A month is a tight deadline for achieving six-pack abs, so if you're planning to go from zero to washboard in 30 days, you'll want to adjust your timeline. That's because, in general, ab muscle definition shows up at 14 to 20 percent of body fat for women and 6 to 13 percent of body fat for men.
Those numbers also depend on genetics. Some people have thicker skin and tissue covering the muscles that make up the abs, so they need extremely low body fat levels to be visible. Expect to lose about 1 percent of body fat per month safely, says the American Council on Exercise.
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Attaining such low body-fat levels requires serious dedication at the gym and a lot of self-discipline when it comes to diet. If you're at an average body fat level of 25 to 31 percent as a woman or 18 to 25 percent as a man, it'll take longer than a month of such discipline.
But that doesn't mean you should abandon your goal. With a streamlined nutrition plan and consistent workouts, you can set a solid foundation for getting six-pack abs in four weeks. And be patient! Even if you don't get the abs of your dreams, you can make strides toward better health and fitness.
First, Overhaul Your Diet
Steps that bring about weight loss, such as reducing caloric intake and avoiding refined sugar and highly processed carbs, certainly help you get closer to six-pack abs in 30 days or more. However, you'll have to adopt stricter measures to get super lean.
- Eliminate most processed foods, such as canned soups, packaged bread, snack bars and frozen meals, from your eating plan. Skip sweets and refined grains, such as white rice, pasta and breakfast cereals.
- Eliminate beer, wine and hard alcohol from your diet, as well as sugary sodas. These are all sources of empty calories.
- Limit your intake of fruit and dairy, too, as their calories can add up and some of the natural sugars in them contribute to bloating, which undermines your six-pack goal.
- Eat 4 to 6 ounces of lean proteins, such as flank steak, eggs, chicken breast, tuna and white-meat turkey, at each meal. Avoid sugary sauces and high-sodium processed meats, including sausage and hot dogs.
- Load up your plate with watery, fibrous vegetables, such as broccoli, lettuce, kale, spinach, peppers and cauliflower. A salad is a healthy meal choice, as long as you veer away from fried toppings, croutons, cheese and mayonnaise-based dressings. Stick to olive oil, vinegar and citrus juices for seasoning.
- Limit your grain intake to just a half-cup serving of whole-grain options, such as brown rice, oatmeal or quinoa, at one or two meals per day. Nuts, hard-boiled eggs, deli meat and whey protein serve as snacks.
Plan ahead by packing your work lunches, carrying a cooler with six-pack-friendly foods for snacks. Considering saying no to happy hour; eating out isn't impossible but can be a challenge when you have such dietary limitations.
Next, Make Physical Activity a Lifestyle
Amp Up Your Cardio
To lose body fat and reveal a six-pack, targeted abdominal exercises help (see below for examples) — but they aren't enough on their own. Regular cardio, such as jogging or cycling, promotes heart health and helps you burn calories, so you can lose fat more easily.
Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of cardio most days of the week. Every two or three workouts do intervals, which involve going all-out for 30 to 60 seconds, then taking it easy for a minute or two, and repeating that cycle for the duration of the session.
Build Muscle to Get Lean
To really become lean enough to display a six-pack, though, you also need strength training. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn daily during workouts and at rest. The process of building muscle also causes your body to make hormonal shifts that promote fat loss. Add muscle to your whole body to benefit the most.
Strength-train four to six times per week, targeting different body parts each time. Here's what a sample schedule might look like:
- Monday: upper body (rows, pull-ups, push-ups, chest presses, biceps curls and triceps dips
- Tuesday: legs (squats, deadlifts and lunge variations)
- Wednesday: core (bird dog, bicycle crunches, Paloff press and hanging leg raises)
- Thursday: rest
- Friday: upper body (rows, pull-ups, push-ups, chest presses, biceps curls and triceps dips
- Saturday: legs (squats, deadlifts and lunge variations)
- Sunday: core (bird dog, bicycle crunches, Paloff press and hanging leg raises)
During each strength workout, do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise with a weight that makes it challenging to finish all the reps with good form.
