Stop Obsessing Over How to Get Six-Pack Abs


Six-Pack abs have been the most desirable look for a long time. There are a plethora of articles about abs on the internet. Most of them want to show you the best ab workout in order to get the illusive six-pack abs. This will not be one of those articles. In fact, this article is intended to be a discussion about abs, instead of a “how-to” article.

The best ab workout is not going to be the same for every person. Furthermore, it will take a lot of hard work and dedication to acquire a six-pack. Eat right, exercise often and get your beauty sleep. We know HOW to get six-pack abs, but why are so many people obsessed with this goal?

A six-pack of females performing single arm shoulder press
Oh hey, it’s a six-pack – Photo by bruce mars

The Six-Pack Obsession

According to my keyword research 14,800 people are trying to figure out how to get six-pack abs every month. In comparison, only 480 people want to know how to get a nice butt, or make their chest bigger. Why are we so obsessed with the abdominal muscles (specifically the rectus abdominis)? Are they really so much more amazing than the other muscles in our bodies?

Normally, I like to do a bit of research about my topic. Not this time. I don’t really care when we became obsessed with the six-pack, or what was happening at the time. You probably don’t either. However, I would really like to know why it’s so important.

The rectus abdominis creates a bend in the spine when it contracts. You probably use yours everyday, even when you are not doing hundreds of sit-ups. If you round your back as you are sitting in a chair, you are using your rectus abdominis. No, I’m not suggesting you use that to build six-pack abs. Getting a six-pack is just not that easy. In fact, it can be impossible for most people.

Sit-ups seem to be a popular way to get six-pack abs
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash.com

How Hard is it to Get Six-Pack Abs

Over-eating and sedentary lifestyles will ensure most people never obtain a six-pack. The six-pack is nothing more than several bulging surfaces on one continuous muscle underneath your skin. If your body has stored fat in front of your rectus abdominis you will never see a six-pack without using the fat as fuel. If you do not move (exercise) enough your body will not have a reason to use stored fat.

Americans are overweight as a country, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Weight, waist circumference and BMI have increased significantly since the Millennium. ACSM recommends losing 1 – 2 pounds per week. Anything more than that could be considered unsafe or detrimental. In order to lose 1 – 2 pounds in a week, you must “burn” 500 – 1,000 calories everyday. This is a lot of work for, what seems like, little reward.

Losing weight and six-pack abs are both long term goals. Each differs based on the individual. A lean person could achieve six-pack abs much faster than someone who is overweight, or obese. The average American bodyweight continues to rise. It might take years for an overweight individual to get six-pack abs after safely losing 1 – 2 pounds per week. This goal is so long term, you would be much better off choosing several short term goals. Of course, those could still lead you to a long term abs goal in the future.

It can take 1 – 2 years to lose enough weight to notice six-pack abs

Hold on, there’s more! In order to see well-defined abs you may need to have a very low body fat percentage. How low can you go? American Council on Exercise recommends going no lower than 10% for women, and 5% for men. Those are considered essential body fat percentages, and are below athletic figures. Healthy fitness percentages are considerably higher at 14% and 21%. Getting down to athletic body fat percentages does not guarantee eye-popping six-pack abs.

An athlete with six-pack abs performing ring dips
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash.com

Who Needs to Get Eye-Popping Abs?

  1. Professional bodybuilders
  2. Fitness models
  3. Athletes
  4. That’s it

There is very little actual use for six-pack abs. Those who compete in posing competitions will find them mandatory. Fitness models and athletes may have them, but they aren’t exactly a requirement. No one else needs six-pack abs, but so many people desire them. Unless you plan on walking around without a shirt while staring at your reflection, they just don’t have much use.

Don’t Abs Make Your Core Strong?

Six-pack abs do not give you a strong core. Although bodybuilders, fitness models and athletes probably have strong cores, it’s not because of the rectus abdominis. Having a strong core is a completely separate goal, and they do a host of other training to get there. In fact, a strong core is probably much easier to get than a six-pack. It’s also much more functional.

I can tell you from personal experience, it takes more than a low body fat percentage to reveal six-pack abs. My body fat percentage has been in the athletic bracket, on the side of borderline-unhealthy. Even then, I did not have a six-pack. I had a four-pack, at best.

When you see someone competing with a six-pack, or posing for a magazine cover, they almost certainly do not maintain that look all the time. Those chiseled abs could require low body fat, dehydration, starvation, a severely restricted diet, supplements and a ton of training. Is it really worth it?

A female looking down at her abs (or feet) before lifting weights
Do I have my six-packs yet? – Photo by Alora Griffiths

Why Do You Want Six-Pack Abs?

Many people frequently choose unrealistic goals. Some people jump right into Keto even though they have no restricted dietary success. Others look to spot reduce body parts even though we do not get to choose where our bodies “burn” fat. A few people simply do whatever they see someone else doing. Take your body more seriously, people.

Choose realistic goals, ask a professional and educate yourself on the path to success. I’ve never longed for six-pack abs myself. I’d rather be fairly proportioned all over. However, this is about your body and your goals. I’m not the judge. If you want to work your butt off, puff up your chest, or chisel your abs, you have the right. I’m simply trying to figure out the impossible.


I’ve been a personal trainer for nearly a decade, certified by ACE, NASM and WITS. Helping people reach their fitness goals and potentially live longer is a true honor. I have over 1,000 hours of coaching experience with seniors, youth athletes and individuals with disabilities.

I can help you feel better, and live longer. Even though I share workouts on this site, you are solely responsible for trying exercises, or places discussed here. Let’s move better, live longer and wander more often.

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David Earley

CPT, CES



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