For every two pounds of fat you have to lose, it will likely take at least one week to reveal your six-pack.
If a defined core is on your list of fitness goals, you've undoubtedly asked the question, "How long does it take to get six-pack abs?"
Well, in your quest for ab definition, it's important to go in understanding two very important things: How long it takes to get abs varies from person to person based on both current body fat levels and approaches to nutrition and exercise. And, generally, it takes longer to get abs than most people would like, so practice patience. For you, it may take anywhere from months to a year or more, depending on how much fat you have to lose and how you go about losing fat and building muscle through nutrition and exercise.
After all, chiseling your core requires simultaneously growing the rectus abdominis muscle, or six-pack muscle, and reducing the amount of subcutaneous belly fat that sits between that muscle and the skin of your abdomen. Do both, and you'll be able to see your abs in the mirror.
How Much Fat Do You Have to Lose to Get Abs?
For ab muscles to be visible, men need to have body fat percentages of about 6 to 13 percent and women need to have body fat percentages of about 14 to 20 percent, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Meanwhile, the average adult male's body is between 18 and 24 percent fat, and the average female's body between 25 and 31 percent fat, according to ACE.
If you fall into this "average" category, you'll have to drop your body fat levels by roughly a dozen percentage points for you see be able to see your abs. If you have more or less body fat, you will have more or less to lose. If you already have a body fat percentage that's within the above target ranges, but your abs are not as visible as you'd like, you may need to focus more on strengthening and growing your abdominal muscles for increased definition.
To determine how many pounds of fat you need to lose to see your abs, you need to do some math.
The first step is to calculate your body fat percentage. The most accurate methods for measuring body fat include dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scanning and hydrostatic, or underwater weighing. These come with hefty price tags and are difficult to access.
Other cheaper and more accessible options include specialized hand-held devices and smart scales as well as skin-fold testing. While these methods are not quite as accurate, they can be very helpful in estimating body fat levels.
Once you have your body fat percentage, you can subtract that percentage from 1 and multiply that total by your current total weight in pounds to determine how many pounds of lean tissue (that's every part of your body that is not fat) you have on your frame right now.
(1 - current body fat percentage) X current body weight = current lean body weight
To see how this plays out, take Jason, who weighs 170 pounds and has a body fat level of 20 percent, as an example.
(1 - 0.20) X 170 = 136 pounds current lean weight
The equation reveals that Jason's body contains 136 pounds of lean tissue. His goal is for his body mass to be 8 percent body fat, so to determine his goal body weight, he needs to perform the following equation.
Current lean body weight/(1 - desired body fat percentage) = desired body weight
Here's what that would look like for Jason.
136/(1 - 0.08) = 148 pounds desired body weight
Now he knows his goal weight is 148 pounds, but he still has to determine how many pounds of fat he needs to lose. To do so, he can simply subtract his goal weight from his current body weight with the below equation.
Current body weight - goal body weight = fat-loss goal
Here's Jason's math.
170 - 148 = 22 pounds
The result: Jason needs to lose 22 pounds of body fat to reach his desired body fat percentage of 8 percent.
How Long It Takes to Lose Fat for Defined Abs
Now you know how many pounds of fat you have to lose (or at least how to find that out) to reach the body fat percentage that will allow you to see your abdominal muscles. But how long will it take to lose that much weight and uncover your abs?
For healthy, sustainable fat loss, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends losing roughly 1 to 2 pounds of weight per week, not exceeding 2 pounds per week lost.
So theoretically, if Jason lost 1 pound per week, he'd reach his target body fat percentage in 22 weeks. If he lost 2 per week, he'd cut that time in half to hit his goals in 11 weeks.
According to Mayo Clinic, 1 pound of fat contains 3,500 calories. That means you could estimate that if, everything being equal, you burn 250 calories through exercise each day and reduce your daily calorie intake by another 250, you will create a 500-calorie daily deficit, adding up to 3,500 calories per week. Therefore, you will lose roughly 1 pound of fat per week.
However, the body doesn't work on such a neat schedule, and when people lose weight, they rarely lose that weight exclusively from fat. Instead, they tend to lose some weight from water and some more from muscle. Of course, when trying to get six-pack abs, the goal is to minimize any muscle losses.
What's more, many factors impact how long it takes you to lose fat. Genetics is a big one. Some people tend to lose weight more quickly than others. Hormones, underlying health conditions, medications you take and many other things can also speed up or slow down your rate of fat loss.
So, how long does it take to get a six-pack? The short answer is that you can estimate the timeline to be a minimum of the number of pounds of fat you have to lose, divided in half, but it will likely take longer.
How Long It Takes to Get Abs, Based on Your Body Fat Levels
Sex Assigned at Birth
Current Body Fat Levels
Time to Abs
25%, goal loss of 21 lbs.
10.5 - 21 weeks
35%, goal loss of 45 lbs.
22.5 - 45 weeks
25%, goal loss of 28 lbs.
14 - 28 weeks
35%, goal loss of 56 lbs.
28 - 56 weeks
The body fat percentages required for a visible six-pack can be perfectly healthy for some people, but they are not sustainable or healthy for everyone. Listen to your body and address any concerns with your doctor.
How to Get Abs ASAP
You don't have control over a lot of factors that determine how long it takes to get abs, but you can control both you nutrition and exercise to get six-pack abs faster. Here are the most important guidelines to follow.
Create a Moderate Caloric Deficit
If your current body fat percentage is higher than your target, you need to consume fewer calories per day than you use for energy.
Still, when it comes to creating caloric deficits, bigger isn't always better. Calories contain the energy your body needs to thrive. Start by reducing your daily caloric intake by no more than 500 calories and adjust from there to help you stay in that healthy weight-loss range of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Focus on Nutrient-Rich Foods
Load up on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, eggs, beans, nuts and legumes. All of these foods contain the vitamins and minerals you need to support your workouts and fat-loss goals.
Use these whole, healthy foods to crowd out heavily refined or processed foods that contain fewer nutrients.
Get More Protein
To lose fat, protein is critical. Plus, even when you're cutting calories, it encourages the body to maintain, or even gain, muscle. That's a win-win for revealing six-pack abs.
Perform High-Intensity Cardio
Vigorous cardio burns more fat in less time compared with long, slow cardio. Plus, high-intensity exercise comes with an afterburn effect, according to ACE, meaning your body keeps burning calories at a higher rate in the hours following your workout session.
To gauge your exercise intensity, use rate of perceived exertion, or the RPE scale.
Strength Train with Heavy, Compound Exercises
The more muscle you have, the faster you'll burn fat, which is why strength training is so important to getting defined abs.
Build muscle fast by choosing multi-joint exercises, such as squats, deadlifts and rows, over single-joint isolation exercises like biceps curls. By recruiting more muscles with every rep, these compound exercises build more muscle, burn more calories while you're doing them and encourage the afterburn effect for increased fat loss.
Focus on working at an intensity (or using weights) that allows you to maintain proper form while feeling challenging.
Use Ab Exercises to Build Muscle, Not Burn Fat
Dedicated core exercises and workouts can help grow your abdominal muscles, but they will not make a large difference in your fat-loss progress since spot-reduction is a myth.
Incorporate a few ab exercises into each workout to build your abdominal muscles, which you will uncover with the rest of your exercise and nutrition plan for abs.
Looking for a great ab workout to try? This at-home routine will help build your abs in just 10 minutes.
- American Council on Exercise: "What Are the Guidelines for Percentage of Body Fat Loss?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Losing Weight"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: "Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- American Council on Exercise: "7 Things to Know About Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)"