Perform All-Around Core Exercises
Train all the muscles of your core, not just the superficial rectus abdominis (the "six-pack muscles"). Crunches, Boat pose, forearm plank and side plank are good beginner exercises.
Once you've mastered these — after about two weeks — add moves such as bird dog for the stabilizing muscles of the back, bicycle crunches for the obliques, Russian twists for the deep transverse abdominis and lying leg raises and reverse crunches for the rectus abdominis.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and pointed to the ceiling. Bring your hands behind your head so that your elbows flare out to the sides. Your hands can overlap and rest on your head, but they should never pull your neck up during the movement.
- Exhale, contract your abs and lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground. Your neck can curl slightly, but it shouldn’t strain toward your chest.
- Inhale as you lower back down so that your head is hovering just off the ground and repeat.
2. Boat Pose
- Begin sitting with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- With your spine long and chest open, lift your feet off the floor and extend your legs toward the ceiling. The goal is to get your legs to a 45-degree angle from the floor.
- Raise your arms straight out so that they're parallel to the floor.
- Draw your belly button to your spine and keep your neck relaxed as you hold this pose.
3. Forearm Plank
- Lie face down on the floor, with your forearms on the ground, elbows directly beneath your shoulders.
- Extend your legs straight behind you, toes tucked.
- With your core braced, press into your toes and forearms and raise your body up off the ground.
- Keep your back flat and your body in a straight line from head to hips to heels.
4. Side Plank
- Start lying on your side, propped up on your bottom forearm. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder to avoid putting too much pressure on the joint. Your legs should be extended straight out with your feet stacked one on top of the other.
- Lift your hips off the ground. Make sure that your hips are squared forward. Keep your body as straight as possible from heels to hips to head.
- Hold this position for as long as you can with good form.
5. Bird Dog
- Start on all fours, palms directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
- Keeping your hips steady and neck long, reach your right arm out parallel to the ground.
- Simultaneously raise and extend your left leg straight behind you.
- Pause here for a moment, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the opposite side, simultaneously extending your left arm and right leg.
6. Bicycle Crunch
- Start lying flat on your back with your hands behind your head. Contract your lower abs to raise your legs a few inches off the ground.
- Twist your torso and bend your left knee so that your right elbow crosses your body and reaches toward your left knee.
- Switch and twist to the other side so that your left elbow reaches toward your bent right knee.
- Keep alternating sides without tucking your chin toward your chest.
7. Russian Twist
- Begin seated and lean back slightly. If your abs are strong enough, lift your feet a few inches off the floor. Either hold your hands in a fist at the center of your chest or extend your arms out in front of you.
- Keeping your core engaged, twist your upper body to the right without lowering your feet or arching your back.
- Hold for a second before twisting back the other way.
- Continue alternating sides without compromising your form.
8. Lying Leg Raise
- Lie on the ground with your legs out straight, arms at your sides. You can place your hands under your tailbone for more support.
- Brace your core and root your lower back into the ground.
- Raise your legs straight up toward the ceiling.
- Lower your legs back toward the ground, keeping your lower back in contact with the floor.
- Hover your feet just above the ground before rising for the next rep.
9. Reverse Crunch
- Start on your back with your hips and knees bent at 90-degree angles. Your shins should be parallel to the floor. Place your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down.
- Exhale as you contract your lower abdominal muscles to lift your butt and lower back off the ground.
- Inhale as you release back to the starting position.
Don't Forget to Rest and De-Stress
Adequate rest between workouts and at night are other important steps toward encouraging fat loss that reveals six-pack abs. Allow at least 48 hours between sessions working a given muscle group with weights. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night.
If you've got a month full of work deadlines, family emergencies or moving, your six-pack ab goal may take longer to achieve. Stress encourages the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that actually encourages your body to hold on to fat, especially around your middle. Separate yourself from as much life drama as you can over the month to keep your mind and body calm.
- ACE Fitness: What Are the Guidelines for Percentage of Body Fat Loss?
- ACE Fitness: High-Intensity Interval Training
- National Sleep Foundation: How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
- Harvard Health Publishing: The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: National Institutes of Health: Gas in the Digestive Tract