Models featured on fitness magazine covers and in supplement ads wield that standard example of a fit, strong body: the six-pack. Not every fit person has one, though; sometimes even those models are airbrushed into seeming perfection. Precise, diligent dieting and regular time at the gym are required for you to achieve the low body-fat level required to display your ab muscles. Your ability to achieve a six-pack in 12 weeks also depends on your current physique, fitness level and genetics.
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What is a Six-Pack
The superficial abdominal muscle, known as the rectus abdominis, makes up your six-pack. The linea alba, a sheath of tendon, separates the fibers that make up this muscle into right and left sides. Three tendinous creases split the muscle horizontally to create definition. Everyone has this muscle and the segmentation within it, but whether or not it's apparent depends on how much fat covers it.
Doing crunches and other abdominal exercises may strengthen the rectus abdominis as well as the other important functional ab muscles -- the internal and external obliques and the transverse abdominis -- but does nothing to burn the fat covering them. Your six-week, six-pack strategy must target fat loss to be effective.
To achieve a six-pack in just 12 weeks, you'll need to achieve a body fat level of approximately 6 to 9 percent for men or 16 to 19 percent for women. If you're male and currently have a body fat greater than 13 percent or 20 percent if you're a woman, losing enough body fat to reveal a six-pack may take longer than 12 weeks. You can really only expect to safely lose about 1 percent body fat per month, notes the American Council on Exercise.
Eating to Achieve a Six-Pack in 12 Weeks
It's often said that abs are made in the kitchen. Adopt a clean eating regimen, which focuses on whole, unprocessed foods and shuns refined grains, sugar, saturated fat and excess sodium. Meals consist primarily of 4 to 5 ounces of lean protein and fresh vegetables. Protein helps support your efforts at the gym and prevent the loss of muscle as you trim calories to lose fat. Eat just 1/2 cup to 1 cup of whole grains or starchy vegetables at a few meals during the day, especially around the time of your workout. Also include small servings -- a tablespoon or two per day -- of healthy unsaturated fats to make you feel satisfied and support good health.
Divvying up your calories over five to six mini meals throughout the day can help you get all the nutrients, especially protein, you need. Mini meals also support the energy you need for workouts and keep your metabolism humming.
Determine your calorie needs for fat loss to achieve a six-pack by first using an online calculator that uses activity level, age, gender and size to figure out how many calories you require to maintain your weight. From this maintenance number, subtract 250 to 500 calories to determine about how many calories per day you should eat to lose 1/2 to 1 pound per week. Each of your mini meals should contain 300 to 500 calories, depending on how many calories you determine you need daily.
Six-Pack Meal Ideas
Your breakfast meal might include oatmeal cooked in water alongside scrambled egg whites; hard-boiled eggs with an orange and a slice of whole-wheat toast; or one or two whole eggs mixed with several egg whites to form an omelet with 1/2 ounce of goat cheese, chopped tomato and baby spinach.
In the mid morning, opt for a can of water-packed tuna with carrots and celery; a low-sugar protein bar or a handful of raw, mixed nuts with an apple. Make a third meal of brown rice with baked chicken breast or broiled salmon and steamed broccoli. Have a scoop of whey protein blended with berries and milk or a low-fat cottage cheese with blueberries and almonds in the afternoon. At dinner, wild rice or quinoa with broiled flank steak, chicken breast or white fish and asparagus, summer squash or green beans finishes your daily meals.
Eat one of the meals -- such as the whey protein -- shortly after your weight-training routine to help boost muscle growth and development.
To reach your goal in 12 weeks, you don't have room to deviate much from these types of meals. Limit visits to restaurants, especially the fast-food type, to just once per week. When you are out, stick the best you can to "clean" foods; choose green salads, steamed veggies and grilled or roasted lean protein. Ask for your dressings and sauces to be served on the side.
Limit your intake of alcohol to just once or twice per week, if you drink at all. Other caloric beverages should be replaced with water or herbal tea, which are naturally calorie-free. Desserts are a very occasional treat; avoid them as much as possible, but don't deprive yourself to the point that you feel driven to binge. Aim to sleep a consistent seven to nine hours per night and drink plenty of water too. Avoid missing any workouts; you must be committed to reach your goal in 12 weeks.
Exercise to Achieve a Six-Pack
Commit to an almost daily date with the gym. Cardiovascular exercise is important to support respiratory and cardiovascular health as well as to burn calories, which encourages fat loss. Aim for 30 to 45 minutes three to four days per week at a moderate intensity causes you to break a sweat. To spur greater fat loss, try short intervals of very high-intensity cardio alternated with lower-intensity at a few of your weekly cardio workouts.
A comprehensive strength-training regimen will also help boost your fat-burning potential. You want to train your abdominals with crunches and rotations, but building lean muscle all over your body helps raise your metabolism to help you change your body composition.
Aim for at least three weight-training sessions that address every major muscle group with moves such as squats, deadlifts, presses and rows. Do eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise for three sets using a weight that makes it challenging to maintain good form in the last couple of repetitions. Perform resistance training on non-consecutive days.
A six-pack isn't attainable by everyone. Some people have abdominals that aren't the typical shape; instead, they're staggered or angled or don't have obvious tendinous creases so they look more like a four- or two-pack. Resorting to extreme measures to attain a six-pack in 12 weeks can also backfire; you may end up losing too much muscle tissue and stalling your metabolism. If you manage to achieve a six-pack, remember that getting too lean can result in a loss of libido, disrupted menstrual cycle or poor bone health.
Even if you need longer than 12 weeks to achieve a six-pack, you can use that time to make serious inroads into fat loss. You don't need a six-pack to feel healthy, fit and energized.