It’s like comedian Joe Rogan said back in 2006: If big-dick pills were real, 100% of all men who could afford big-dick pills would be taking big-dick pills. If there were a product that gave you abs in eight minutes, everyone would have abs eight minutes from now. Obviously, that’s not the case, and it’s because there are no shortcuts. Abs are the ultimate barometer of physical fitness.

Despite what you may have heard at the gym, the six-pack is really just one muscle. And just like any other muscle, the rectus abdominis—its proper name—requires resistance training with varying loads and volumes to grow. If you regularly go heavy on compound lifts like the squat and standing military press, even without any targeted ab work, there’s a good chance you already have a decent set of abs.

This is where abs differ from other muscle groups. Training alone may not be enough. Any muscle can be concealed by a certain amount of fat, but none are as easily veiled as the abs, and when guys get frustrated by a lack of results, it’s often because they don’t understand this muscle and end up focusing on the wrong thing (like body-weight crunches, which research shows are insignificant).

The rectus abdominis is made up two parts that run parallel down either side of the linea alba (the vertical line of connective tissue that runs through your belly button). The horizontal divisions in the muscle are actually fibrous bands, or fascia, wound around each side of the muscle. Think of them as elastic bands wrapped around a balloon; inflate the balloon and the individual sections will grow. Cover the whole thing in fat, and you won’ t know either way.

For most genetically average people, achieving and maintaining ripped-up abs takes a disciplined effort in the gym and a strict diet. It’s not what most people want to hear, and that’s probably why most people don’t have great abs—but it’s worth the effort.

No other body part says as much about how seriously you take training and diet. Big arms? Yeah, you lift a lot. Who doesn’t? Abs signal both physical and mental strength. They show that you respect your body, don’t pollute it, and have formed healthy habits.

They’re head-turners and argument-enders. Most important, they’re your own personal reminder of your standing among the fitness elite.

Are You Packin'

There are different configurations of fascia, which is why you may have seen guys with four-, eight-, or even 10-packs. Some aren’t even symmetrical. It’s genetic and functionally insignificant.