5 Steps for a great Six-Pack
1. Focus heavily on high-load isometrics.
It’s also a good practice to understand the anatomy involved as your TA (more core-related) is different to your RA (which is mostly what we call a six pack). Isometrics will help you both strengthen the muscles involved (more so than any other method of exercise) and they are the fastest way to increase neural drive to the muscle (or… Muscle TONE). This means that your muscles will get to be a little firmer.
Firmer muscles tends to show more, even when you don’t try to “tense as hard as you can while someone takes a photo”. That means you can run, jump, or pretty much do anything and your abs will show.
Best for abs: High load isometrics where the anterior chain is flexed (for example, an L-Hold)
Best for v-cut: Asymmetrical loaded exercises, ideally high load (for example V-Raise hold, renegade rows)
2. Think Pelvic Tilt
Pelvic tilt is an interesting and wide subject on it’s own – but here’s the gist of it:
- If you’re stuck in anterior pelvic tilt, you will show less v-cut and abs due to the position you’re in.
- Neither posterior or anterior pelvic tilt is a fixed perfect position, we should be moving through out a range comfortably.
- Any strength is easier to practice in an anterior pelvic tilt (from pull-ups to lifts and all the way to abs exercises). But if you are not aware of your back and pelvic position as you exercise, you are reinforcing a problem. It’s better to practice control and aim for posterior pelvic tilt when you exercise.
3. Never attempt high-reps / fast reps for the obliques and the v-cut.
There’s a lot of models out there doing this mistake in the effort to get fast abs. Practicing high and fast reps with lack of control creates a two big problems. From functional anatomy perspective, we are practicing lack of motor control and stability of the pelvis / lower back region – which can often translate into imbalances and pain. From a visual point of view, pumping the lower abs / and internal obliques muscles means a high chance of creating a vascular look. That may be ok in other places on your body, but it’s not too nice to have vains running down the abdominal area.
Run a google image search for abs / v-cut etc… at first, it looks good – look a bit closer and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s pretty much impossible to reverse either so you really want to try and avoid that. (We’ve included examples down the page).
4. Your six pack needs a mixture of Eccentrics, Isometrics and “pumping” for the best look.
Unlike the lower abs region and internal obliques – pumping the external layer (Rectus Abdominis) is a good idea if you can isolate it. This area is not prone to excess vascularity and the increase blood pressure to those working muscles creates internal pressure on the muscle fibers to expand – in other words, it’s part of the muscle growing process we want to encourage. We have got more details about it in BellyProof muscle here.
We’ve already covered isometrics. In the link above (to BellyProof Muscle) we also discuss eccentrics at length. When you can work on the eccentric phase at your max capacity (which means you can physically only really go one way, rather than two ways), you will be able to rip the full benefits including increased mTOR involvement – also known as the main signal for Protein Synthesis. Isn’t build muscle the goal? 🙂
5. Avoid all types of crunches / sit-ups.
Not only sit-ups and crunches aren’t that great for what you’re trying to do (i.e. build a six pack / v-cut), they also inflict a ton of bad stress on your spine. Yes, you can do them and maybe, one day, eventually you’ll see a six pack – but it’s ineffective. You can cut the work load 10 times and actually improve your spine (rather than destroy it) if you work smarter. More details about this further on (keep reading).
Let’s talk definition: what is the Abdominal V?
The Adonis Belt (iliac furrow) is a part of the human body around the waistline, more pronounced in males. The main anatomical structures responsible for the looks of the adonis belt are the Inguinal Ligament, Internal Obliques and the Transverses Abdominus (TVA). It’s not strictly an anatomical structure in humans but more of a surface anatomy, describing how it looks and we all know what it is. The answer: It’s really damn sexy.
“Two shallow lines that runs from the abdomen, around the iliac crest (the hip bone) and towards the pubis, creating an abdominal v like shape”. The term itself is often used by bodybuilders or “gym newbies” and it comes from admiring the physique of a young man (i.e. the greek myth of Adonis).
