I stumbled on a debate on Quora about what it is like to have ‘6 pack abs’. As you would expect on a website where anyone can answer your question there was a host of differing opinions. However, the same themes kept coming up and I found many of the points illogical and unreasoned. As someone who has spent years having a ‘six pack’ here are some of my thoughts about the three main repeating comments –

Starving All The Time – The majority of answers seemed to suggest that the only way to have a six pack is to be starving all the time. I find this is totally at odds with my own experience. I spent around six years with a ‘6-pack’ if not longer and didn’t spend prolonged periods suffering from from hunger as the comments suggested. It was only after starting the bulking and cutting cycles through bodybuilding that I didn’t have abs 12 months a year, which i talked about previously in my 70kg weight loss article. Even when I am on a aggressive fat loss drive I am not living every minute of the day with hunger like the comments on the post suggested you had to do.

Dehydration – All abs talk seems obsessed with dehydration as a secret mechanism to make your stomach look rock solid. This is so not true, your six pack is simply your abs muscle size x fat around your abdomen x current abs muscle tone (e.g. if bloated or not). These elements alongside the light and environment that you are judging yourself will dictate your look. The dehydration myth would have you believe that a guy at 25% body fat will magically appear to be 10% if he cuts back his water for a few days. This does not happen, if you are not lean enough you will not have abs muscles. no dehydration will save you here. Conversely, if you are lean enough and have muscle you will look ripped after plenty of water, hence bodybuilders drink 8 litres+ of water in peak week before a show. Only the weight class categories need to dehydrate themselves if they are too heavy.

You Have to Eat Perfectly All The Time – Many of the comments were talking about the rigidity of six pack life, having to meal prep and there being no room for errors. This is again a total myth. To sustain a six pack look you simply need to avoid gaining body fat. There are probably 30 million people in the country who are sustaining their body fat this week. It is not hard, if you eat too much one meal, eat less the next. Over eat for three days, then under eat for a couple days afterwards. If you just eat what you need then you will be breaking even. This does not have to meal prepped, it doesn’t have to be home cooked nor does it have to be super clean.

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For me, this debate missed almost all of the most interesting and pertinent points around a six pack discussion –

Who actually cares? – 6 pack abs are promoted as some life changing feat, especially in dating terms. The reality is that most people don’t care much about your stomach and being ripped probably puts more people off than attracts in when dating. Being lean is often more about impressing friends than anything else, however, your total muscle all over your body is more of a signal to the world than the 6 pack itself as you will rarely have your top off in real life.

The hidden social pressure blocking your 6 pack –  The biggest reason most people can’t get a six pack is they have MASSIVELY underestimated how lean you have to get to have one. While going towards a six pack you will run into a wall of social pressure telling you that you look too thin. You will begin to look much worse in your normal clothes as you get to very lean levels. This is even worse if all your friends are ‘normal’ and not into health & fitness. There are ways around this issue through clothes, style, training your neck but this is block most people run into.

Muscle, PEDs and six packs – The majority of six pack chasers also want to have muscle elsewhere on the body. On getting super lean most people are not overly happy with how small the rest of their muscles start to appear as the fat loss to see your abs brings down all of your other muscle circumferences too. One way fitness people have got around this is to take performance enhancing drugs. Steroids have been shown to take body fat straight off the abdominal region while also increasing abs muscle size.  The majority of your fitness influencers on the net have used PED’s at some point.

Training Abs – Most people with six packs train them, despite all the internet chat that you do not need to do abdominal training the majority of people with abs do a fair bit of training on them. I think much of this comes from people on drugs as the stimulus will grow muscle all over the body even if you do not train them. Non steroid users will probably need to train abs. Ideal six pack development will look to target all 10 muscles of the abdomen as well as the obliques.

Genetics & Six Packs – There are some genetic advantages between people for getting a six pack. For starters, natural muscle building ability varies a lot, the more abs muscles the better the 6 pack. Likewise, people store body fat in different areas on your body. If you happen to store it all on your stomach then you will struggle much more than someone who spreads their fat equally. The leaner you are the better, some people have an big advantage because they find fat loss much easier than others for a whole host of reasons, many of which are just the luck of the genetic draw.

Achievement & Sustainability – Anyone can have a six pack in some form, it may take much longer than you had hoped for, or you need to be leaner than imagined but you can get there. Most people cannot sustain their six pack is due to the speed at which they lost their body to get there in the first place. Other people, it is simply because they have become subject to the same negative forces from modern living that everyone suffers around gaining weight (See my book>). Six pack living can be very unforgiveable because a few kg gained can destroy that ripped stomach look. However, if you are good at sustaining your weight then it is not that hard to maintain at all and hundreds of thousands of people walk around all year long with abs.

Photo –  Some six pack shots from 2010 onwards, Since 2013 I used bulking and cutting cycles so do not have abs all year round. (I couldn’t find any 2016 photos on my computer… who knows why).

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