In my 28-year career as a bodybuilder, trainer and contest prep coach, I have never come across anyone that wasn’t interested in making significant improvements to their midsection.
For some fitness enthusiasts this simply means losing belly fat and creating both a flatter and tighter tummy.
For others, greater core strength is the primary goal.
However, when it comes to most serious gym rats the ultimate achievement lies in forging a rock solid, shredded 6-pack that appears carved from stone!
Building a Shredded 6 Pack
Now, I must tell you – while flattening the stomach and/or strengthening the core are tasks of only reasonable difficulty, creating a ripped-to-shreds midsection that makes jaws drop is an entirely different animal.
This takes serious discipline, sacrifice and dedication that only select individuals will “have the stomach for.” This is precisely why only a precious few, even within most hardcore gyms, own a 6-pack worthy of superhero status.
But don’t let those last few sentences scare you! Because I’m here to lay out a master plan to help guide you towards achieving a midsection that looks as if it could literally stop bullets! No, it won’t be simple and will require a lot of hard work (very few things worth having come easy).
However, with a clear direction in hand, and a 3-pronged strategy that includes advice on diet, cardio, and exercises, you can confidently set a course toward planet 6-pack!
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. No matter how well developed your abdominal muscles are, they won’t look all that impressive with a thick layer of fat sitting on top. Abs that look like bricks must be fat-free, covered only by a thin layer of skin, which means eating the proper foods, at the correct times and in the right amounts.
Related: How To Build A Fat Loss Meal Plan
Below you will find a list of high quality foods that will deliver big on nutrients, while encouraging muscle gain and fat loss.
- Proteins: Lean beef (round steak, London Broil), 99% ground lean turkey, turkey breast, chicken breast, egg whites, game meats, white fish, salmon, non-fat cottage cheese, and protein powders.
- Carbohydrates: Brown rice, white rice, sweet potato, white potato, whole grain bread, oatmeal, cream of wheat, quinoa, rice cakes, pasta, carb powder, and all fruits.
- Vegetables: All green and colored types.
- Fats: Walnuts, peanuts, almonds, avocado, olive oil, fish oil, flax oil coconut oil, nut butters.
To make things simple I put together a sample day’s diet for a reasonably lean athlete who is seeking abs of steel.
P: Whey/casein protein powder mix (approximately 2 scoops)
C: Oatmeal (3.1 oz. uncooked measure)
F: No added fats
P: Chicken breast (7.1 oz. cooked measure)
C: Brown rice (6.7 oz. cooked measure)
F: No added fats
Meal 3 (pre-workout)
P: Tilapia (8.3 oz. cooked measure)
C: Large mixed salad
F: Olive oil (1 tbsp.)
Meal 4 (post-workout)
P: Whey protein powder (approximately 2 scoops)
C: White potato (10 oz. cooked measure)
F: No added fats
P: Top round steak (7.1 oz. cooked measure)
C: Sweet potato (5.5 oz. cooked measure)
F: No added fats
P: Casein protein powder (approximately 2 scoops)
F: Natural peanut butter (2 tbsp.)
Totals: 300 g protein; 200 g carbs; 28 g essential fats
The above will serve as a good starting point, but small adjustments should be made weekly depending on how quickly (or not) results are coming. Additionally, as you begin to lose body weight, your overall calorie intake may need to decrease.
Yes, there are a few genetic freaks out there that have such naturally high metabolisms that they don’t even need to utilize cardio as a fat burning tool, and can simply rely on diet to get the job done.
However, for the rest of us mere mortals, cardio is a necessary evil. That said there should never be a need for excessive amounts, which will only serve to burn off lean muscle (a scenario we do not want)! The keys to successfully and effectively utilizing cardio are listed below.
1. Do it at the right times
In my experience, cardio is most effective for burning body fat when performed first thing in the morning and/or after weight training workouts. At these specific times blood sugar is low, which forces the body to rely on stored fat for energy (at least to a greater degree).
Additionally, in an atmosphere of low sugar there will be higher levels of natural GH circulating throughout your system, which is a very powerful fat-destroying hormone.
2. Use both types
Fitness experts argue continuously about whether medium-paced, steady state (SS) cardio, or HIIT cardio is the most effective for incinerating fat. As a coach/trainer in this industry for almost three decades I have learned that both SS and HIIT have their advantages (and disadvantages), and that each have their place within an intelligently designed fat loss program.
I have found that SS cardio is great to do in the morning, and HIIT is excellent after workouts. Don’t argue – use them both!
3. Be progressive
Do not go from doing zero cardio right into seven days per week for 60 minutes! Start with a reasonable amount (perhaps 30 minutes, four days per week) and work your way up progressively on a weekly basis.
This approach will keep you from burning out, and will allow for steady fat loss without destroying hard-won muscle tissue.
4. Split it up
In my experience, I have found that once you are performing about 40+ minutes of cardio at a time, you will get faster results by splitting the session into two parts – morning and evening (or after your workout).
In other words, try getting in half your cardio as soon as you wake up and the other half after an afternoon workout, or even right before you final meal.
If your diet is on point and cardio is in full-effect you can now turn your attention to building your abdominal wall. While we certainly are not looking to create “huge abs” in the same respect as biceps, shoulders or pecs, it is still necessary to forge some thickness into each “ab-block” if you wish to display a truly wicked 6-pack!
I have witnessed many athletes/bodybuilders over the years with low, single-digit body fat levels whose abs were not all that impressive. The reason for this is simply because their abdominal muscles themselves lacked development. We are not going to let this happen to you!
- Train them twice weekly without fail.
- Treat them like any other muscle group rather than an afterthought.
- Slow the rep-tempo while focusing intensely on both the stretch and squeeze of each exercise.
- Add more resistance to every abdominal movement so that fewer reps can be performed.
- Take every work set to failure in a range of about 10-20 reps.
- Make sure to include movements that stress the upper, lower and “side” regions of the midsection.
- Find a core of abdominal exercises that you “feel” the most and stick with them.
In regard to that last point, here are the exercises, which I have personally found to be the most productive and result producing.
- Weighted Floor Crunches (DB held on chest)
- Cable Crunches
- Seated Crunch Machine
- Hanging Straight and Bent Leg Raises
- Incline Straight and Bent Leg Raises
- Lying Side Crunch
- Cable Side Crunch
The POWER/REP RANGE/SHOCK™ Six-Pack Attack!
Briefly for those who may be unfamiliar with my P/RR/S™ Training System, it is a cyclical method where each week we approach muscle hypertrophy via unique training protocols.
Below is the exact program I utilized for my last competition in 2011, where many felt I had the best 6-pack in the entire show.
|1. Weighted Floor Crunches
|2. Hanging Leg Raise
“REP RANGE WEEK”
|1. Cable Crunch
|2. Incline Straight Leg Raise
|3. Lying Side Crunch
|21-25 per side
|1. Seated Crunch Machine
|16-20 w/ drop set
|2a. Hanging Bent Leg Raise
|2b. Incline Bent Leg Raise
|3. Cable Side Crunch
|15 w/ rest pause to failure
After two cycles of the above I would shuffle around the exercises a bit to provide variation and constant novel stimulation to the muscles, mind and CNS.
Try this program yourself utilizing the same exercises I do, or better yet, the ones you have found most personally effective.
There is no magic formula behind building “bricks” for abs – what it takes is committing to working them with the same intensity, drive and passion as any other major muscle group!