Very much like crunches (which we will cover shortly), the problem with main stream fitness begins with too much kinesiology and too little understanding of human movement and function. The main exercises people choose to try in order to develop the v-lines are: Side Bends, Russian Twists, V-Leg Raises, or side crunches.
Not only most people twist their lower part of their back in the process, which is super-bad if you know anything about L3-L4 disc herniation, the last thing you want is size on the obliques. To tone the obliques you need tension, not repetitive motions. The other thing is that the obliques are not meant to work in isolation so don’t try and isolate them (unless you want an adonis belt that looks like the movie Alien). In my guide, I do cover methods that will get you the abdominal v, faster and safer as we enhance spinal stability instead of destroying it.
The exercises most people use, completely ignore the principle of anti-lateral flexion. That means instead of anti, they are very much pro-lateral flexion which means training your spine to be less stable. Yup… LESS stable, in lateral movement.
That’s the functional problem and it’s very serious, but we also have an aesthetics problem to deal with.
Repetitively trying to hypertrophy those thin muscles will result in vascularity, an adaption to the “pump” you’re getting as you feel the burn. And this is a real problem, one that even elite fitness models face – because once you get “the worms”, you can’t do a lot to reverse it.
Workouts to Get the V
A great abdominal v workout to get a stunning V-Cut is to train lateral stability of the spine, ideally in an isometric way. This is also why some people naturally have a good visible Adonis belt, especially if they excel at side planks.
Some of my absolute favorite ways to develop it includes: Farmers Carries, Posterior-Tilted Side-Planks, Offset variations for various exercises (as given in the BellyProof program), as well as working on hips internal rotation (hip capsule) and Anti-Rotation exercises such as strict renegade rows or Body-Saw Push-ups.
Is the Adonis Belt Genetic?
A lot of people claim that you either have an adonis belt or you don’t. This is not accurate. The adonis belt is primarily formed by the TA & Internal obliques. Neither should be worked for hypertrophy but they should be worked for tone for general spinal health and core function. Your hips structure (a genetic factor) will influence the look of your adonis belt, but you can always work to improve what nature has given you.
The perfect adonis belt workout would includes anti-rotation exercises done isometrically to force much-needed tension (or tone) on the relevant core muscles. This would not only result in an adonis belt but also in a strong, functional core.
I’ve included practical ways to take advanatage of this knowledge in the abs guide, which comes as a Freebie with BellyProof Plus.
The myth of Crunches
Six Pack Abs and Why it’s not a good idea to crunch
Hello, my name is Captain crunch, and I have a bad back.
The same old confused people
Consider the origin of crunching: the good men and women of ancient Greece had what we call “the perfect physiques” yet they didn’t do a any crunches or sit-ups. Crunches became popular in the steroids era of the bodybuilding world when the heavy users faced distended stomachs. Since most of the information you get is driven by the bodybuilding niche, that soon became the standard training for an abs workout routine, but it really shouldn’t be.
Walk into any gym and you can probably spot someone doing crunches / sit-ups or Russian twists (for the adonis belt). Just think about the last “abs class” you took part in. The beautiful thing is that when you approach and ask a group why do they do it, you always get multiple answers:
To target lower abs, to tone their abs, to lose weight or to build a powerful core. They really do believe to their very core, that crunches will get them a six pack and help them sculpt a beach body faster.
It’s a bit like having 4 different people on the treadmill: one trying to lose weight, one to build their legs, one trying to tone their bums and the last trying to see if he can beat the rest of the group on speed with no purpose what so ever.
Toning the abs (firmness) or building them (mass) needs different exercises at different intensities. Einstein defined insanity as doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. Isn’t that exactly what we are doing? Of course, when most “feel the burn in their abs”, they assume it’s working. Unfortunately, sometimes, more is just more.
There is a clear case against doing crunches and sit-ups.
Sure, we all want a nice set of abs but is this really the best way to get them? Let’s examine:
- Smart training methodologies accept that forward flexion is a vulnerable position for your spine. We should train our vulnerable positions (to make them less weak) but there is a MASSIVE difference between segmenting the human spine and creating motor control and awareness, to using lack of segmentation and repetitive compressive forces to push yourself into a vulnerable position. That’s the definition of stupid and it will result in disc problems.
