How do you get a six pack?

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A rock-solid six pack is the icing on the cake for many bodybuilders. But many less avid gym goers also aspire to have six (or eight) of those blocks on their stomach, even if only to show off on the beach. How do you develop such a six pack, also known as a washboard?


What many people do not realize is that they may already have well-developed abdominal muscles (abs), but these are hidden under a layer of fat. And that they are therefore not or hardly visible. In men, the abs are only visible at a fat percentage of around 10-12 percent, in women 14-18 percent. Read here how you can measure your body fat percentage.

If your fat percentage is too high, you need to start cutting. The most important aspects of this:

  • Follow a calorie-restricted diet: with an energy deficit of 20-25% of your maintenance level, you will probably achieve the most fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. With this deficiency you lose 0.5 to 1% of your body weight on a weekly basis;
  • Avoid unnecessary non-nutritive calories in your diet as much as possible, including sugary drinks, sweets and chips;
  • If necessary, do some cardio so that you can continue to eat more calories. However, do this in moderation;
  • Maintain or increase your NEAT (the totality of spontaneous movements);
  • Keep your protein intake high: eat around 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body fat per day and divide it evenly over four or six intakes, i.e. meals with 20 to 40 grams of protein, always with three to four hours between those meals. Plan your training exactly between two meals;
  • Continue strength training. You may have to switch back a notch, but the motto is that you should stay training as much as possible during the cut as you did in the bulk. This means that you also continue to train your abdominal muscles, even if during the cut you train primarily for muscle preservation instead of muscle growth;
  • Good night! Good sleep is extremely important for muscle recovery in the cut. Also ensure other forms of rest and avoid stress.

You sometimes hear that people only train abdominal muscles in the cut. This is absolute nonsense. You develop abdominal muscles in bulk, that is, when you train with a small calorie surplus. And not in the cut, where, as we have already seen, you train for muscle retention. Abdominal muscles therefore function no differently than all other muscle groups.

Creating a six pack takes time. But as you can see in this graph, a few months of cutting is often enough to get the body fat percentage to the right level. It depends on your current body fat percentage: a man with 15 percent can grow a six pack within three months. For a man with 25 percent it takes at least six months to a year. This assumes that nutrition, training and rest are constantly in order.

Do you hardly see any abdominal muscles even with a low fat percentage? Then you still have to develop this through strength training – see the rest of this article.

Finally: you cannot reduce body fat locally. In fact, when losing weight or cutting, the fat remains around your waist longest, even if you do abdominal exercises.


Like any other muscle in your body, abdominal muscles only grow if you do exercises, primarily exercises that directly train the muscle, or isolation exercises.

The best isolation exercises for your abs are:

You don’t have to do endless sets to provide sufficient growth stimulus for your abs. Beginners can suffice with 10 sets per week, more advanced with 15-20 sets per week. You can divide this over the above exercises, doing two to three sets of each exercise.

Also don’t do endless repetitions. On this point too, abdominal muscle training does not differ from the training of other muscles: you operate best in the range of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Spread your total training volume over two to three training sessions per week.

Make sure you train harder over time by adding weight and/or repetitions: progressive overload.

If you are cutting, which means you create an energy deficit, you can in some cases lose fat and build muscle at the same time: body recomposition. This is especially suitable for novice strength athletes. Others can only build muscle mass with a small energy surplus (bulking).


Abdominal muscles are part of your waist, better known as the core. And exercises that best train the core are compound exercises, or exercises that involve multiple muscle groups at the same time. Think of the big boys like squat, deadlift, overhead press and bench press.

But be careful: just doing compound exercises is not enough to create a six pack. After all, abdominal muscles are only trained isometrically, or statically, during compound exercises. Although they are under tension, they hardly become shorter or longer. Several studies (including 1, 2) show that the activity of the rectus abdominis during squats and deadlifts is relatively low. It was discovered that these exercises particularly target the posterior muscles of the core, namely the back extensors.

In short, compound exercises are less efficient than isolation exercises for a six-pack, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. With compound exercises you complete the range of exercises that stimulate the abs. In addition, compounds are of course extremely suitable for training other muscle groups, whether or not at the same time. The fact that you train your core at the same time is a bonus.


The most important points from this article:

  • You train your abs optimally with 10-20 sets per week (depending on your training status), spread over 2-5 exercises, always with 10-15 repetitions;
  • You train your abs first and foremost with isolation exercises. Compound exercises are a nice addition to this;
  • To make your abs visible, you may need to reduce your body fat percentage (men to 10-12 percent, women to 14-18 percent). To this end, you follow a calorie-restricted diet (20-25% of your maintenance level), while maintaining a high protein intake (2 g/kg/d).

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