Ever turn on the TV, flip through the channels, and stumble upon an infomercial for getting six-pack abs?
They everywhere. Gimmicky exercise equipment. Crash diets. Fat sculpting out-patient procedures. And maybe the most popular: fat loss supplements packed with big promises and crazy before and after photos.
But do they work?
If you can’t see your abs, you might be willing to open your wallet to try one of these products, hoping to find the Holy Grail that leads to getting ripped.
Some of these products and methods can help you shred fat to reveal your abs.
But others are nothing more than junk science backed by clever marketing designed to appeal to the emotional value you’ve placed on six-pack abs.
Ever find yourself thinking your life will somehow be incredibly better, rewarding, or more fulfilling if only you had six-pack abs?
I get it. Six-pack abs are a hallmark of the ideal physique.
But looking good isn’t the only reason to chase the goal of getting ripped. Your abs provide support and stability to help do a lot of other things besides lifting weights and looking good.
Can’t see your abs?
Before you go down the rabbit hole of made-for-TV products, there’s probably a few things related to your training, diet, and lifestyle that are making it harder to get a shredded six-pack.
Here are some reasons your abs aren’t showing, and what you can do about it:
Reason #1: Excess Body Fat
It’s probably the number one reason you can’t see your abs. You’ve still got some weight to lose.
Maybe it’s that last 5 or 10 pounds, or maybe you’re chasing a bigger weight loss goal to get there.
In either case, everybody has the same set of abdominal muscles:
- Transverse abdominis: Primarily used to stabilize your core.
- Rectus abdominis: Muscles used to support core movement, and group of muscles most commonly referred to as the six-pack.
- External obliques: Located on both sides of the rectus abdominis. Supports twisting movements. Contraction occurs on the opposite side of twist/turn.
- Internal obliques: Also located on both sides of the rectus abdominis, closest to the hipbone. Perform similar function as external obliques, but contracts on the same side as rotation.
If you’re lifting, training, and even doing abs-specific exercises, you’ve got a six-pack under there. But it’s not enough to get your abs to pop.
Fix it: Lose fat. You’ll need to combine training with enough cardio and dieting (calorie deficit) to shred fat, and build muscle to get lean. That’s really the simplest path to get six pack abs.
How long will it take? If you don’t have a lot of fat to lose, getting a six-pack in 4 to 8 weeks is realistic. If you’ve got 15-plus pounds to lose, it might take you little longer. It’s possible to lose more weight than that in 4 to 8 weeks, but research shows losing 1 to 2 pounds a week is the best approach to prevent gaining the weight back. 
Body fat percentage: Here’s another way to give yourself a gut check when it comes to six-pack abs. You’ll start to see some definition when you reach 10 to 15 percent body fat for men, and 15 to 20 percent body fat for women.
Reason #2: Abs Training (Too Little, Too Much?)
There’s a lot of misinformation about abs training out there, especially when it comes to training your abs.
Ever heard these bro-science recommendations?
- You don’t need to train your abs, just do cardio to burn fat
- All you really need to do is crunches to get a six-pack
- Focus on high-reps like 100 per set
- You should train your abs everyday
- Lift heavy. No, only do bodyweight exercises. Which one is it?
You get the idea. The truth. Your abs respond to training just like any other muscle. And if you’re trying to build bigger, stronger abs, while getting leaner, focus on hypertrophy training.
Fix it: Train your abs a couple times a week. Pick a few exercises that target all the areas of your abdominals. 3 to 5 sets; 10 to 15 reps to failure. (Try Cable Rope Crunches, Hanging Leg Raises, Weighted Crunches, Planks, etc.)
Note: If you pick crunches (or other bodyweight ab exercises) you’ll probably need to use a medicine ball or plate to fatigue your abs by 15 reps.
Reason #3: Excessive Cardio
If cardio was the answer to getting lean and ripped, why don’t elite distance runners all have six-pack abs?
Too much cardio training. It is an effective way to burn calories and fat. But too much cardio can have a catabolic effect on muscle tissue.
Instead of building muscle and getting leaner to show off your six-pack, excess cardio can break down muscle tissue for energy. And the result can be skinny and lean, minus six-pack abs.
The fix: Limit cardio to no more than 45 minutes of steady state activity a day to support your goals to lose weight, shred fat, and get lean enough to see your abs. Mix it up with different activities like walking, the stair climber, treadmill, and even a few high-intensity interval training sessions. But don’t overdo it.
Reason #4: Too Much Stress
When someone tells me they can’t see their abs, even though they’ve been eating right and training hard, I take a closer look at other things that might be holding someone back…like stress.
If you’re under a lot of stress at home, work, or your personal life, it’s going to have an impact on your ability to get shredded.
Why? When you’re stressed out, your cortisol levels spike. It’s a hormone that can help you deal with stressful situations, like running away from a tiger.
But if you’re chronically stressed out, elevated cortisol levels can slow metabolism and increase fat storage, and your risk for obesity. And that’s a problem if you want to see your abs. 
Fix it: Deal with stress in healthy ways. Yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, or journal exercises can help. Even simple things like organizing your schedule or keeping your house clean can help minimize stress.
Reason #5: Poor Eating Habits
It’s the number one thing that keeps people from losing weight, shredding fat, and revealing six-pack abs.
Too many calories.
Too many carbs.
Too many cheat meals.
Too many treats.
Not drinking enough water.
Have you made any of these mistakes while trying to get shredded?
You’re not alone. For most people, learning to eat right to lose weight, get lean and build muscle takes practice. And it usually involves some ups and downs. But you can do it.
The fix: Follow a structured meal plan with daily goals for calories and macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbs). You should still be able to eat a few treats or snacks, but most of your meals should include foods like fruits, vegetables, lean beef, fish, chicken, whole grains like rice and oats, nuts and seeds, and plenty of water.
And if you slip up or a cheat meal turns into a cheat weekend, so what? Just get back on track and resume eating right and training hard.
The secret to six-pack abs? There really isn’t a big secret or quick fix. Train hard. Eat right. Manage stress. Be consistent. And pretty soon, you’ll be lean enough to see your abs.
Need a diet and training plan to help you get shredded? Start here.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). What is healthy weight loss? National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. From: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html
2. Jackson, S., et al. (2017). Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years. Obesity. From: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/oby.21733