- A good functional spine should (as mentioned) be able to eventually get itself into all positions (with control) and maintain it’s shape. We call it “core stability” or the ability of your core muscles to “protect and hold” the spine from an involuntary change of its position. In other words, if you are moving your spine into forward flexion and possibly rotation, you are de-training your core so it can no longer Anti-rotate, anti-flex, anti-lateral-flex as well as resist extension.
- Is there a point in training the body to look like it can function in a healthy way (stability of the spine) while completely training it to do the opposite. This is what crunches and sit-ups do, and it really doesn’t matter if you use a bosu or a Swiss ball.
- Crunches and Sit-ups both train the hip flexors muscles more than the abdominal muscles. When you are told to “feel the burn”, it’s often feels like it’s in your abs, but fatigue sets in at the hip flexors which contract together with the abdominals. Problem gets even worse if you need to work on hip flexion, as in most cases, that simply means you are doing lumbar flexion instead – and I bet your L5-S1 and sciatic nerve on it.
- Do sit ups burn belly fat? No! Crunches aren’t helping you get a flatter stomach or get rid of love handles. It will take 22,000 crunches to lose 1 pound of fat and not even from your belly.
Would you risk crunches and sit ups if you knew they are not effective and potentially very damaging to your spine? Do you really have to wait until you get pain to learn what’s good for you and what you should avoid?
Six Pack Abs are DEFINITELY NOT made in the kitchen!
What is the required body fat percentage for abs?
Here are three photos for you to judge: The first one is me at 22% the 2nd one is still me at closer to 16% and the last one is a typical marathon runners at sub 10%.
Isn’t it Ironic that they say abs are made in the kitchen, yet even at 22% I have a more defined six pack than a marathon runner at under 10% body fat?
Well, as discussed in the video above – this is due to the fact that just like any other muscle, if you want it to show, you need to build size on it. While a lower body fat percentage for abs is preferred, it’s by no mean a requirement as often stated by “gurus”.
Modern training is not great in that respect as it’s focused on muscle groups while ignoring good function. It’s also very much about making you sweat and “feeling the burn”. That means that you pump the muscle full of blood more than you break down tissue and force the body to layer more proteins. The other issue is the lack of our understanding of the word “muscle tone”.
Some people don’t even believe muscle tone is a real thing, because of a two dimensional thinking of muscle mass vs fat. So, to break it down to you, tone is coming from the word “tonus” or tension, and it’s a function of the nervous system keeping the muscle at a level of awareness, even at rest. This translate into firmness and while it’s not always a good thing, if you can manipulate it efficiently around the body, it can be.
Mass vs Tone vs Pump
At the end of the day you still need to decide:
Are you just about “feeling the burn” or would you like to know the difference between lactic burn, pumping a muscle, toning a muscle, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibriliar hypertrophy? Because each demand different variants and how can you expect the perfect result without realizing what makes those results perfect.
So… yes… you need to do more than one protocol, so you get some size, get some functional density and strength to the muscle tissue and lastly, increase neural drive or “tone” the muscle. If you do it correctly, you won’t need to obsess about ultra-low body fat percentage for the abs to show. You will also need a strong anterior core and you can expect your hips to open well into external rotation.
For the Adonis belt, you will need more tone than anything else – we absolutely don’t want vascularity and over-sized bulgy lines that are hard to reverse, but rather more of a clean cut Adonis Belt. Good Functional Lateral stability will win you both function and a good looking v-cut abs.
When it comes to pump vs tone, it’s even more true with the adonis belt. Have a look at these three photos:
This is very hard to reverse and yet too many people train in a way that will lead to this.
These are all Adonis Belt photos, but can you tell the difference between a toned Abdominal V to a vascular one (i.e. “the worms”). Do yourself a favor, learn the correct way to get the abdominal v so you don’t regret it later.