Uncovering The Truth About Abs!

Well-defined abdominal muscles, whether achieved through pure dedication, superior genetics, or both, are as coveted as they are elusive. The following are approaches that I've tried through trial and error to reveal the elusive six-pack. Try them out!

Olympic sprinters, Calvin Klein underwear models, Professional bodybuilders, and Brad Pitt in Fight Club - These individuals possess what many consider to be the cornerstone of a superior physique - a chiseled six-pack.

Well-defined abdominal muscles, whether achieved through pure dedication, superior genetics, or a combination of the two, are as coveted as they are elusive. They require both low body-fat and lean muscle mass, two features that are difficult enough to achieve independently.

If your goal is to look like the model on the cover of this month's fitness magazine or some professional bodybuilder on the day of a competition, you need to reassess these aims. When you stroll through the magazine aisle or thumb through pictures of a bodybuilding competition, what you are seeing are genetically superior professionals who are at their physical peak.

They have strictly (and oftentimes unhealthily) regulated certain macronutrients for the sole purpose of looking "ripped" for a short duration. In addition, the photographs that you see in magazines and advertisements are often the result of good lighting and even better computer technology. Even these professionals, who make a living displaying their bodies, do not look this good every day.

It is therefore lofty to strive for the "underwear model look" and unrealistic to expect to maintain this look year round. Furthermore, genetics may keep certain individuals from developing a full or symmetric six-pack, while these same genetic factors may allow others to develop a complete and symmetric eight-pack.

In short, everyone is built differently, so aim to improve and achieve a personal best, not an unrealistic ideal.

Pursuit of the coveted six-pack will be fruitless if a solid foundation of diet and exercise are not in place. In my previous article, "Staying Lean and Healthy in College," I provided suggestions on how to clean up a diet and incorporate consistent exercise into a busy lifestyle.

RELATED ARTICLE
Staying Lean And Healthy In College! Staying Lean And Healthy In College!
With rigorous class schedules, many activities, and resulting stress & fatigue, many college students find it almost impossible to adhere to a diet and exercise regimen.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

Once the body has adapted to these lifestyle changes, the following alterations to diet and exercise will further decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass to reveal more of that elusive six-pack. The following are approaches that have worked for me. They are based solely on personal trial and error, and so the suggestions may need to be altered to meet your personal needs.


Nutrition

Fat:

One gram of fat contains 9 calories, while one gram of protein or carbohydrate each contains 4 calories. This means that consumption of excess fat, given a stable level of physical activity, will result in the storage of unused calories as adipose tissue (fat) at a higher rate than any other macronutrient.

Since both men and women primarily house adipose tissue in their abdomen and buttocks (women also store fat in their hips and breasts), a high-fat diet is the quickest saboteur of a chiseled midsection. Because of the limited upside and huge downside, fats are the easiest part of the diet to regulate.

I personally eliminate all trans fats and keep saturated fat below 6 grams per day. The vast majority of my fat intake comes from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from fish, oils (olive, flaxseed, etc.), and legumes (peanuts, walnuts, etc.).

Carbohydrates & Cutting:

There is much controversy and disagreement about the role of carbohydrates in a "cutting" diet, which is meant to decrease body fat and increase muscle definition.

Opponents of low-carbohydrate consumption cite inadequate energy, decreased mental focus, and ambiguous long-term effects as reasons to avoid reducing carbohydrates.

Proponents of low-carbohydrate diets cite numerous real-life cases to bolster their arguments. I am a firm believer in cycling carbohydrates, which involves varying intake each day in order to stimulate metabolism while supplying adequate levels of energy.

RELATED ARTICLE
High Carbs Or Low Carbs? Why Not Both? High Carbs Or Low Carbs? Why Not Both?
In this article we'll analyze a few popular plans and then take an unusual approach by combining the good points of each and developing a plan somewhere in the middle.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

      • On "low-carb" days, I keep my carbohydrate intake under 30 grams.
      • On "moderate-carb" days, my carbohydrate intake hovers around 70 and 100 grams.
      • On "high-carb" days, around 140 to 200 grams of carbohydrates are consumed.

