Betina Gozo, Jessica Sims, Melissa Alcantara
In news that should surprise exactly 0 people, getting a six-pack is not easy at all.
Just ask this person who knows a lot about fitness and nutrition things, Stephen Ball, professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri. "Very few people can achieve this look, regardless of what they do," says Ball. "Most women who make this their goal will fail and ultimately give up on exercise all together." McScuse me?
The thing is, your rectus abdominis — the best muscle group on Zac Efron — is typically covered by fat (because biology) and isn't affected by things like crunches and planks. "You can work your abs all you want, but if you have a layer of fat over them, the 'pack' can’t be seen," Ball says. And FWIW, that's 100 percent normal and totally fine. "It’s very unrealistic for most people to have body fat percentages low enough to see the abs."
If you're bummed, I'm really sorry. But the good news is that you can work toward more defined abs by developing core strength and reducing overall body fat. Still, everyone responds differently to diet and exercise — and you should consult with your healthcare provider before getting after a new routine. Once that's covered, check out these tips that trainers who have particularly chiseled abs swear by:
NASM-certified personal trainer, trainer on E!'s 'Revenge Body,' and creator of the 80-Day Obsession fitness program[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/B0OFxUeB_kL/[/instagram]
Work out consistently. Calabrese says she works out for 30- to 60-minutes a day, up to six times a week (you know, since exercise is literally her job). When she's in the gym, she focuses on both cardio and strength training to keep her heart rate up while building metabolism-boosting muscle.
Use workout swag. Three times a week, Calabrese finishes off her workouts with a five- to 10-minute ab routine using stability balls and sliders. "I focus on lots of planks with resistance slides to increase the intensity," she says. "I also love stability ball crunches."
Senior instructor at Barry's Bootcamp in New York City[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/BqutIYnH-sM/[/instagram]
Build Muscle. "The more muscle you put on, the more fat your burn at rest," says Ross. And since fat (and, um, genetics) is the biggest six-pack obstacle, that's a great thing.
Combine HIIT cardio with strength training. If you normally lift weights, adding some high-intensity interval training to your routine, like sprints on the treadmill, will help you burn more calories overall, resulting in mas abs. If you and the tread are already BFFs, see the tip above.
Meal prep. Ross likes to cook at home as much as possible so she knows exactly what she's eating (usually that's lean protein and lots of fresh veggies).
Certified personal trainer and trainer on E!'s 'Revenge Body'[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/BzxzCeFlzFO/[/instagram]
Use a barbell. Squatting with a barbell held in front of your shoulders or resting on top of them behind your back naturally engages your core to protect your spine, which helps strengthen your abs, says Borden.
Chill out. Unmanaged stress and a lack of sleep can cause your body to release cortisol, says Borden. That stress hormone that increase blood sugar, interfere with your immune system, and suppress your digestive system, per the Mayo Clinic. Yikes. So when your body is stressed out, you're more likely to feel bloated or gain weight. That's bad for abs.
ACE- and NASM-certified personal trainer and Nike Master Trainer[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/BnHLo1VnniJ/[/instagram]
Lift heavy weights. Gozo says she strength trains at least four days a week to increase overall muscle mass, and focuses on full-body moves. "Building muscle helps you burn calories more efficiently, resulting in more abs definition," says Gozo. And, since lifting sessions also raise your heart rate, they can double as cardio, she says.
Eat carbs. Though protein is a big part of her diet, Gozo says she doesn't shy away from carbohydrate-packed foods like fruit, rice, and other whole grains. That's because these foods are also rich sources of fiber, which aid in digestion and reduce bloating.
Certified personal trainer and creator of the @fitbodyapp[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/BlDeStfB6VV/[/instagram]
Track your macros. "Your diet plays just as big of a role in abs definition as the workouts do, if not more," says Victoria. The key to getting hella ripped, she says, is by eating the a certain proportion of macronutrients, as in carbohydrates, protein, and fat specific to her activity level and goals. Some research suggests this eating strategy can lead to weight loss, but that's likely because survey participants are watching what they eat, not just following a certain diet. Victoria says she gets about 30 percent of her total calories from protein, 30 percent from fat, and 40 percent from carbs. That said, everyone's nutritional needs are different, so be sure to speak with a registered dietitian before making major changes to your diet.
Don't follow a restrictive diet. Though her meal plan is a bit involved, Victoria says she follows the 80/20 rule, meaning 80 percent of the foods she eats are from non-processed plant and animal sources, and 20 percent are more indulgent. This is a trick many nutritionists use to teach their patients moderation.
Don't worry about big vs. small meals. Though many trainers say their abs are a result of eating small frequent meals, Anna says she doesn't stick to a certain number of them per day. "At the end of the day, the total calories you consume and the macronutrient content are what matter," she says.
