You train relentlessly. You watch what you eat.
But when your shirt comes off, something's not quite right.
Dude, where's your six pack?
Wondering where your hard work went wrong? Here are 5 of the most common reasons you can't see your abs and what you can do to change it.
1. Too Much Body Fat
Plain and simple, you have too much fat. Men should aim for body fat percentage below 10% and women need to be in the mid-teens. If you get your body fat measured by a reliable trainer and your body fat percentage is above these numbers, there's just too much body fat in between the rectus abdominis and the skin.
This is the number one reason why most people will never see their abs.
Don’t waste your time using Bio-electrical impedance instruments to determine what your body fat is. There are too many variables that can throw off your results like hydration, room temperature, whether or not you are measuring pre or post workout, and even the last time that you ate a meal! The most cost effective way to determine your body fat is to find a trainer who is well practiced in performing a seven site skin fold test with calipers.
The Fix: If you have been losing body fat for a couple of months and your progress has stalled, keep a record of everything you eat for a week and look for areas where you can tighten up your nutrition. Are your weekends getting a little too relaxed or are your portion sizes getting bigger and bigger? Look for ways to tighten up the diet and you'll notice your waist tightening up as well!
2. Your Abdominal Muscles Aren't Thick Enough
If you have a trim waist and minimal body fat and you still can’t see your abs, then you need to work on getting the Rectus Abdominis (your 6 pack muscle) thicker. You will never be able to see your abs if the muscle bellies there are weak and small. Most people who train their abs are doing thousands of reps a week of bodyweight exercises or do not use sufficient weight to cause any sort of growth in the abdominal muscles.
If you need to increase the muscle size and strength of your abs, you cannot train the same as everybody else. Try training your abs with weights!
The Fix: To cause muscle growth in your abs, you must add weighted abdominal exercises. You should train your abs just like any other body part when you are trying to get the musculature bigger. Start with training them two times a week with weight and ensure proper rest days.
There is no need to get carried away with your ab training. Pick a plank variation, a crunch variation, and a leg/knee raise variation and add weight. Perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps for each exercise with a challenging weight and then go home and let your abs grow!
3. Your Abs Don't Have Enough Tone
No I am not talking about the dumb phrase that is used to describe someone who has muscle mass in the presence of low body fat! There is such a thing as muscle tone that involves the amount of tension that your muscles possess at a resting state.
Without geeking out on you too much, all of your muscles possess a certain amount of tension while at rest, and it is possible to increase the amount of resting tension, or tone, in your muscles. Do your abs show up when you flex them but disappear as soon as you relax? Keep your ab muscles visible by increasing the amount of tension they have while at rest.
The Fix: So how can you increase the amount of resting tension on your abdominal musculature? By using high tension ab training a couple of times a week. Start off with the RKC style plank about three times a week and adjust your training from there.
To perform the RKC plank assume a standard plank position with your elbows directly under your armpits and your body braced in a straight line. From the standard plank position clench your fists, squeeze your glutes and your quads, and begin to try to push your elbows towards your toes and your toes towards your elbows while keeping your spine straight and your body tight.
If you are doing this right you will feel an instant increase in the difficulty of your plank, especially if you are able to hold a regular plank for over a minute. The key here is to create an enormous amount of tension in your abs. Each plank should only last 15-30 seconds.
4. The Six Pack In Your Fridge
I have seen guys that have veins like road maps running up and down their arms and who appear to have low body fat, but, at second glance, have pretty sizable waist lines. Most of these guys have something in common: a love of booze. Not only does alcohol have seven calories per gram (compared to protein and carbs which only have four calories per gram), but alcohol also causes a hormonal shift in your body towards storing stomach fat.
The Fix: If you want a six pack, you need to skip the six pack and stick with water. If you are trying to lean out for a specific occasion like a beach vacation or competition, keep beer, wine, and liquor off the menu until that target date. If you have decided to stay lean year round, limit the number of times that you drink to special occasions, or a planned day each month where you can go out and enjoy a drink with friends.
You don’t have to spend your Friday nights bar hopping. Do something active with your buddies like playing a pick-up game of basketball, soccer, or football. Put all the time that you spend getting stronger in the gym to use somewhere outside of the gym!
5. You're Stressing Your Abs Away
That’s right folks, if you are always stressed out and you can’t see your abs, it’s quite possible that you have chronically elevated cortisol. When cortisol is out of balance in your body, it can make it darn near impossible to attain your goal of having six pack abs!
Prevent stress from sabotaging your efforts for getting a six pack! Remember that stress comes in many forms from psychological and emotional to physical stressors like training and being on an extremely restrictive diet for extended periods of time. Try and manage the stressors in your life so that you can hit your training goals.
The Fix: Some key factors in reducing cortisol in your body are making sure that you get adequate sleep, ensuring you have a post workout shake or meal that has carbohydrates in it, having an occasional cheat meal if you are on a restrictive diet, cutting back on marathon cardio sessions, and delaoding from your intense weight training sessions every four to six weeks. You will feel better and your abs will start to show through.
Remember that to have visible abs you'll need low body fat, adequate amounts of musculature, and good resting tone/tension. If you're still having trouble, look for specific areas of your lifestyle that could be sabotaging your goals like diet, alcohol, and stress.