Did you know your abs can talk? Even if someone has big biceps or nice legs, the abs speak the loudest of all muscles. The abs tell on you when you’ve been lazy or cheated on your diet. They literally define your level of discipline in both the gym and the kitchen.
For this reason, the abdominals are the most coveted muscle group in the gym—everyone knows they require a lot of hard work. Of course, there are some people who are genetically gifted in the ab department, but that is rare. Even if someone is gifted with perfectly shaped abdominals, the person still has to train them and work to reveal them. People with an advantage still have their work cut out for them if they want a lean and mean six-pack.
Don’t give up if you are not genetically gifted, though. You can still have great abs; it will just require some work. The first step is setting your goals. The amount of definition you desire will determine just how hard you’ll have to work. Here are a few different looks and what it will take to achieve each of them.
Look 1: Flat Abs
The first step to getting abs is just flattening out the ones you have. Many people are walking around with a gut hanging over their jeans simply because they have poor posture.
If you want to flatten your belly, you have to retrain your body to hold your stomach tight even when you aren’t thinking about it. You do this by training your core with planks and exercises that work your transverse abdominals. As your muscles get stronger, it becomes easier to hold your abdomen flat.
The other thing you need to do is adjust your calories to get in a daily caloric deficit to burn off excess body fat. This is best done by lowering calories and increasing cardiovascular exercise.
- Focus: Transverse abdominals
- Exercises: Plank and practicing good posture
- Diet Difficulty: Disciplined, tracking caloric intake
Look 2: Horseshoe Abs
Have you ever noticed how mainstream fitness models have horseshoe-shaped abs? Many people think six-pack abs can look too masculine on a woman. Horseshoe abs are the next step up to looking fit without going to extremes or looking too hard.
Taking your abs to the next level requires more work in the kitchen than the gym. Diet is the first thing you will want to step up. Next, you’ll want to add oblique exercises to your plank routine. Increasing cardio can also help you achieve your goals faster.
As you lean out, you will begin to see the main outline of the abs, which is that horseshoe shape. The next line to show is the line that runs up through the middle of the abdominals (called the linea alba).
- Focus: Transverse abdominals and obliques
- Exercises: Plank, side plank pulses, and oblique crunches
- Diet Difficulty: Disciplined, reducing calories
Look 3: Six-Pack Abs
If you want to trade your beer belly for a six-pack, you have to do a little more work. In addition to working your transverse abdominals and obliques, you will have to focus on building the rectus abdominis.
This is where strength training comes in. Weighted abdominal exercises develop larger abdominal muscles so they are more visible under the skin. However, you will never see them if you don’t really crack down on your diet and shed the fat that is covering them. Reducing calories and ramping up cardio will help uncover your hard work in the gym.
- Focus: Transverse abdominals, obliques with main focus on rectus abdominis
- Exercises: Plank, side plank pulses, oblique crunches, weighted crunches, and reverse crunches
- Diet Difficulty: Disciplined, reducing calories and tracking substrates (high protein, low carb)
Look 4: The Serratus Shred
The last look is what I’m calling the serratus shred. This is a look you don’t see every day; it requires a more extreme diet and even more training in the gym.
The serratus muscles are a small grouping of muscles that run over the top 8–9 ribs under the outside of your chest. They are often seen in physique competitors and bodybuilders, as well as in boxers.
On top of doing tons of cardio to shed the last little layer of fat covering these small muscles, you’ll need to add a few more exercises to your repertoire. Hanging abdominal exercises are great for improving the serratus. Other exercises include the crunch and punch, pull over, and ab wheel.
Remember, even if you work your serratus muscles to death, they will never be seen if you don’t melt the fat. This look will require the most discipline of all.
- Focus: Transverse, rectus abdominis with an emphasis on the serratus and obliques
- Exercises: Plank, side plank pulses, oblique crunches, weighted crunches, reverse crunches, hanging serratus crunches, pull overs, and ab wheel roll outs
- Diet Difficulty: Extreme discipline, reducing calories and tracking substrates (high protein, low carb)
Whether your goal is to flatten your stomach or get completely shredded, it won’t happen by accident. You will have to set clear goals and do the work required to reach them—but it will be worth it!