Having massive biceps and boulder-shoulders is impressive, but nothing captures attention quite like a set of ripped abs. A toned and lean midsection is the best indication of a truly elite athlete or bodybuilder. Everyone wants it, but few are able to attain it. You are not alone if you simply do not know how to make your abs pop.
This guide will show you why people struggle to develop washboard abs, how to overcome those struggles, and even includes a list of powerful core exercises. Follow this guide to achieve the chiseled core of your dreams.
Step 1: Clarifying Misconceptions About Abs
Everyone dreams about flaunting a set of lean, washboard abs with deep cuts and a tapered waist. Achieving the “six pack” is often one of the most frustrating and elusive goals for gym-goers. Even veteran weightlifters and athletes have tremendous difficulty developing prominent abdominal muscles. Luckily, just about everyone can achieve a well-defined core. First, though, a few common misconceptions must be discarded.
Misconception #1: Abs can be developed without proper nutrition
Any experienced lifter can attest that the easiest part about training is actually working out. Staying disciplined with nutrition is the far more challenging task. Unfortunately, you could pound your abs with endless sets every day and still see no progress if your diet is poor.
Without consuming the right number of healthy calories, the layer of subcutaneous fat covering the abs will continue to hide even the most impressive physique. If crafting a “six pack” is the goal, be prepared to work just as hard in the kitchen as the gym.
Misconception #2: Abs can be developed with nutrition alone
The importance of eating properly cannot be overstated. However, this does not mean that eating clean without putting in the work in the gym is an effective strategy. Losing stomach fat is great, but only if there are well-developed muscles hiding underneath.
For some people with outstanding genetics, staying lean might be enough to show off a ripped core. The vast majority of us, on the other hand, are not born with deep lines and cuts in our abdominals. Developing these muscles takes dedication and hard work with specific exercises and rep ranges that will be discussed below.
Misconception #3: Everyone can have a “six pack”
No, not everyone is capable of having the coveted “six pack.” However, this is not to say that everyone cannot have a ripped, enviable abdomen. Instead, it is simply a biological fact. There are several distinct muscle groups in the core which must be developed and revealed by reducing fat. The appearance and shape of these muscles, however, is largely left up to genetics.
Some individuals have wide-set abs with flat muscle in between, while others have the tight “six pack” abs. Just because you do not have six abs showing does not mean that your core is not lean and shredded.
Step 2: Understanding the Muscles
Before going into the strategy, exercises, and rep ranges that will lead everyone to the core of their dreams, it is important to understand what the abs really are. Most people mistakenly assume that the abs are comprised only of the muscles in front of the stomach. Instead, there are several muscle groups which must be developed to make the abs pop.
The Rectus Abdominis
The rectus abdominis is what people are referring to when they talk about abs. Instead of being comprised of four, six, or eight distinct muscles, the rectus abdominis is actually a flat muscle running down the midsection from the sternum. The “abs” that people see are actually caused by tight bands of connective tissue running across the muscle, causing the rectus abdominis to bulge out.
While different exercises are able to target different areas of the rectus abdominis, it is important to keep in mind that this is just one of several important core muscles.
While a ripped rectus abdominis is difficult to achieve, what truly separates elite lifters and athletes from most people is development of the external obliques. These broad muscles are responsible for ensuring a tight and tapered “V” shape that makes the abs look incredible.
When thinking of athletes with the strongest, leanest abs, boxers often come to mind. This is largely because of their well-developed serratus muscles. These muscles are finger-shaped and stretch between the rib cage and the lats. They are crucial for attaining the ripped abdominal look that everyone desires.
The Transversus Abdominis
Of all the core muscles needed to make the abs pop, the transversus abdominis is the deepest and arguably most important. It is responsible for tightening the waist and making sure the abs don’t appear to be “floating” in ill-defined muscle. It is also crucial for overall core strength and stability.
Step 3: Learning How to Make Your Abs Pop
As discussed above, crafting an incredible set of abs cannot be done by focusing on nutrition or exercise alone. Instead, it is crucial that both aspects be taken into account. By developing muscle and burning fat simultaneously, the abs will grow leaner, stronger, and more visible.
