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How To Build Six Pack Abs

Want a six-pack?

I’m sure everyone reading this does! Apart from having a low body fat percentage, getting rock-hard abs is actually quite simple.

Previously in this series of articles on the best exercises for each body part, we’ve said that in order to maximize the growth stimulation imparted to each body part, we need to

  1. Work with the FUNCTION of that muscle
  2. Provide resistance to the muscle in the position of PEAK CONTRACTION

So how do we do this for the abs?

How To Build Six Pack Abs

To be more specific, we’re talking about The Rectus Abdominus muscle. This group is responsible for the six-pack look. Take a look at the diagram to the right. The rectus abdominus is the section in gray.

To be completely honest, I’ve NEVER directly worked my obliques in my life. That’s right, I’ve never done a single set of “broom twists” or “side bends”. You simply don’t need to.

The transverse abdominus and obliques get all the work they need indirectly from working your abs and the rest of your body.

So let’s focus on working those six pack muscles.

The function of the rectus abdominus is to bring the rib cage and pelvis closer together. Any spinal flexion type of movement will get the job done and bring those six-pack muscles into a position of FULL CONTRACTION - very important!

A great way of achieving this and also providing resistance at the peak contraction point (PCP) is with Decline Sit-Ups (weighted).

Let’s take a look of a video I made to demonstrate this movement. (If you look closely you can see my laptop with my excel spreadsheet opened to track the progress of my workout. I shot this just before a real THT training session. I gonna tidy that place soon I promise ;) ).


(Please rate 5 stars on YouTube if the video helped you. Thanks. The bench I’m using is similar to this one).

* Hold the weight on your chest and start to decline your torso.

* Don’t allow your whole spine to touch the bench at the bottom of the rep. Only your lower back should make a slight contact.

* Come back up slowly

* Hold at the PCP and pause for a second before starting the negative portion again.

* You’ll often hear in instructional videos, “Do high reps for the abs”. Well it depends just on how high “high” is. Anything over 20 reps is just not optimal to build the abdominal muscle. Work the abs within the anabolic window like all other muscles. Going towards the upper limit of that window of 90 seconds is fine.

You may also have been advised to “squeeze” your abs at the top of the rep. While I believe this is well-intentioned, you shouldn’t have to! If the weight is sufficiently heavy,  you will be FORCED to seriously contract against the resistance to get into the PCP. If you are VOLUNTARILY squeezing the ab muscles, the weight is too light.

As for sculpting a ripped six pack, always remember this IMPORTANT FACT: A six-pack is obtained by doing the following…

  1. Building the abominal muscles up
  2. Getting a body fat percentage of 10% or lower (men) and around 17% or lower for women

No other gadgets, gizmos, or “special” or “advanced” ab routines are needed! You DO need a diet that sheds fat and preserves muscle tissue, a simple weight training routine to build the WHOLE BODY including the abs, throw in a little HIIT cardio and you’re on your way to a six-pack!

Accomplishing the above and taking the necessary measures that ensure that your fat loss is continuous (no stalls) is what ‘Total Six Pack Abs‘ is all about.

Quick Note: some people like to hold a plate behind their head for this exercise. This is fine if you find it comfortable as it also provides great resistance at PCP.

Stay Motivated!

Mark

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jono March 9, 2010, 9:59 pm

    What about what they say about sit-ups and that they’re bad for you back?

  • Krooy March 9, 2010, 10:03 pm

    Mark, TSPA is all about!..im on the 7th week and 1 more to go, then FF..and lets see what are the results =)…honestly, the best purchase ive ever made..

  • Mark McManus March 9, 2010, 10:04 pm

    @Krooy. Thanks for the kind words man. Great to hear about your success with Total Six Pack Abs. There’ll be an updated version in a month or so, so you’ll get that free and can use it for your next cut (if you need to again :) ).

    @Jono. It’s nonsense unless you’re doing them wrong. People that sell stability balls like to use that one lol.

  • Lee March 9, 2010, 10:05 pm

    Sit-ups are only bad for your back if you don’t use proper form and especially if you pull on your neck with your hands.

  • Nikola March 9, 2010, 10:05 pm

    Wonderful article as always Mark. I like how you casually approach the abs without making many and complicated and “advanced” ab routines, since abs get worked up during the big compound movements such as deadlifts, squats and overhead press. On the other hand though, do you think that eventually you would need some kind of ab circuit workout just to keep the variety, since abs might stall and stop growing by doing one exercise alone (even with progressive overload)?

