Sixpack Guide: Visible abs through training and diet
If there is something like a holy grail in the field of fitness sports, then it is almost certainly the six-pack, which stands for strength, performance, attractiveness and discipline like hardly anything else. It is therefore not surprising that every ambitious athlete would like to have a well-defined six-pack and is therefore willing to invest a lot of energy in this endeavor.
- What is a six-pack?
- Fascination Sixpack
- Anatomical basics of the abdominal muscles
- Popular mistakes in abdominal muscle training
- Passively training the abdominal muscles
- Active abdominal muscle training
- Sixpack workouts in practice
- Nutrition as an important six-pack factor
- Sixpack nutrition in practice
- Nutritional supplements for the final touch
Nevertheless, most exercisers fail in the complex challenge, which has different reasons, but is primarily due to the fact that people tend to act irrationally and leave the mind out of it when it comes to emotionally charged issues. The reason for this is the sheer never-ending flood of special six-pack training programs, nutritional forms and alleged shortcuts, with the help of which it is supposed to be possible to achieve maximum success with the least possible effort.
In reality, however, building a respectable six-pack requires a combination of intelligent training, a healthy diet and, last but not least, a healthy dose of ambition and discipline. The following guide shows how the "six pack" project succeeds in any case.
What is a six-pack?
Before we get straight into the practical side of things, we should start by asking what a six-pack is in the first place and why athletes crave it so much. The name sixpack refers to a specific manifestation of the straight abdominal muscle, which is divided into the eponymous "packs" by massive tendon cords. These packs result in the characteristic washboard pattern, which, however, only becomes apparent when a correspondingly low body fat percentage is present.
Since the genetic characteristics of the abdominal muscles and the distribution of visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue vary from person to person, it is not possible to determine in general terms the body fat percentage at which the washboard stomach becomes clearly visible in an individual. However, it can generally be said that the packs in their typical form become significantly visible in men from around 12 percent body fat and in women from around 17 percent body fat.
In view of the fact that the proportion of fatty tissue that most people carry around with them today is far too high, it is obvious for purely practical reasons why achieving a six-pack, or at least the beginnings of one, is such a high priority among people who train.
The affinity to the six-pack is inherent in man.
Even if a large part of the attraction of the six-pack is based on the beauty ideals omnipresent in our society, the school of evolution also plays a not entirely unimportant role in this context.
In prehistoric times, when man still roamed the rugged nature of Europe as a hunter-gatherer, the Darwinian principle of "survival of the fittest" still prevailed, which can be translated literally as "survival of the most adapted".
Consequently, the physical strength of an individual played a major role in mate selection, as only strong individuals were able to protect their offspring and feed the clan. Just like broad shoulders and massive pectoral muscles, a well-defined six-pack was also considered a sign of vitality, since, among other things, the associated low body fat percentage radiated agility and thus survivability.
Since in evolutionary terms only a few moments have passed since the time of the Neolithic, the magical attraction of the six-pack is still inherent in modern man. Due to the effort involved in achieving a six-pack, people who have one are attributed with qualities such as discipline and determination, which is extremely attractive to both men and women.
Anatomical basics of the abdominal muscles
The fact that the concept of a six-pack is not always one hundred percent accurate is something we notice at the latest when we look around on the beach in summer and see seemingly completely different shapes, which primarily have nothing to do with the body fat percentage.
Once again, it is human genetics that determines not only how pronounced the abdominal muscles are, but also how many tendon cords divide the straight abdominal muscle (musculus rectus abdominis) into the characteristic packs. Thus, the tendon patterns, which vary from person to person, mean that an athlete can have between four and eight "packs."
Furthermore, contrary to the idealized glossy covers of various magazines, the course of the tendon cords does not always correspond to a symmetrical shape, so that slight shifts of the individual packs are quite possible.
However, a respectable washboard stomach is not defined exclusively by a pronounced straight abdominal muscle, because the oblique abdominal muscles in particular, which are composed of the obliquus externus abdominis muscle, the obliquus internus abdominis muscle and the transversus abdominis muscle, contribute significantly to the overall appearance.
However, the anterior abdominal muscle is not just there to look beautiful and be admired by the opposite sex. Rather, the abdominal muscles are involved in almost every movement in everyday life, as they form a central support corset in conjunction with the muscles of the lower back. In addition, the rectus abdominis muscle not only enables the trunk to be bent and the pelvis to be lifted powerfully, but also serves to protect the internal organs from external influences.
Popular mistakes in abdominal muscle training
Despite its exposed position as supporting muscles, the abdominal muscles do not differ much from the rest of the skeletal muscles in terms of muscle fiber composition. In view of this fact, it is all the more incomprehensible that countless training myths still persist, which lead to many athletes not reaching their goal.
Before it can go to it to set up a correct training plan including nutrition plan, it is worth a look at which mistakes are to be avoided in any case. By far the most common mistake is the false assumption that the abdominal muscles are "endurance muscles" according to their muscle fiber composition. As a result, many athletes tend to maltreat their abdominals four to five times a week or even every day with countless repetitions.