Certified functional strength coach, ACE-certified fitness nutrition specialist, and instructor at Fhitting Room, Shadowbox and ClassPass Live
Eat carbs before workouts. "I eat carbs at a point in the day when I need the most energy," says Sims of the body's primary source of energy. On days when she teaches up to seven classes, she refuels with a sweet potato served with ghee (aka clarified butter), a carb-heavy snack that helps her power through workouts.
Eat protein after exercise. Your body uses protein to rebuild the muscles it breaks down during workouts. It's why Sims chows down on foods like eggs, chicken, and tuna within 45-minutes of exercising, although science suggests timing may be less important than getting enough protein on days you work out.
Pair natural sugars and fats. At breakfast, Sims eats eggs and avocado with her berries; for a snack, she’ll have an apple with almond butter. Both combos contain simple carbs — read: quick energy — from whole, not processed foods, and healthy fats, which keep you satisfied.
“Abs change all the time! Sometimes I wake up, and my six-pack is there with a bow on. Then there are other times when I barely see definition.”
Know your triggers. "It's important to know what might make you bloated," she says. "Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts don't always sit well with me, so I will avoid them before photo shoots."
Go beyond crunches. Sims prefers exercises that challenge you to stabilize your core against imbalance or gravity, like a hands plank with dumbbell pull-through and ab roll-outs using a core-training wheel. "They challenge the entire core by resisting movement instead of creating it," she says of these moves, which she recommends doing in sets of 10 three times. You can repeat the series several times a week.
She also practices push-up to knee tucks with her feet in TRX straps, stability ball V-ups, kettlebell carries, and Russian twists — so no crunches and no basic sit-ups.
Activate your abs during every exercise. "You can turn any exercise into a core-focused exercise by drawing your navel in toward your spine to stabilize the rest of your body," Sims says. This also can be done anytime you're just sitting around.
BRITTANY PERILLE YOBE
Ventura, California-based certified fitness trainer[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/BDbTMm2Dqcf/[/instagram]
Eat similar meals every day. "I pretty much eat the same thing, or substitutions that are very close to my normal meal plan, every day," Yobe says of her daily food intake, which includes a protein bar before her morning workout, a protein shake afterward, and two meals including chicken or fish, veggies like a green salad or bok choy, and a carb like rice, pasta, or potatoes. She also snacks on rice cakes with peanut butter, carrots, celery, and nuts. Although she admits this can be boring, the approach makes it easier for her to get all the nutrients she needs while remaining satisfied throughout the day.
Eat before bed. Lest she wake up hungry or starve her muscles of the protein they need to rebuild while she sleeps, Yobe eats Greek yogurt, which contains casein, a slow-releasing protein, right before going to sleep. Some research suggests the technique helps with muscle recovery overnight.
“Nobody walks around with a scale number written across their forehead, so why put so much pressure on yourself to get down to a certain number?”
Ditch your scale. "Too many people get hung up on how much they weigh, but the scale can be very discouraging because of the daily fluctuation in the time you weigh yourself, bloating, and hormones," says Yobe, who knows that muscle weighs more than body fat.
Los Angeles-based online coach and certified personal trainer to clients like Kim Kardashian; NCB Figure and Physique Bodybuilding Champion[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/Bj-SG_YgGIi/[/instagram]
Trust no-equipment workouts. Alcantara insists you don’t have to schlep to the gym to squeeze in a core workout. At home, you can strengthen your abs with one minute of mountain climbers, one minute of flutter-kicks, 15 to 30 toe-touching V-ups, and a one-minute plank hold. Then repeat the entire circuit four times up to twice a week.
"To get [results] you need to be consistent, hard-working, focused, patient, and dedicated, which happen to be the exact elements every person needs to be successful at pretty much anything in life."
Eat mostly unprocessed foods. "The quality of the calories coming from something like broccoli versus chips is dramatically different," Alcantara says, speaking to the nutrients found in whole foods.
Eat carbs. "There's this notion that carbs are bad and that you need crazy amounts of protein to be lean and fit," says Alcantara, who disagrees, and eats just as much carbs as protein, although the ideal ratio varies based on your goals. "Whatever you eat to get the results you want has to be sustainable, otherwise you're going to end up right back where you started with the same habits that got you there."
Follow a program. Alcantara is all about consistency — one reason why she recommends choosing a structured fitness plan rather than shooting in the dark and praying you surface with abs. "Follow it to 100 percent, do it back-to-back," she says. Many fitfluencers offer their own programs, but you'll want one from a certified fitness trainer like Alcantara, who offers an eight-week guide.
Work body parts besides your abs. "You want to have abs? Well, you need legs. And your chest, and arms, and calves,” she says. After all, muscle imbalance can lead to injury in everyday activities. “Balance is extremely important."