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How Do I Get Abs?

The short version: If you want people to see your abs, you need to get low (possibly super low) body fat. If you want people to have something to see when you’re that lean, you need to do resistance exercise that targets the ab muscles, to develop them.

Many consider it the holy grail of fitness: abs. What are they? People mean a lot of different things when they say this, from the blocky, shrink-wrapped appearance of a bodybuilder (or just a very devoted gymbro) to the smooth, gently rippled midsection of a lightly built woman.

Here’s what goes into visible abs:

Very low body fat: A small fraction of an inch of body fat under the skin is all it takes to smooth over the appearance of abs that aren’t very blocky. Women, who are less likely to build thicker muscle, generally have to have extremely low (in some cases, unhealthy) levels of body fat to show them, and may still happen to accumulate fat in that area. You get very low body fat by eating fewer calories than you burn, usually for a very long time.

Developed muscle in the core: You get this with a mix of exercises. Working the core for its main purpose — stability — will make you strong and give you a healthy back, but it won’t necessarily make abs prominent. For that you will probably need to do ab-targeted exercises, and will probably need to add resistance, by holding weights or using a resistance machine.

Relatively tight, firm skin: In some ways, abs are mostly for younger people — as we age, our skin naturally gets more lax, making ab definition harder to show. Also, there are common thickness and composition differences between men’s and women’s skin that make it easier for men to show ab definition, generally speaking. There is not a lot you can change here.

Genetics: Some people build thicker muscle that is easier to see under the skin. Some people carry their “stubborn fat” on their thighs and not their belly. Some people have naturally elastic, relatively thin skin. Again, these are not things you can have much impact on.

Having a strong core and having lower body fat are generally good things for health, but for many people, the degree of both required to have visible abs goes far beyond health or athletic performance needs — especially the “chiseled” look so popular on models. Abs don’t necessarily demonstrate fitness, although they do show luck or hard work (or both). That’s not to say you shouldn’t go for it if you want to! Just rest assured that you can be in great shape without a prominent 6-pack — and it will probably be pretty obvious in your overall strength, your energy level, and in what you can accomplish.

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