In the long term, this only results in stagnation, as it is no longer possible for the muscles to regenerate adequately, let alone build up additional mass. Basically, depending on the genetic prerequisites of a trainee, it is quite possible that the abdominal muscles are composed of an above-average number of slowly contracting type I muscle fibers, which, however, does not make the muscle an endurance muscle.
Consequently, the abdomen does not require any special training treatment, but can be trained like any other muscle. At least as important as the training volume and intensity is the choice of exercises, because the abdominal muscles are a relatively complex structure that, unlike the biceps, is not only entrusted with a single task. It therefore stands to reason that limiting abdominal training exclusively to crunches or sit-ups is not exactly effective. However, a good training plan should take into account the different tasks of the abdominal muscles and the associated load patterns in order to achieve optimal results. So, in practice, it is recommended to train the straight abdominal muscle both actively and passively.
Train the abdominal muscles passively
Passive training is primarily aimed at training the abdominal muscles according to their support function, but in the past this has also led to some controversy in the fitness community. In this regard, unfortunately, the myth still circulates that it is enough to train passively to get a six-pack, and that the active training of the abdominal muscles would therefore not be necessary.
Even though this statement does not correspond to reality in any way, passive training is an essential component that is all too often neglected. This applies mainly to recreational athletes who train primarily on machines and avoid heavy basic exercises.
However, these basic exercises are an excellent way to passively train the abdominal muscles, as they have to provide considerable support during both deadlifts and squats. As a result, passive training thus primarily trains the endurance type I muscle fibers. In turn, active training focuses on the fast contracting type IIb muscle fibers and the intermediate type IIa/c muscle fibers.
Since the muscle fiber composition in relation to each other differs slightly in each person, it is even more important to consider all three muscle fiber types as part of the training in order to be able to show the best possible results.
Active abdominal muscle training
What most recreational athletes understand by abdominal training is known in sports science as "active abdominal training" and follows the pattern of classic hypertrophy training as practiced for any other muscle group.
Due to the fact that the straight abdominal muscle is quite a large muscle in terms of its area, but is already heavily loaded during passive training, it is sufficient to limit active training to two to a maximum of three exercises per session.
The focus should be on the intensity of the training, as this is the only way to stimulate growth. After all, if you perform three half-hearted sets of biceps curls with far too little weight and more momentum than technique, you won't expect a growth explosion.
So it's abundantly clear that the quality of each repetition tips the scales. The execution of each set of eight to twelve repetitions should therefore be slow and controlled in order to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible to take on the workload. With regard to the exercises, surprisingly, the view still prevails that crunches are the panacea for the washboard abs.
However, sports science studies have been able to prove that crunches are significantly less effective than comparable exercises due to the small range of motion. This is one of the reasons why it is advisable to use a repertoire of different exercises, which also ensures that the muscles do not adapt too quickly to the load.
In addition, it is advisable to use additional weights whenever possible in order to make the training more intensive. Also, the use of additional weights, for example in the form of weight plates or weight cuffs, allows the steady increase of the training load over weeks, months and years, so that continuous progress is guaranteed.
Sixpack workouts in practice
The optimal training plan for a six-pack is therefore equally composed of passive as well as active loads, which in the best case produce a respectable overall result.
In training practice, it is therefore important to ensure that a sufficient number of basic exercises are performed, which form the basis for the abdominal workout that is recommended two to three times a week. On the other hand, if you limit yourself exclusively to training on machines and isolation exercises, you will be a long way from your goal.
The following example is meant to explain how a six-pack workout can be integrated into a classic 2-split based on the push-pull pattern.
While the squat should receive greater attention on the push day, on the pull day that follows it is important to ensure that deadlifts are performed correctly.
The front squat is particularly effective for the abdominal muscles, as the center of gravity shifts significantly to the front, which puts the abdominal muscles under increased tension. Following the basic exercises, which form the passive part of abdominal training, active training follows in the course of performing cable crunches, sit-ups with additional weight, leg raises on the bar or with the help of various abdominal machines.
The reverse sequence is strongly discouraged, as the pre-tired abdominal muscles significantly reduce the performance of the basic exercises and also increase the risk of serious injuries. The intensity essential for muscle growth can be additionally optimized by consciously tensing the abdominal muscles at the end of the concentric movement phase.
No matter which exercise is ultimately selected, it is imperative to ensure that the pauses between sets do not last too long, as otherwise the muscle feeling, which is extremely important for abdominal training, is largely lost due to the coldness of the muscles. Consequently, breaks of 60 to a maximum of 90 seconds are recommended.
Other effective exercises for the abdominal muscles:
- Sit-up / Stand-up
- Rollouts with the barbell
- Mountain climber
- Side Plank
- Reverse Crunch
- Forearm Support
The diet as an important sixpack factor
Abs are made in the kitchen!