  • Mark McManus March 9, 2010, 10:11 pm

    @Lee. Well said.
    @Nikola. Thanks. No, progressive overload beats variety. If there’s PO there’s growth to some degree. Secondly, the abdominals will only grow to a certain size anyway, which is a good thing in my opinion. The “steroid” six-pack just ain’t hot IMO.

  • Josh March 9, 2010, 10:51 pm

    I’ve read stuff by different health professionals who warn that sit ups do, in fact, cause unnecessary strain on the cartilage between lower vertebrae – it wears it away, just like mogul skiing wears away the cartilage in one’s knees, causing it to break down faster than normal use would.

    Mark, would you mind going into any greater detail on why this isn’t the case, and where you get your info? I’m not trying to be argumentative; this is just one of those things that I see argued all the time, and I’d like to see if there’s a way to actually settle it without going to med school myself.

    Thanks.

  • Chad March 10, 2010, 2:31 am

    What about hanging leg lifts? Any merit to those?

  • dhruv March 10, 2010, 4:46 am

    Mark I want to thank you for helping me get into shape. I am down to 16% body fat and I need to lose just another 6% more to get my abs. I have never looked or felt better in my whole life and it is all thanks to you

  • dhruv March 10, 2010, 4:47 am

    Mark I want to thank you for helping me get into shape. I am down to 16% body fat and I need to lose just another 6% more to get my abs. I have never looked or felt better in my whole life and it is all thanks to you. Would you recommend performing the plank for core strngth?

  • dhruv March 10, 2010, 4:48 am

    Mark I want to thank you for helping me get into shape. I am down to 16% body fat and I need to lose just another 6% more to get my abs. I have never looked or felt better in my whole life and it is all thanks to you. Would you recommend performing the plank for core strngth?

  • shan March 10, 2010, 6:02 am

    wow its great. i was doing normal workout for abdoman. i will follow the same. thank u very much

  • Aaron March 10, 2010, 7:08 am

    Sticking with your recent trend of using cables, I’ve been doing the following exercise. Position the cable pulley and handle at about waist level. Then kneel down, grip the bar behind your head, and make a bowing motion. Kind of like this guy , but gripping a bar.(http://anomalycentral.files.wordpress.com/2006/05/Bowing.jpg) Be sure you don’t have any motion in your arms or it’ll be working your tri or bi, depending on your grip direction. Today, I did this first, then decline weighted situps, then leg raises for abs. Any opinion Mark?

  • romi March 10, 2010, 7:43 am

    How you calculate fat percentage?

  • John March 10, 2010, 9:39 am

    normal sit-ups are pretty useless, this is a really good excercise to do, and leg raises are great aswell but hard to get into without straps. i use about 6-7 excercises from an abs book i got ages ago, and the only time i’ve ever felt pain my lower back was when i did abs after heavy squatting.

  • Liza March 10, 2010, 1:40 pm

    Hi Mark

    Enjoyed the six-pack article. Started competing in fitness shows a couple of years ago and although I did really well the judges feedback were that although the rest of my body is in great shape my abs are not defined enough. I do not want to continue competing if due to my genes I will never have a very defined six-pack. The genetic part is that myth or not? I went on stage at 10% and as a woman feel that I cannot go lower if I still want to maintain a feminine look. I am going to give your decline situps(with the weights) a go, but please be so kind as to tell me how many sets, reps and how many times a week. Should I maybe approach my training the way a guy would have? Thank you and Kind Regards Liza

  • dave March 10, 2010, 2:35 pm

    i’d like to add that boxer style cross situps are also *excellent* for isolating the inner abdominals…i do these by laying on the floor on my back, feet up on my bed (so feet are above my head) – then instead of just coming straight into a crunch, i slighltl lift my butt off the floor to contract lower ab, exhale and pull muscle toward floor, then bring right elbow to left knee, etc…it is hard even without any weight and relieves pressure on the neck if your form is correct, and it requires NO equipment of any kind…

  • Keith Davis March 10, 2010, 5:38 pm

    Hi Mark
    I stopped doing decline sit ups because of the pressure on the lower back.
    Do you recommend it as a safe exercise and are there any precautions I should take to protect the lower back?