The schedule can change based on my level of activity or to accommodate unexpected events, but there are rules that I strictly adhere to. Specifically, there are never two or more consecutive low-carb or high carb days. Also, there are never three or more consecutive moderate days, due to the onset of metabolism stagnation.

Below is an example of a week in my cycling schedule:

Carb Cycling Schedule
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Low High Moderate Moderate Low High Moderate
< 30 grams 140-200 70-100 70-100 < 30 140-200 70-100

Regardless of what type of day it is, I aim to restrict my carbohydrate intake to earlier parts of the day and immediately after intense physical activity. By following this carbohydrate cycling schedule that is readily adjusted to meet my needs, I have rarely experienced fatigue, the inability to complete workouts, or mental stagnation.

Protein Intake:

Because the purpose of this diet and exercise regimen is to "cut," protein intake is of utmost importance. Many individuals lose focus of their protein consumption, thinking that fewer calories will only lead to quicker loss of body-fat. However, due to decreased calorie consumption and increased physical activity, catabolism can occur.

In other words, less food and more exercise forces the body to use protein as an energy source, reducing lean muscle mass. With less lean muscle mass, metabolism slows and muscle definition diminishes, bringing you right back to square one.

As a general rule, I consume approximately 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight and have found that this is adequate not only to maintain muscle mass, but to effectively add on lean mass.

PROTEIN CALCULATOR
Weight
Results
Protein

Although I am an advocate of using protein supplements to meet consumption needs, most of my protein intake (85%+) comes from foods such as:

While almost all fitness articles stress the negative effects of inadequate protein consumption, almost everyone overlooks the evils of excessive protein. Specifically, consistent over consumption of protein will only lead to fat storage.

After your body absorbs and utilizes the necessary amount of protein for synthesis, unused protein, like any other macronutrient, is converted to glycogen and eventually stored as adipose tissue.

A Strict Diet:

Overall, the diet required to quickly and effectively produce a chiseled midsection is an excruciatingly strict one. It requires near-obsessive monitoring of what you eat, when you eat it, and how it is prepared. There are foods such as soda, ice cream, baked goods, pastries, fast food, fried foods, etc. that are off-limits.

Also, I am not an advocate of cheat meals or cheat days, so if you are fully dedicated to your abs, these foods will have to be given up for the duration of your cutting. For best results, I suggest staying away from social settings where food is the focus, and I also suggest emptying your refrigerators and pantries of these fattening snacks. If it's there, you'll eventually eat it.

RELATED ARTICLE
Cheat Meals Are Not Necessary! Cheat Meals Are Not Necessary!
While some food can serve a physiological need, refeed meals will provide all the physiological benefits of cheat meals while maximizing fat loss.
[ Click here to learn more. ]


Exercise

Cardio:

Performing cardiovascular exercise on an empty stomach immediately after waking is the foundation of my cutting. Because glycogen stores (the body's primary source of energy) have been depleted throughout the night, physical activity immediately taps into fat as a source of energy.

Therefore, adipose tissue is "burned" more efficiently and with less work. The main argument against this practice states that low glycogen levels will result in fatigue and less intense workouts. However, I perform this cardiovascular exercise mainly to enhance my appearance, not to increase my speed or stamina.

In other words, running, biking, etc. are a means to an end and are not the primary focus of my efforts. Below is my cardio schedule, with each workout performed immediately after waking up:

Cardio Schedule
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Long Run HIIT Rest Tempo HIIT Rest Tempo
6 miles 8 x 400m - 3 miles 15 x 100m - 2 miles
8:00 pace 85% max - 7:30 pace Max effort - 7:00 pace

While it is widely accepted that running is the best form of cardiovascular activity to expend calories, there is debate on how intense runs should be. One end of the spectrum advocates long runs (more than 5 miles) at a lower, consistent intensity (about 60% of maximum effort).