Although the importance of training for building a washboard stomach cannot be overstated, it is ultimately nutrition that determines whether all the effort pays off. The English phrase "Abs are made in the kitchen" is therefore quite true.
The reason for this is the irrefutable fact mentioned at the beginning of this article that abdominal muscles only begin to show when the body fat percentage (Kfa) is low. At a high Kfa, on the other hand, they remain hidden. Therefore, if the percentage of body fat of a person training is not already in a relatively low range, the first thing to do is to reduce fat, which can only be achieved through an energy deficit.
This energy deficit must not be too large, however, because otherwise the metabolism will adapt to an apparent starvation phase and reduce its activity accordingly, which will throw the organism out of balance in the medium term, consume active muscle mass and promote the occurrence of the yo-yo effect. In figures, this means that no more than half a kilogram of fat loss per week should be aimed for, so that the bottom line is a daily energy deficit of around 500 kilocalories.
This deficit can be achieved both by reducing nutrient intake and with the help of endurance training. The latter is not absolutely necessary to achieve a washboard stomach, but it is extremely beneficial to general fitness.
In addition, for many athletes it is much easier, both physically and psychologically, to increase daily calorie consumption rather than restricting food intake. In order to calculate your own energy requirements approximately, the rule of thumb is sufficient: Body weight in KG x 24 x individual performance metabolic rate (PAL value*).
The resulting value represents the average daily requirement in kilocalories and must accordingly be reduced by the aforementioned 500 kilocalories per day through additional endurance sports or food restriction in order to achieve an even fat loss.
- PAL value 1.2: predominantly recumbent or sedentary lifestyle (wheelchair users, bedridden people, etc.).
- PAL value 1.3-1.5: predominantly sedentary lifestyle with little activity (teachers, office workers, students, etc.)
- PAL value 1.6-1.7: partially standing or walking occupation (laboratory workers, assembly line workers, etc.)
- PAL value 1.8-1.9: primarily standing or walking occupation (waiters, craftsmen, etc.)
- PAL value 2.0-2.4: hard physical occupation (farmers, construction workers, etc.)
Six-pack nutrition in practice
Since it is not always easy to keep track of the nutrients consumed, it is recommended to formulate at least a rough nutrition plan, which also includes a percentage nutrient distribution.
The focus of this nutrient distribution is primarily on protein, which must be supplied in sufficient quantities, especially during a diet, in order to prevent the loss of metabolically active muscle mass. The basis for determining an adequate protein intake is once again the body weight of an athlete, which multiplied by a factor of 2 gives the minimum protein requirement in grams per day.
The diet plan of an 80 kilogram man would accordingly have a daily protein requirement of 160 grams. The situation is similar with regard to fat consumption, which is demonized in many six-pack guidebooks. However, it is much more the case that the organism is dependent on the essential nutrient fat, as it is involved in countless metabolic processes.
If there is a permanent shortage in the availability of fat, the organism tends to increasingly hold on to its fat depots. It follows that the consumption of fats, especially high-quality omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, must be at an appropriate level. In sports science, this is assumed to be 0.8 - 1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
To cover the remaining part of the energy requirement, carbohydrates remain, which should be predominantly complex in nature and come from high-quality sources. Sometimes the resulting moderate carbohydrate consumption corresponds to a moderate low-carb principle, which is very close to the natural nutritional behavior of humans.
Moreover, the moderate carbohydrate intake ensures that the body has sufficient energy available for the strenuous workout. To avoid undesirable insulin peaks, the carbohydrates and the total amount of food should be divided into five meals, so that possible cravings can be effectively prevented and the body is also evenly supplied with macronutrients throughout the day. The fact that sufficient quantities of fruit and vegetables for micronutrient intake should also be on the menu hopefully needs no further explanation.
Admittedly, it is not always easy to take in the macronutrient amounts noted on the diet plan, so it can be quite helpful to use dietary supplements. This primarily concerns protein powders as well as supplements that provide healthy omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
Nutritional supplements for the finishing touch
Stimulants that have a positive effect on both physical and cognitive performance have also been shown to be extremely helpful. First and foremost, caffeine and guarana stimulate the central nervous system and can provide a small performance boost against the backdrop of the energy deficiency that occurs during dieting, making it much easier to complete the abdominal workout that is unpopular among many exercisers, even on bad days.
In addition, caffeine and guarana supplements have been shown to increase the metabolic rate, so that calorie consumption increases somewhat and thus more fat can be burned. In this context, however, it should be mentioned that there are no miracle drugs with which it would be legally possible to make body fat melt away as if by magic. Consequently, dietary supplements are only a supplementary component of the "six-pack" project and are in no way a substitute for a good training and nutrition plan and a good dose of discipline.
If you are striving to get the last percent of performance out of your body by means of supplements, you should only purchase these products from trustworthy dealers in order to avoid illegal substances that are dangerous to your health.