How to Flatten Abs and Get a Six-Pack

Getting a six-pack takes more than just ab exercises

Woman kneeling and looking at man doing sit-ups at park
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What is the one fitness goal you wish you could achieve? If you're like most people, you want six-pack abs. It seems easy: Do hundreds of crunches a day and wait for your abs to magically appear.

It Takes More Than Ab Exercises

As you may have found, crunches aren't enough to flatten your abs. Ab exercises build strength, especially if you focus on core strength. However, if there's a layer of fat covering your midsection, you'll never see them.

You've probably heard that spot reducing is about is effective as spitting in the wind, but when you work your abs in an effort to reduce the belly flab, spot reducing is exactly what you're trying to do. The body can't be forced to lose fat in a particular area by exercising the muscles directly under that area. What you should be focusing on is losing body fat and gaining a little muscle.

Start with Your Diet

The first step to losing body fat is changing your diet. 

  1. Eat more often. Eating several small meals throughout the day will boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories.
  2. Eat Fewer Calories. Create a mild caloric deficit by monitoring your portion sizes and making sure you're eating less than you're burning. It's easier to eat fewer calories if you fill up on high fiber foods with a focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods.
  3. Drink More Water. Sometimes hunger pangs are actually your body's plea for water.

Focus Your Exercise Routine

Diet without exercise will lead to some weight loss but at some point you'll reach a plateau. Exercise can get you past plateaus while preserving your muscle mass. Once you've reduced your calorie intake, it's time to make sure that your workouts are helping you attain your physique goals. Your program should include:

  • 3-5 days of cardio a week for 30 to 60 minutes in your target heart rate zone. Do any cardio that you enjoy. You should also work at a variety of intensities to get the most out of your exercise.
  • Weight training that targets all of your muscle groups 2-3 non-consecutive days a week, abs included. You don't have to work your abs every day and, in fact, that can be counterproductive. You're much better off focusing your energy on working the larger muscle groups, like legs, back, and chest, and activities that help you burn more calories overall, like cardio.
  • Stretch after your workouts for flexibility and relaxation.
  • Warm up before each workout, cool-down after, and drink plenty of water in between.

Consider your Genetics and Lifestyle

The truth is, even if you do everything right and start losing body fat, there's no guarantee that it will melt away from your midsection and reveal six pack abs. Your body stores and loses fat according to your genes, so you can't control where you lose fat from certain places. We all store excess fat somewhere —for women, it's often around the lower belly, hips, and thighs. For men, it's often around the middle and back.

So, does that mean it's impossible to lose fat in these places? Not at all. But, it may take awhile and it may never completely go away. The only way to know is to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and allow your body to respond.

You also have to think about your lifestyle. It could be that you could achieve flat abs if you managed to take your body fat to lower levels — but what if that requires more exercise or stricter attention to your diet than you have the time or energy? If that's the case, you may need to forget about getting flat abs and adjust your goals to fit the way you live.

Should You Still Do Ab Exercises?

You might be wondering if there's any point in doing targeted ab exercises now that you know that they aren't going to help reduce the fat around your belly. Yes, you still want to work your abs (your entire core, in fact) but maybe not with the usual moves like crunches and sit-ups.

The best way to do this is to work multiple muscles at the same time to build strength and stability, as well as burn more calories during your workout. When it comes to your abs, there are a number of great exercises and tools you can use to strengthen your core with more dynamic moves.

One of the best ab tools you can invest in is an exercise ball which can be used for a variety of moves like the ones featured in this core workout. Because you must stabilize your body on the ball, you use more muscle groups than traditional ab exercises.