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The question, “Why can’t I see my abs?” has been asked millions of times throughout the history of fitness. It is certainly one of the most misunderstood aspects of working out — mainly because there is so much misleading information out there with false promises of magic pills, secret inventions, and miracle diets.
Alas, let me try to cut through some of the noise and share a few basic truths that I’ve learned over the last 30 years of training every day.
1. Take your focus off of building your abs, and put it on revealing your abs. I often see people who are working really hard to build abdominal muscles, with weighted exercises, ab machines, or thousands of crunches. Yet these folks are frustrated because they take off their shirts and still don’t see the results they want — that elusive “six-pack.”
Here is the truth: If you have a layer of fat over your midsection, then no amount of abdominal work will ever change your appearance. Let me say that in a more practical way: I often see guys with “love handles” trying to remedy that situation by doing weighted side bends because they think that the oblique muscles are the problem.
Not true! It’s actually the reverse. By building up their oblique muscles through weighted resistance, and not dealing with the fat layer on top of those obliques, gymgoers are making their appearance even less satisfactory.
So how do we fix this?
2. You may have heard the saying, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” While this isn’t the whole truth, we’re getting warmer. I have often said, “Abs are revealed in the kitchen,” but even that only gets us part of the way there.
The basic, non-negotiable truth here is this: we can’t out-train poor intake. A great workout is two steps forward, but bad nutrition is two steps back. This becomes even more obvious as we get older — the quality of our intake is actually more important for how we look than our exercise. That’s right, we are what we eat, or, more accurately, how we look, feel, and perform is a direct reflection of what we eat and drink.
Exactly what that intake should be for you to burn fat and reveal those abs? Well, that is specific to you; each body is unique and we each have many factors to consider. In most general terms, it’s my belief that the vast majority of us already know what foods and drinks to avoid. If you’d like my recommendations on intake, tune in next week!
3. Lastly, it is impossible to “spot-lose” body fat. It’s just not how our bodies work — no matter how hard we try; we can’t target the fat in one specific area of our bodies and make it go away. Rather, when we burn fat, we notice the difference in our bodies all over, not just in one place. And I have learned that the first place we notice fat being stored on our bodies is the last place it gets burned off.
Again, each body is unique, so while some folks may first notice their bodies store fat mostly in their lower abdominal region, others may see it in their love handles. Many men see their weight gain present itself in their midsection, while many females see it in their lower bodies. In order to eliminate this layer of fat that is hiding our abs, we must ramp up our metabolism with (a) smart, consistent exercise, (b) clean, burnable intake, (c) plenty of hydration, and (d) sleep. Remember our chalk-talk about those four elements in the first “Ask Andy”? That fitness lifestyle will turn your body into a fat-burning machine. And we must remember to be patient; don’t expect it to happen overnight. After all, think about how long it has taken you to add that fat to your body.
While it’s true there are no rapid shortcuts or magic pills, the good news is that by creating the good habits that become your fitness lifestyle, you will naturally create LASTING change in your body.
Get ready to reveal those abs!
Andy McDermott is a proponent of basic truths about health and wellness, based on lessons he’s learned personally over a lifetime of fitness. He got his first personal training certification in 1999 while working at Bally’s gym in Chicago. He completed the 40 Hour EXOS Sports Performance Mentorship, TRX Instructor certification, and earned his third-degree Black Belt in tae kwon do. While serving as a police officer on the Tactical Response Unit of the Phoenix Police Department, Andy served as Subject Matter Expert/Lead Instructor in Physical Training of all Arizona Law Enforcement. He’s won the National Championship at the US Police and Fire Games in the event called Toughest Competitor Alive. He played professional soccer for seven seasons after graduating from Northwestern University. He also holds the US Soccer National Coaching A License. Andy has published more than 100 articles and videos for national media publications. Andy posts fitness challenges on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.