VO2MAX CALCULATOR

Enter the total distance covered in meters in 12 minutes and then press the 'Calculate' button.

1600 meters = 1 mile
5280 feet = 1 mile
3 feet = 1 meter

Distance meters
Results
Vo2 Max
60% Vo2 Max

The middle of the spectrum advocates tempo runs (2 to 5 miles) and longer interval training at moderate intensity (VO2 max). The opposite end of the spectrum stresses high-intensity interval training (sprints, hills, bleachers) at maximum exertion (lactic acid threshold).

Hill Sprints Hill Sprints
Click Image To Enlarge.
Hill Sprints.
Video Guide: Windows Media (219 KB) - MPEG (1.12 MB)


Click Image To Enlarge.
Bleachers.
Video: Windows Media (336 KB) MPEG (798 KB)

Because I see merit in each argument, I vary my cardiovascular workouts. I find that this strategy reduces the likelihood of overtraining, prevents the acclimation that causes training plateaus, and adds much needed variety to my routine.

RELATED ARTICLE
High Intensity Interval Training! High Intensity Interval Training!
With High Intensity Interval Training you can burn more fat while spending less time in the gym. I will explain how you can get the best results from this.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

Resistance Training:

In addition to cardiovascular exercise, resistance training is of utmost importance. Without consistent and intense work in the weight room, muscle mass will be quickly lost due to increased cardiovascular exercise.

When cutting, I schedule my resistance training for the evening, so that I feel no lingering effects of my morning run that could inhibit my lifting. Each weight training session is fairly conventional—I concentrate on two muscle groups, performing 5 sets of diverse exercises for each group. Each set consists of six to ten repetitions at a resistance level that leads to failure. For example, I will work my biceps with:

The more unconventional part of my routine is not in the exercises themselves but in the rest between sets. I am a firm believer in minimizing rest to maintain an elevated heart rate and to make the best use of my time in the gym. I rely on a mix of drop sets, supersets, and pre-exhaust methods to ensure that I am resting for no more than 45 seconds at a time.

supervid.htm
Drop Set Video Guide:

supervid.htm
Super Set Video Guide:

For example, on my "Chest & Back" day, I will start on the bench press with 8 repetitions at 165 lbs. I will immediately remove weight and perform 4 more repetitions at 135lbs (drop set). After a short breather, I will move right to the cable row (superset). Below is a sample daily schedule of my resistance training:

Resistance Training Schedule
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Chest & Back Abs & Obliques Bi's & Tri's Shoulders & Delts Legs Rest Abs & Obliques


Rest & Recovery

This routine, complete with calorie restrictions, intense cardiovascular exercise, and demanding resistance training, will fall apart within a matter of days if rest and recovery are not emphasized.

One haphazard night of revelry can lead to excessive soreness and fatigue the next morning, which will only get worse with an evening weight training session. The downward spiral continues and is only broken during a rest day, so inadequate recovery can essentially ruin an entire week.

To ensure ample healing time, I aim to sleep approximately 7 hours a night on weekdays and more than 8 hours a night on weekends. I also rely on a powdered glutamine supplement to promote recovery and have found that its presence in my diet greatly reduces the soreness in my legs that results from daily runs.

View Glutamine Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.

The final component in my recovery schedule involves 3 to 5 consecutive days of rest for every 2 to 2.5 months of consistent training. During this time, the focus is solely on resting and dieting.


