Why So Few People Can Get A Six-Pack

Getting six-pack abs is not a complicated process.
You don’t need to time your protein intake 32 minutes and 30 seconds after your workouts. You certainly don’t need a complicated training program with 25 different exercises for your abs, and five different squat variations.

And yet it goes a bit beyond eating less and exercising more. At some point, your body fights against you and an increasing number of obstacles arise.

Let’s see why most people can’t overcome these obstacles and reach the holy grail of six-pack abs.

The Required Elements for a Set of Six-Pack Abs

Being skinny from birth is an advantage, but sporting six-pack abs while the rest of your body looks weak doesn’t count.

You have to be able to show some muscle on your frame. You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder, but you should at least look like someone who lifts.

This is where it gets tricky. Being skinny is easy for a lot of people. The problem is that gaining some muscle requires them to eat more food and abandon the six-pack for a while. It’s getting back there while keeping all their muscle that is difficult.

Also, some people can’t see their abs, despite being lean. There can be two explanations for that. Either their ab muscles are not big enough, meaning that they should do more direct work on their abs, or the genetic shape of their abs is not ideal. In both cases, the right direct exercises for the abs (read: not crunches) will make them show earlier.

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Showing six-pack abs requires you to have a low level of body fat. Image courtesy of The Lean Lunch Box.

Finally, showing six-pack abs requires you to have a low level of body fat. Some people will show abs at around 12% body fat, and some people will need to get below 10% just to get a two-pack. Life is unfair, I know, but I didn’t make the rules.

Now, we know for sure that a decent six-pack is the result of more muscle mass, and less body fat. You can’t  increase muscle mass and decrease body fat at the same time, except in a few specific circumstances which I won’t get into here. In theory, it is still pretty simple. Gain more muscle by eating more and training slightly out of your comfort zone. Lose the fat by eating a bit less and still training out of your comfort zone. If it’s so simple, why do so few people succeed?

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People Are Lazy

Don’t get me wrong, getting six-pack abs is no walk in the park, but someone who puts in the work can get there without driving themselves crazy.

Consistency is extremely important; perhaps more important than training hard and eating perfectly for three days and letting yourself go for two.

Human nature makes us resistant to change, but when you want to improve your body, there are things that have to change. Getting a six-pack requires a bit of diet planning and a lot of consistency. Depending on your level of body fat, getting down to the right level can take 12 weeks, which is a long time to spend in a caloric deficit.

Broken Focus

Because of our resistance to change and our fear of the unknown, we tend to lose sight of what we really want.

Suddenly, our vision becomes blurred, which makes it harder to stick to a plan. So many people start cutting and think they are losing muscle mass after two weeks so they go back to bulking.

Rest assured guys, it’s unlikely. Muscle loss is more likely to happen at lower-levels of body fat.

The truth is, physique transformation can be frustrating. While the final result is often satisfactory, there will be times when you ask yourself if it is worth it.

For the guy who wants to be muscular, it can seem counterintuitive to go through a six to twelve-week fat loss phase. The dude will often think he looks flat, especially if he is used to seeing himself in a bulking phase, when his muscles are full of glycogen.

The thing is, nothing reveals muscles better than low body fat levels. I encourage anybody with a decent amount of muscle mass who hasn’t tried to get below 10 percent body fat to give it a go. That level is where you’re going to look more muscular than before, despite going through periods asking yourself if you’re flatter.

No Goals

Not setting goals is a major mistake people make when starting a fat loss phase.

And I’m not talking about telling yourself “I want to lose fat,” because that’s the same as saying “I want to be rich.” You must have a deadline, and it must be specific, otherwise it’s just a dream.

get a six-pack

You must have a deadline, and it must be specific, otherwise it’s just a dream. Image courtesy of NOCPH.

Think about it. You wouldn’t take your car and start driving without knowing where you are going. That’s the same thing. Everything you are going to do and every choice you are going to make depends on your goal and how much time you have to achieve it.

Make sure your goal is realistic, even if it’s ambitious. You can set a goal of getting down to 5 to 6 percent body fat, but just make sure to give yourself enough time to get there. As a rule of thumb, a loss of one percentage point of body fat per week is possible until you get down to 10 percent body fat. I still suggest going slower than that, but if you tend to lose fat quickly, it’s possible.

If your goal is to get below that, which is necessary for most people who want to see their abs, it’s best to give yourself two weeks to lose one percentage point of body fat.

No Programming

Once your realistic goal is set, you can start a realistic program.

Too many people try to improvise. And while you could probably get away with winging it if you diet for three weeks, you need a program if you want to make it all the way.

