Well, what are abs, anyway?
They’re a muscle group on and around your midsection. Just so happens, it’s one of the muscle groups that people associate most with an attractive body.
The reason behind the popularity of abs is beyond the scope of this article.
But at the end of the day, abs are muscles. So, just like any other muscle group, abs develop with resistance training and proper nutrition (protein) for recovery.
The reason why people often say that abs are built in the kitchen is that unless you’re at a low body fat percentage (usually low less than 12-13%), you won’t be able to see your abs.
You could have the most well-developed set of abs, but if you have a significant amount of belly fat then you won’t be able to tell those abs exist, at least not when you look in the mirror.
And when it comes to beach body summer abs, it’s all about revealing your abs and attaining that coveted washboard look. The kind of transformation that’ll make you the center of attention at a pool party with your friends.
That’s the reason why nutrition plays a key role, and people say abs are built in the kitchen.
You need the right body composition nutrition plan to bring your body fat percentage low enough to reveal your abs, which you built in the gym (or through other forms of training).
The Two Approaches to Summer Abs
With that in mind, then we can think of two separate approaches to revealing summer abs.
Build Bigger Stronger Abs
The first approach is to build big enough abs so they become obvious and apparent even if you’re sporting some body fat.
You won’t look shredded, but with this approach, you could still look very athletic, and attain a strong-looking midsection.
Also, note that this approach will still only work with lower levels of body fat. Unless you’re in the low teens (at most) with your body fat, you won’t be revealing abs.
Body Recomposition Nutrition
The second approach is to not worry about developing your ab muscles, and only focus on losing enough body fat to reveal what you currently have.
Yes, everyone already has abs, including you. They might not be NFL running-back-level abs, but you do have abs.
And if you bring your body fat down low enough, you will reveal your abs.
But this is not necessarily the healthiest approach unless you already have strong, well-developed abs.
Often in your quest to lose a lot of body fat, you might under-eat, not get enough protein, and lose muscle mass from other parts of your body.
This type of approach also leads to unhealthy choices like unsustainable crash diets.
The good news is that there is a much better approach that’s good for everything - your health, mood, energy levels, and yes, your looks.
Bonus Approach: Combine Both
The best approach to attaining a healthy, fit, and athletic body that is also aesthetically pleasing is to follow a training program that is built to last. And to combine that with a nutrition plan that is both healthy and enjoyable to you.
Because the last thing you want to do is to do a crash diet every time summer is approaching. Even if you attain your desired look, crash diets are unsustainable, and it is more likely than not that you’ll gain the weight back once summer is over and you go back to your old ways.
And then next winter, you’re starting all over again at zero, or maybe even worse.
It’s much better to build training and nutrition habits that are sustainable and become an enjoyable way of life for you.
That way, you’re never fluctuating too far up or down. You always feel great, look great, and more importantly, improve your health for longevity.
Sure, you might still need some fine-tuning when Spring rolls around again next year, and maybe you increase protein intake, step up your cardio, etc.
But that’s a different story than being in a spot where you have to radically change your habits and go on a diet for two months that’ll make you miserable.
Training for Abs
Ok, so let's look at some specifics. What kind of training should you do?
We will lay out some ideas here to provide a framework on how you should think about training for abs.
But everyone is a unique individual, and you may require a specific training plan suited to your body type.
If at all possible, it’s always best to work with an experienced and qualified personal trainer that can tailor a training plan based on your goals and circumstances.
HIIT Training and Cardio
You’ll make much faster progress if you step up your cardio game. Cardio burns a ton of calories, and if it's high-intensity cardio, then you burn calories even when you’re done training. And this is where you can really move the needle fast.
Here’s a great 30-minute treadmill HIIT workout if you’re short on time.
But you can’t do HIIT every day.
So, an optimal approach might be to split your cardio sessions where you do HIIT a couple of times a week. And then you add a low-mid intensity run, walk, or swim another two times a week.
Compound movements are exercises that combine multiple joints.
For example, when you’re performing a bench press, you’re involving your shoulders and your elbows, and recruiting different muscles from all over your body.
On the other hand, a bicep curl is only involving your elbows, and it’s recruiting fewer muscles when compared to a compound movement.
Compound movements provide the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to body composition.
Some common compound movement are squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull-ups, etc.
If you’re not confident in performing these movements, then be sure to speak to a trainer before you start, because although the reward is higher with these movements, so is the risk of injury.
Compound lifts, HIIT workouts, and mid-intensity cardio will get you most of the way there. You’ll build a strong core and start torcching calories to see some definition in your mid-section.
But we talked about that washboard look at the beginning of this article.
To achieve that, you’ll also need to specifically target your ab muscles. Now, a lot of people do crunches at the gym, but often the form isn’t accurate and they’re not really working the right muscles.
Once again, if possible, speak to a trainer and see if they can help you target your ab muscles with the right exercises.
Another easy hack if you’re unsure about how to work your core is that you can look up local yoga or pilates classes that focus on abs/core.
If you’ve never tried those types of classes before, just take our word for it that midsection will be screaming for help about 20 mins in, if you find the right class.
Otherwise, here’s an ab workout series from Athlean-X that you can do anywhere.
Nutrition for Abs
The 80/20 of nutrition for abs is to increase protein and fiber intake.
The reason is that protein and fiber will increase satiety, support stable energy levels, and won’t have you running to the fridge for a snack every 45 minutes.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t eat carbs and fats, but with each meal or snack, try to prioritize protein (chicken, lean beef, fish, eggs. Tofu, quinoa, etc.), and fiber (carrots, broccoli, fruits).
One easy way to increase protein is to eat a high-protein treat like a chocolate-chip protein cookie like Naked Cookie.
Or you could start the day off with a smoothie made with Naked Whey or Naked Pea (pea protein is a great alternative to whey on a plant-based diet).
Track Your Calories/Macros
Download an app like MyFitnessPal (or similar) and start tracking your calorie intake and macros.
When trying to burn fat and reveal your abs, you will want to be in a calorie deficit.
And if you’re limited in time, then it’s best to make sure that you’re actually in a deficit, and also that you’re eating adequate protein for proper recovery to support your new heavy training routine.
Build Summer Abs in the Winter
According to the Mayo Clinic, it is a realistic goal to lose 1-2 lbs of fat per week, if your’re following a healthy lifestyle and staying away from unsustainable crash diets.
So, you can do the math based on your body composition goals how long it’ll take you to get to your desired body fat levels.
Note that for most people with some ab muscle development, you want to get to around 12% body fat or below to reveal your six-pack.
Regardless of where you’re at now, the best time to start is now. If this summer isn’t a realistic goal, well, then get started anyway. There will be another summer. And you don’t need to wait for pool parties or beach vacations to start priorotizing your health.
A shredded midsection looks just as good in the Fall.