Summary

In summary, my latest cutting phase lasted from June 2006 to September 2006. Below is a summary of those 16 weeks:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
8am cardio cardio rest cardio cardio rest cardio
8:30 -10 egg whites
-1 cup veggies
8 egg whites
2 slices whole wheat toast
1 banana
8 egg whites
1 slice whole wheat toast
8 egg whites
1 slice whole wheat toast
10 egg whites
1 cup veggies
1 bowl cereal
1/2 melon
1 banana
6 egg whites
8 egg whites
-1 slice whole wheat toast
11:00 5 hard-boiled egg whites
1/2 cup veggies
1 banana
1 cup fat-free yogurt
1 banana
1/2 cup veggies
1 banana
1/2 cup veggies
5 hard-boiled egg whites
1/2 cup veggies
1 banana
1 cup fat-free yogurt
1 banana
1/2 cup veggies
2:00 1 large salad w/ 1 can of tuna 1 large salad w/ 1 can of tuna
1 sweet potato
1 apple
5 hard-boiled egg whites
1/2 cup veggies
5 hard-boiled egg whites
1/2 cup veggies
1 large salad w/ 1 can of tuna 1 large salad w/ 1 can of tuna
1 sweet potato
1 apple
1 cup pretzels
5 hard-boiled egg whites
1/2 cup veggies
4:00 1 chicken breast
1 cup veggies
1 bowl oatmeal
1 protein shake
1 chicken breast
1 protein shake
1 chicken breast
1 protein shake
1 chicken breast
1 cup mixed veggies
1 chicken sandwich
1 protein shake
1 chicken breast
1 protein shake
5:30 weights weights weights weights weights rest weights
6:30 6 oz salmon filet
2 cups veggies
1 chicken breast
1/2 cup brown rice
1 cup fat-free yogurt
6 oz salmon filet
2 cups veggies
6 oz salmon filet
2 cups veggies
6 oz salmon filet
2 cups veggies
1 chicken breast
1/2 cup brown rice
1 cup fat-free yogurt
6 oz salmon filet
2 cups veggies
8:30 4 hard boiled eggs 1 banana
1 cup fat-free yogurt
1 cup fat-free yogurt 1 cup fat-free yogurt 4 hard boiled eggs 1 banana
1 cup fat-free yogurt
1 cup fat-free yogurt
10:30 1 medium salad w/ 1/2 can of tuna 4 hard-boiled egg whites 1/2 chicken breast
1/2 cup mixed veggies
1/2 chicken breast
1/2 cup mixed veggies
1 medium salad w/ 1/2 can of tuna 4 hard-boiled egg whites 1/2 chicken breast
1/2 cup veggies
12am 1/2 chicken breast
1/2 cup veggies
1 protein shake 4 hard-boiled eggs 4 hard-boiled eggs 1/2 chicken breast
1/2 cup veggies
1 protein shake 4 hard-boiled eggs

I hope that this article has shed some valuable insight on the regularly-discussed and frequently-misunderstood topic of "chiseled" abs. While it is nearly impossible for your abs to exactly resemble those of models and bodybuilders every single day, dedication to a strict diet and exercise regimen will result in superior abdominal definition.

Again, the advice I give is much easier said than done, so don't rush into things--changes should be subtle and gradual, allowing your body to acclimate to more activity with less food. Unlike my last article, which was aimed at students with little free time, this article is for those willing to dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to their physique. The more you are willing to sacrifice, the better you will look.

Anthony Lee
Click Image To Enlarge.
The More You Sacrifice,
The Better You Will Look.

Look out for my next article, which will address the little-known secrets of models and bodybuilders to get from a nice midsection to shredded abs that you can grate cheese on... within a matter of days. Thanks for reading!


Abdominal Podcasts

Check out these great podcasts dedicated to getting you an awesome 6-pack!

Bill Grant Interview: Abdominals.
Podcast Interview: In this episode, Dan Gastelu interviews guest Bill Grant. Bill talks abs, fat burning, and pro training secrets!

What I Want Fitness Video Workout.
Download these routines to your Video iPod and take Personal Trainer Mike Causadias to the gym with you! THIS FEATURE: Swiss Ball Routine for Abdominals.

Mission Abdominals
I'm not sure what your idea of a perfect body is, because everyone has different goals and different standards of physical attractiveness. But there's one thing that everyone wants - Abdominals!