Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to get your abs to show? You work hard in the gym and you can FEEL how strong they are, and your diet is pretty healthy. But for some reason, they’re not poppin’ through like the way you want!
The truth is, the abs are some of the last muscles to really show definition for most of us. In fact, setting a goal to “get abs” is probably not the best goal to start with because it’s sooo difficult – especially for women (more on that later)!
Is it doable? Yes! But it’s important to remember that having ab definition isn’t a way to measure how in shape you are! You can have an EXTREMELY strong core and be in great shape without a 6-pack (or 8-pack if we’re being technical).
So now that those details are clear, let’s go over some of the reasons why your abs might be the most stubborn muscle to show definition.
Body fat percentage
The truth is, your body fat needs to be pretty low to actually see your abs. Even if you’re in amazing shape and your body fat is healthy, or even at the “athletic” level, it might not be enough for your abs to peek through.
Getting body fat low enough for visible abs is definitely harder for women than men. In fact, women may not start seeing a lot of definition until their body fat is around 20 percent or less. Even then, you may only see the upper abs and obliques and that’s only IF your muscle structure (like, from genetics) is favorable.
For fully visible 6-pack abs, women need to get their body fat down around 15 percent or less. And that’s REALLY hard to do.
Most fitness pro’s don’t recommend that most women go any lower than this, to avoid risking amenorrhea and other negative effects of too little body fat.
Ugh, why does bloating love to show up and mask our hard work?!
Haha! But seriously – if you’re bloated, those abs are NOT going to show themselves. If you’ve been eating a lot of things that cause bloating like high sodium foods, carbonated beverages, or sugar substitutes like sorbitol, you might have a little bloat going on. Same thing if you’re on your period! Bloating makes your abdomen slightly distended, which will hide the muscles you’ve worked so hard for.
Sometimes, standing up straight can make a HUGE difference!
If you’re slouching, letting your shoulders round, or not squaring your hips you will look shorter and your middle will kind of compress. Instead, pull your shoulders back and down, reach through the crown of your head, and square your pelvis. Try to stay mindful about this throughout the day! Strengthening your core will help with posture too.
If you sit a lot throughout the day, you might have tight muscles that pull your hips forward and therefore make your belly push out. Try to sit with good posture, stretch each day, and take plenty of breaks to get up and walk around.
Effective core training
There’s wayyyy more to abs than crunches. Getting the definition you want involves ALL of the abdominal muscles.
That includes the transversus abdominals, the deepest of them all, whose role is kind of like a corset and draws your belly button towards the spine. Next are the obliques – internal and external – and they’re in charge of rotating and crunching your torso from side to side. Then, lastly, you have the rectus abdominis, that coveted “6-pack” that lines the center of your midsection.
Everyone likes to focus just on that rectus abdominis, but it’s super important to build strength for all of the abdominal muscles.
This 20-Day Ab Challenge targets ALL of the abdominal groups!
If your ab workouts focus on the same kind of work, it’s time to switch up your routine!
Say it with me: Spot. Training. Isn’t. A. Thing.
You can’t just do abs every day and expect to have abs. You have to work the entire body to decrease body fat, increase lean body mass and eventually get those abs to peek through. Also keep in mind that a lot of workouts involve your abs, even if you don’t realize it! When you lift weights, run on a treadmill, or hold a yoga pose, your core is ACTIVE and working!
At some point, you’ve probably heard someone say “abs are made in the kitchen.” It sounds a little diet culture-y, but there’s some truth to this! Nutrition is a big part of changing your body composition.
Something to remember – It’s really easy to feel impatient when you’re not seeing the results you want, but changing your diet too often isn’t the answer!
Changing your body composition (decreasing body fat and increasing lean mass) takes TIME. Just because you don’t achieve the ab definition you want within one week doesn’t mean it’s not working. Constantly changing your diet and trying this and that will only make it take longer. Plus it will make it hard for you to know what IS working!
Undereating is another mistake people tend to make. Even if you’re trying to lose fat, you have to fuel your body to avoid muscle loss and achieve results that are sustainable.
The process is slow and definitely takes patience. But it’s worth it!
Everyone’s abs look different!
Guess what? Some people just don’t have the muscle structure for a 6-pack. For some people, only a few of the abdominal muscles will show definition.
We all store fat a little differently.
If you’re someone who holds onto fat in the abdominal area or you notice weight gain there first, it will probably be more difficult to see ab definition than it is for someone who stores more fat in their hips and thighs.
You’re getting stronger, even if your abs aren’t showing
Having a strong core is a HUGE deal for soooo many more reasons than looking good in a swimsuit. So before you get too discouraged that the abs you’re training for aren’t as visible as you’d like, pay attention to how a strong core is improving your body – better posture, less back pain, better overall workouts, better balance, and more efficient day-to-day function.
It is definitely not the end all and be all, so don’t let what you see dictate your progress. Remember, the deepest abdominal muscle – the transversus – can’t be seen at all, yet it’s sooooo crucial in developing core strength. Building a strong core should be the goal!
What questions do you have for me about all this?! Leave it in the comments below!!