Ultimately, the factor that is most overlooked in making the abs pop is discipline. You could have the best genetics, the most scientific workouts, and the most detailed nutritional intake possible, but still fail because of a lack of discipline. Sticking to a proper training and nutrition program is the only sure-fire way to develop an incredible set of abs.
Having strong and well-developed ab muscles is great, but it doesn’t mean much aesthetically if there is a layer of fat hiding them. Therefore, using a clean diet and dedicated training program (which, yes, may include cardio) to lower one’s percentage of body fat is crucial for making the abs burst out.
Generally speaking, the abs will not show unless body fat is lower than 10%. Truly elite athletes and ripped individuals will boast body fat of less than 6%.
The other side of the coin is that eliminating subcutaneous fat without developing the muscles simply results in a skinny physique. To make the abs pop and look incredible, the various core muscles highlighted above should be trained and developed. Below, the common debate over how the abs should be trained will be explained. In general, however, ab work should be done several days each week with rest days in between.
Step 4: How to Make Your Abs Pop With the Perfect Rep Ranges
Within the fitness industry, experts are torn between two tactics for training the abs. Some hold that low-rep progressive overload should be used in order to recruit the stronger and more defined fast-twitch muscle fibers. Others feel that as the abs are comprised mainly of slow-twitch muscle fibers, exercises should be performed with higher reps.
There is scientific backing to support both claims. However, regardless of the approach, performing 3 sets of 3 sit-ups will never be an adequate core workout. Developing the abs means working them out just as hard as any other muscle.
Perspective 1: Lower Reps with Resistance
One side of the argument holds that performing lower-rep exercises with resistance such as weights or bands is key to developing the abs. This is because progressive overload, which strengthens muscles by consistently adding resistance, is essential for recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers.
These are the muscle fibers that ripped, powerful athletes like sprinters tend to develop. Naturally, for a lean and cut abdomen, these fibers must be trained.
Perspective 2: Higher Reps
The other side argues that since the majority of the muscle fibers in the abdomen are slow-twitch, it is beneficial to activate as many of these fibers as possible. This is achieved by performing high reps with low or no resistance.
Given the fact that high-rep exercises are superior for recruiting slow-twitch muscle fibers, this argument certainly holds weight. A nice benefit of these exercises is the number of calories burned while completing exhausting sets of 15+ reps.
As the fitness industry has become increasingly scientific, many experts have begun to see the benefits of combining both types of exercises. This allows the fast-twitch muscles to grow and the slow-twitch muscles to be strengthened.
Training low-rep and high-rep exercises together is an effective way to stimulate incredible ab development. The best way to structure these workouts is by performing the resistance exercises first, followed by a burnout of high-rep exercise. It is also important to use a variety of exercises in order to target all four muscles: the rectus abdominis, the external obliques, the serratus, and the transversus abdominis.
Step 5: Using the Right Exercises to Get Ripped Abs
Here are some of the most powerful and effective exercises that can help sculpt an impressive core. They will be broken down into categories based on the muscle groups which contribute to rock-hard abs.
- Stability ball sit-ups
- Cable crunches
- TRX body saws
- Plate twist
- Dumbbell side bends
- Cable wood-chop
- Hanging knee-tuck oblique crunch
- Bicycle crunches
- One-arm cable crunch
- Forearm push-ups
- Punching (with resistance bands)
- Dumbbell pull-overs
- Rope pulls
- Hollow-body hold
- Glute bridge
- Russian twist
Finding out how to make your abs pop is not an easy task. It requires a great deal of hard work, discipline, and planning. However, it is a challenge that can be conquered by anyone who puts in the work. While not everyone is built to have the standard “six-pack,” everyone can achieve an incredibly ripped and cut set of abs.
There are two factors involved in shredding the core: fat loss and muscular development. Proper nutrition will help melt away the layer of subcutaneous fat hiding the abs, while workouts can stimulate muscle growth in the core. It is important to combine low-rep exercises using resistance with high-rep exercises to target both the fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers in the core.
Packing in a few sets of core exercises at the end of a workout is a great way to ensure the abs begin to show. Just as with any muscle, taking rest days is important to allow the abs recover and grow. It won’t be easy, but following these tips will help you craft the washboard abs of your dreams.