In the gym, the amount of work you do must gradually increase. This means you need a realistic plan to increase your work capacity over time without burning out. And in case you’re wondering, I am not one of those who will tell you to train less because you are in a caloric deficit. This is a concept I still don’t get. Research has shown that if your caloric deficit comes more from your activity than your diet, you retain more muscle mass.

In the kitchen, you need to make sure you have an idea of how many calories you are taking in. So many people have no clue. They will say things like “I eat well,” or better yet “I eat clean, but I can’t understand why I’m not losing fat.”

It’s simple, eating clean doesn’t cut it. You need to be in a caloric deficit. Eating clean and choosing nutritious foods is great, but your body is smart enough to make you eat what it needs to fulfill its energy needs. Make sure to have a few diet templates of a typical day in a caloric deficit so that you can recognize when you are eating too much.

No Tracking

And of course, if there is one thing you should keep in mind, it’s that you can never be sure your plan is working unless you track your results.

Let’s face it, calorie counting is inaccurate. Labels are not 100 percent correct. With training, you can never be sure to hit maximal recoverable volume all the time.

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Let’s face it, calorie counting is inaccurate. Labels are not 100 percent correct. Image courtesy of Mamas Health.

The best way to know that your plan is working is to track your results and see whether you are on schedule (hence the deadline) or not. One week of plateau is nothing to worry about because fat loss is not linear, but after two weeks you can start looking for calories you probably forgot.

Tracking allows you to know whether  you need to change your plan or not. Don’t be married to a plan. If it isn’t working anymore, you will have to change a few things. But you also can’t use tracking as an excuse to make stupid decisions like suddenly throwing in an hour of cardio every day. You may just have to remove 200 more calories from your diet. A lot of people fail because they change too much.

Too Much Rigidity

If we look at people who want six-pack abs and the small proportion of them who succeed, it can seem like an impossible task.

And yet people who follow a plan and are consistent with it do succeed. Others simply drop the plan altogether. That is when we can start looking at flexibility.

Getting six-pack abs is not rocket science. Consistency is more important than perfection and to be consistent, you need your plan to allow you to live a little. You don’t have to sacrifice your social life, piss off your wife every day, and eat the same damn food at every meal to lose fat.

If your plan is too rigid, your likelihood of giving up will increase. With a flexible plan, you will be more likely to be consistent and focused when you have to be. That means your diet should be as varied as you can make it. As long as you are getting enough protein and vegetables, it is more important to stay at a certain caloric target than trying to eat “clean foods” all the time.

Make sure to include the foods you love in your diet. This is why you should stay away from extremes like “gluten and dairy free,” very low-carb diets, low-fat diets, and the likes. In fact, if your diet has a name, you are probably doing it wrong.

Too Soon, Not Enough Muscle Mass

Finally, as I have said before, six pack abs are unimpressive on a skinny body.

You need an appreciable amount of muscle mass for several reasons. Your metabolism will be higher if you have more muscle, which will allow you to cut on more calories than if you are skinny. Also, you will look ten times better.

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You will look ten times better with an appreciable amount of muscle mass. Image courtesy of Muscle and Fitness.

The problem with cutting when you don’t have enough muscle mass is that towards the end, you are going to look like an anorexic and you will have to eat very little food. In the first two years of lifting, take a slow approach to mass building so you don’t accumulate too much body fat. Do small cuts to maintain a rather lean physique, but don’t go for the single-digit body fat numbers if you are not ready.

Dieting for a long period of time has its consequences. Your metabolism will take a hit, no matter how many sneaky tricks you use. If you are not careful, you will put fat back on, plus extra. A study on rats showed that after a fat cell has shrunk, it multiplies before it gets back to its original size. And your satiety levels are restored when your fat cells go back to their original size unfortunately. This is probably why most people who diet get fat again at record speed.

Of course, you can avoid these effects with a proper follow-up and methods such as reverse dieting, but bear in mind that your body doesn’t like to be starved for extended periods of time, which is why you shouldn’t do it too often, and certainly not too soon.

There is also the illusion of looking muscular on a bulk because your muscles are full of glycogen. Always assume it’s not enough. Too many people end up disappointed because they haven’t built up enough muscle. So if you’re quite lean already, it is often a good idea to put on a few more pounds before starting to cut.


If it was easy, everyone would do it. Getting six-pack abs is not that complicated, but it takes a few qualities that sadly, many people lack. They can all be overcome if you  want it badly enough. I guess that’s the difference between the dreamers and the players.

About the Author

anthony dexmierAnthony Dexmier is a strength coach in the South of France. He enjoys deadlifting, kettlebells and Olympic lifting, despite a genetic predisposition for endurance sports. He helps people eat and train better both online and at the gym and his special areas of interests are prehab, rehab, strength and nutrition.


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