  • John March 10, 2010, 10:48 pm

    I think if your back is not ‘Trained’ it could be harmful. If you have too little weight training experiance and you jump in doing what Mark does on the Video, I agree it could be harnful. As with any weigth training work up to using weights as extra resistance only after you are proficient in a number of body weight exercises. I have also seen a lot of nonsense about not stretching. Thats just foolish. Stretch and ensure you are well warmed up.
    John

  • John March 10, 2010, 10:48 pm

    I think if your back is not ‘Trained’ it could be harmful. If you have too little weight training experiance and you jump in doing what Mark does on the Video, I agree it could be harnful. As with any weigth training work up to using weights as extra resistance only after you are proficient in a number of body weight exercises. I have also seen a lot of nonsense about not stretching. Thats just foolish. Stretch and ensure you are well warmed up.
    John

  • tommy March 11, 2010, 1:16 am

    hi mark,
    do you think doing 15 minutes of hiit every day is enough i think im about 12 percent of body fat but i ve a problem i have a really flat stomach but at the back of my waist im fat is really weird skinny in the front and a little fat at the back what should i do, what type of diet is convenient for my problem M.a.n.s.?? give some advice please its so annoying
    thanks alot for youre help in advance and
    cheers from argentina

  • Mitchell March 11, 2010, 12:53 pm

    Mark,

    This is a bit of my specialty as I’ve been giving advice to people about abs for years (I’ve had a six pack since I was 12 or 13). When sit ups and crunches no longer worked for me, I switched to weights and lower reps. The decline sit up (I hold dumb bellsby my head instead of a plate as they are more comfortable and I can use 2 25lbs instead of having a 45 lbs plate on my chest) is one of the those exercises I reguarly do. I’ve been doing the Kneeling Cable Crunch with my back to the tower (according to your principle of muscle function and PCP, it is the MOST effective ab exercise) to see wonderful results.

    To all of you with lower back problems, there are tons of good ab workouts. But whatever you do, STOP when your lower back begins to arch backwards. You want to keep your spine flexed forward.

    Mitchell

  • Mark McManus March 11, 2010, 9:34 pm

    Just to clear up the “unsafe” stuff here. Sit-ups are not unsafe if performed correctly (like any exercise really).
    In the video I included a side-view because I wanted you to see that it is only my lower back that makes the slightest contact with the bench. The spine must maintain its roundedness during the movement. If you straighten the spine at the bottom of the rep, you’d be putting yourself at unnecessary risk.
    When people say that this movement is unsafe, they’re not saying that it’s unsafe in itself, but rather there’s a tendency for people to do it wrong and put themselves at risk. Horse riding is an unsafe sport, but only if you’re not a competent horse rider, get it?

  • Keith Davis March 11, 2010, 9:37 pm

    Thanks for the info on “unsafe” Mark.

    Looks like decline sit ups are back on the abs programme.

  • Mark McManus March 11, 2010, 9:43 pm

    Mitchell.
    The kneeling cable crunch is a good movement but I chose declines as the best for the following reason.
    While The KCC works with the function and places resistance at the PCP, the level of resistance at the PCP is less than during Declines. This is for the following reason:
    KCC has the resistance pulling you UP and out of the flexed spine position.
    With declines you are being pushed out of this position as well but the torso is also being pushed DOWN and out of the seated position. The fight to hold the resistance at the PCP is greater which is important because this is the position where most fibers are recruited.
    The degree of stimulation at the PCP is therefore greater with declines IMO.
    KCCs are a great movement though, I’m not knocking it. Jeff Willet also also highly recommends it.

  • Mark McManus March 11, 2010, 9:48 pm

    @Tommy. Yes. I only did 2-3 sessions per week (none at all for the first few weeks) to get from 15% to 9% last summer. It only took 7.5 weeks and cardio only started on about week 4 if I remember correctly. I wrote about it here
    http://www.musclehack.com/how-to-have-ripped-abs-all-year-round/
    Well Total Six Pack Abs is what you need to be honest
    http://www.totalsixpackabs.com/

  • Mark McManus March 11, 2010, 9:52 pm

    Liza. Genetics are very important. See here
    http://www.musclehack.com/can-we-all-be-as-big-as-arnold-bodybuilding-genetics-explained/
    At 10% you were VERY lean for a female. So you only need to actually build the abdominal muscles themselves. Yes you should ABSOLUTELY train like a guy – human physiology is human physiology. If you want to build the abs, train just like we do. Pick a weight for your abs that causes you to reach failure within 60-90 seconds.

  • Mark McManus March 11, 2010, 9:55 pm

    @Chad. Yes it’s a good movement.
    @Dhruv. Thanks :) . No the plank is not optimal to ‘build’ the abs because you can’t possibly recruit all available muscle fibers because you never bring the abs into the fully contracted position.

  • Mark McManus March 11, 2010, 9:58 pm

    @Aaron. See my response to Mitchell above.