work. Just be careful when lifting heavy weight as the risk of injury increases substantially. Progressive overload is the name of the game. Progressive, meaning slow and deliberate, not rushed.
3. Genetics. Yes our genetics play a part in how we look, the shape of our body and the potential shape of our body. Have you ever worked out with the intention of looking like someone else physically? How close did your body resemble theirs at the end of your training? My guess is, it may have been similar but I doubt it end
ed up the same. Men in particular, often see a famous sportsperson or body builder and they want to have the exact same physical dimensions, chest, abs, biceps, back and so on. This is a lottery. Your genetics will greatly influence the actual shape of your muscles. Some people have big chests, some small, some people have muscular legs, some people not so much. This is also the case with abdominal muscles. Some people are blessed with genes that help promote more developed and visible abdominal muscles. You have probably met or seen someone in your life that doesn’t seem to workout much at all and sometimes when they do, they end up with far better results than you, even though you are doing the exact same training. If it isn’t their diet or the fact that they are lifting heavier, it will be related to their genetics. So even though you can have a flat stomach and visible abdominal muscles, the size, shape and difficulty in developing these muscles, will be unique to you.
There are a few anomalies that may affect these 3 rules for a flatter stomach.
1. Internal abdominal conditions that may cause your stomach to bloat internally making your stomach appear more rounded externally.
2. Excess skin on your stomach. This may have to be surgically removed.
3. Your posture can influence the engagement and visibility of your stomach muscles.
So there it is. The truth about how to get visible abs or a flat stomach. Yes, being fit makes a difference, yes doing sit ups makes a difference, but no matter how you look at it, it always comes down to these 3 "Core" rules. So don't waste your time and money with questionable equipment that you may find online or through infomercials. Some have value, many do not.