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When it comes to revealing the abs, what should we focus on more – are they crafted through hundreds of sit-ups, or are they made in the kitchen? If you’ve always struggled to get a six-pack, this article is for you.

Firstly, everyone has a set of abdominal muscles. We are all born with the ‘rectus abdominis’ muscle group, whose function is to allow flexion of the trunk i.e. to bend forwards. So why do some have extremely visible ab muscles compared to others? There are 3 factors to consider.

1)  Levels of body-fat

This is the most important factor when it comes to revealing the abs. Put simply, if you are too fat, you are not going to see your ab muscles. In order to reveal the muscles underneath, we need to get rid of the fat lying on top of them. This is achieved through a calorie deficit over time. We cannot spot reduce fat, so unfortunately you will need to lose fat all over in order to see reductions around the mid-section. Harder than it looks!

2)  Ab training

Individuals who have trained for many years with compound movements that have engaged their core muscles, will have larger and more prominent ab muscles. This is because over time, the muscles have grown in size and therefore protrude further. The abs are a thin sheet of muscle, so don’t expect them to grow as much as other major muscle groups like the legs or back, but we can hypertrophy them (make them bigger) gradually over a number of years. Train your abs twice per week, with exercises such as hanging leg raises, planks and cable crunches. Pay close attention to how you execute these exercises – do not use momentum but instead focus on contracting the target muscle through a full range of motion.

3)  Genetics

For some, it may take a lot longer to achieve the six-pack look, and this is largely due to genetics. Individuals who have stubborn belly fat i.e. fat around the mid-section that is the very last bit to go, will have to diet far longer than those who carry the majority of their fat elsewhere e.g. in the legs/lower back. There is nothing we can do about this, unfortunately, besides continuing to diet down until we achieve the desired look. Genetics will also determine the shape of the ab muscles, so don’t expect perfect symmetry. There is no way to train your abs to be symmetrical if they aren’t, this is simply a feature of genetics.

In summary, diet is key for achieving the six-pack look. Train the abs twice per week to assist in the process, and don’t stress about genetic factors outside your control.

Intermittent Fasting or IF (particularly the 16:8 protocol – fasting for 16 hours, with an 8-hour eating window) is seen by many to be a superior way to lose body fat (and also build muscle). In this article we’ll discuss just how superior it is, and whether you stand to benefit from trying it out.

Firstly, is IF superior for fat loss in healthy individuals with no underlying conditions? No!

Reducing body fat is achieved through a calorie deficit, and it doesn’t matter if you eat a set number of calories in the space of 8, 10 or 16 hours. If two diets are iso-caloric (ie, have the same number of calories), then both will create the same degree of fat loss, providing they are adhered to.

Where IF stands to benefit some individuals is through improving adherence to the specified calorie intake. Often, when those calories are spread out across the day, the meals are smaller and less satisfying, thus making it more likely you will over-eat. IF allows meals to be larger and consumed within a shorter time-frame, thus increasing your perceived level of ‘fullness’. If you feel full, you are less likely to eat more (providing you listen to your hunger signals!) If you are someone who has a large appetite, IF could therefore benefit you as the meals can be larger. If you are someone who can stick to a calorie deficit regardless of satiety levels, then IF will not provide any additional benefit. Secondly, is IF superior for muscle gain? Not necessarily. Muscle growth is caused by progressively overloading in the gym. In layman’s terms, this means seeing a gradual increase in the weights lifted, or an increase in the number of sets or reps (with a given weight) in the gym over time. You should therefore eat in a way that optimises performance. Perhaps that means eating small meals frequently throughout the day. Perhaps it means training fasted. The effect that eating windows have on performance is highly individualised, so there is no one-size-fits-all formula. A 16-hour fast and an 8-hour eating window may benefit some people’s training, whilst for others it may be detrimental. The best way to establish what works for you is to try out various approaches.  

To sum up, eating in a specific time window is not superior for losing body fat to an unrestricted eating window providing the same number of total calories is consumed. And time-restricted eating has little to do with muscle gain. You should eat in a way that optimises performance, which is dependent on the individual – that’s you!

Rob Webster
Bodyscan Consultant