Oh, abs. We'd love to have them but, honestly, they seem unattainable for the most part. Yes, we may successfully lose fat from our arms, legs and décolletage, but the defined six-pack remains stubborn.
So, how do you really get abs? To answer the all-popular question, HuffPost Australia spoke to accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian Chloe McLeod, and personal trainer and founder of Flow Athletic Ben Lucas.
Turns out we've all got abs. They're just hiding.
"The first point to make is everybody has abs. It's just that some people's abs are more defined than others. This comes down to body fat percentage and training," McLeod told HuffPost Australia.
1. Reduce body fat percentage
The key to getting defined six-pack abs is reducing body fat percentage -- however, doing so runs the risk of compromising your overall health in other ways.
"In men you usually start seeing abs visibly at around 12 percent body fat, but it does differ between individuals significantly," McLeod said.
"For women it's around the 15-18 body fat percentage mark where you see abs, but it does differ depending on what your body shape is and your overall body size. For example, for someone who's naturally carrying more fat around their hips, they will probably need their body fat percentage to be lower than someone who has more even fat distribution.
"Looking at the actual percentages of what people are, most people are in the 20s [body fat percentage], if not a lot higher."
In other words, the leaner you are, the more defined your abs are.
"The important thing to remember, though: the lower your body fat percentage the more pressure it places on your immune system," McLeod explained. "If you're constantly at a really low body fat percentage, you can actually end up getting sick more often.
Health comes in different shapes and sizes. Some people have abs and are not healthy, and vice versa.
McLeod also warns that fixating on getting, or placing great significance on, a six-pack can impact body image and self-esteem.
"From a mental health perspective, being so focused on having abs is quite unhealthy and can potentially have a negative impact on body image," McLeod said.
"So yes, you might want to see your abs but it's about finding the balance between healthy and not healthy.
2. Eat a healthy diet
You've probably heard the phrase, 'abs are made in the kitchen'. Well, it's true.
"Yes, abs are made in the kitchen," Lucas told HuffPost Australia. "This means that you need to be lean for your abs to show. When you eat right and are in a calorie deficit you lose fat and get those abs showing.
"Put simply, you need to plan on reducing your simple carb intake, upping your lean protein and good fats, and drinking plenty of filtered water. Protein is fuel for muscle growth and muscle growth leads to a greater metabolism."
"Rather than going, 'I need to be training for crazy hours every day and barely eating', it's about fuelling your body well so that it's healthy," McLeod said.
"Once you get your body fat percentage low enough, then you'll see your abs. But you don't have to be able to see abs to be healthy."
3. Do exercises that work your core (and whole body)
Crunches are the first exercise which spring to most people's minds when it comes to abs, but this exercise isn't the best way to get a defined six-pack, by a mile.
"The biggest myth I see about abs is that you need to do isolated ab movements every day," Lucas said.
"There is no point busting out thousands of crunches if you have a large layer of insulation on top. Your abs are a muscle like any other -- they need to work hard to stimulate growth, but they also need a rest period for growth and recovery to happen."
To help get defined abs, Lucas recommends doing functional training -- exercises like weighted squats and lunges, battle ropes, box jumps, burpees and push-ups which work your whole body -- as well as some isolation ab movements.
"This can be incorporated after your foundation functional strength. Try movements such as planks, hanging knees raises and Swiss ball crunches," Lucas said.
Essentially, you want to develop a strong core and lose fat at the same time.
"Incorporating exercises to help with developing a strong core is certainly important," McLeod said.
"This isn't just from an abs perspective, it's important from a general health perspective -- whether it's going to pilates classes, doing a variety of core-type exercises like planks and mountain climbers, or running, swimming or cycling. Having good posture even sitting at your desk also helps your core."
4. Get enough sleep
If you're exercising regularly, it's vital to get enough sleep and rest to allow your body to recover and repair. Likewise if you're trying to get your diet on track, focus on getting an appropriate amount of sleep as lack of sleep can lead to overeating.
"When you're short on sleep it's easy to lean on a large latte to get moving. You might be tempted to skip exercise, get takeout for dinner and then turn in late because you're uncomfortably full," Lucas said.
Lucas also recommends people avoid the following:
- Drinking alcohol or excess caffeine
- Excess stress
- Too many calories in your diet
- Looking for a short-term fix
If after all of this you still don't have abs, both Lucas and McLeod recommend not freaking out because you don't need abs to be healthy.
"I hear a lot that 'you're not healthy unless you can see your abs', which is almost the exact opposite as you've got to have such low body fat," McLeod said. "Yes, from an Instagram world perspective it would be nice to see your abs, but you don't have to see them to be healthy.
"Health comes in different shapes and sizes," Lucas added. "Some people have abs and are not healthy, and vice versa. Having visible abs is not an indicator of a strong core."