2. Be careful who you take your advice from on this topic. Misinformation and myths abound. Ideally, you want to learn from someone who has practical experience. Someone who actually has a 6-12 pack AND has helped others get one. How many people write about getting abs that have never actually seen their own? Plenty in my industry. That’s why there are so many B.S. myths that don’t work in the real world. Sorry to vent.
You also want someone who has a science background (many meat-head bodybuilders and diva-fitness girls have great bodies but can’t intelligently explain the processes behind physical transformation, which means their results can’t be replicated). Being a good athlete or model or whatever is different than being a good coach.
I’m not trying to attack anyone personally, just trying to establish my own credibility and expertise. Ask this question and you’ll get a thousand answers. As a novice, how do you filter through the noise?
3. Diet is the most important factor, hands down, but lets talk about training first because the two really go hand-in-hand. Most people think cardio first when they think about 6-packs. “Gotta burn the fat”. I wrote about this in another question but I’ll repeat it here — losing fat is not about how many calories you burn while exercising, its about how many calories you burn the other 23 hours of the day. Restated — its not about “burning fat” while exercising, its about the metabolic and hormonal impacts of exercise.
Strength training is far superior in this regard compared to aerobic training. Think about it logically. How many people do you see on the rows and rows of cardio equipment “burning” away fat, only to look exactly the same a year later? Now think about where you see the “fittest” looking people in the gym. At some point, they all hit the weight floor.
Your training should always be geared towards increasing beneficial hormonal output, building lean muscle (which is the second, but often overlooked aspect of changing your body composition/body fat percentage thus seeing a six-pack), and increasing the resting metabolic rate so you can burn more calories/fat in the recovery process. Strength training is the best choice here. But not circuit training or boot camp training or cross-fit training (because its cool and/or that’s what the 300 guys did — bullshit marketing fluff). Again, even with strength training its not about burning more fat during the session. If you want to truly change your body its about building metabolic-boosting muscle. Cross-training is better suited to performance adaptations (increasing anaerobic and/or aerobic endurance) than it is to APPEARANCE adaptations (six pack and guns).
Traditional hypertrophy, bodybuilding-based training is the best method for these goals — body part splits, volume (multiple exercises per body part, 3 sets of 10, etc.), interset rests of 45-60 seconds. There’s a ton of research behind that, too much to go into here.
So strength train 3-4 days a week using a body-part split and traditional hypertrophy programs. That’s the first half.
4. Diet is the second, and dramatically more important half. The trend these days is to recommend going low/no carb/Paleo for fat loss. That’s too simplistic of an approach. I have a problem with that, especially for anaerobic athletes (remember from above you are strength training 3-4 days a week = anaerobic athlete).
Low carb diets are great for sedentary people because they just aren’t burning a ton of carbs throughout the day. Paleo diets are great for people who want to reduce disease risk factors and reach a healthy body weight. Those are all great, but training and dieting to reach the pinnacle of physique development is something completely different, is somewhat of an unnatural process, and requires targeted sports nutrition principles outside of the strict Paleolithic parameters. How many Paleo people do you know who are shredded at 4% body fat? I don’t know any. How many bodybuilders that follow a moderate carb, lower fat diet that are shredded at 4% body fat (and I mean naturals, not juiced up steroid freaks)? I know and have competed against many.
I recommend a more moderate carbohydrate, lower fat approach than what is currently “hot” in the industry right now for several reasons: (1) Because the chemical composition of dietary fat is similar to that of body fat, dietary fat is the macronutrient most likely stored as body fat in periods of caloric excess (both per day and per meal). This habit of keeping carbs low and pouring oil on everything is counterproductive. I don’t care if you haven’t eaten a carbohdyrate since 2000, if you are overeating any macronutrient you won’t drop fat. The body is just using dietary fat as fuel instead of stored body fat. And where were the oil refining factories in caveman times?
The body burns predominantly glucose/glycogen during anaerobic training. Thus the body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates to fuel, recover from, and respond to training sessions (to build muscle, boost metabolic rate, and ultimately burn more fat at rest). Chronic low carb dieting can lead to muscle loss (soft, flabby appearance, maybe the skinny-fat syndrome), reductions in thyroid output (inhibited fat burning), reductions in leptin output (leading to hunger cravings and binge eating), and here is some new research: can lead to an imbalance in the free testosterone:cortisol ratio in response to high intensity training. This imbalance can lead to muscle loss and fat storage, particularly around the midsection (the tight everywhere else but holds fat in the midsection syndrome)
With the carbs, its the amount and type that matter. A carb-based diet consisting of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and refined flour is much different than a carb-based diet consisting of vegetables, whole fruits, potatoes, and rice (which is what I recommend). I agree with Paleo and low-carbers in this respect, many of the modern carbohydrate food choices are suboptimal (packaged foods loaded with fructose from sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which leads to insulin resistance), grains (wheat/gluten allergy, digestive disorders), and dairy (lactose intolerance, high insulin index, high acidity). Just stick to the 4 choices mentioned above to avoid the problems associated with suboptimal carbohydrate selections.
Six pack/fat loss diet. I generally start people at 1g of protein and 1g of carbohydrate per 1lb of lean body mass, with dietary fat as by-product of protein sources (salmon and other fish, lean meats, moderate amounts of eggs). No oils or added fats. These ratios are enough to support anaerobic training while still being in a relative calorie deficit, which is necessary for body fat reduction. Adjustments are made base on individual metabolism, body type, AND progress.