The International Benchmark of a Fit Physique

“Six-pack” abdomens are highly sought after for purely vanity reasons by many of us, but that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to rock a nice 6-pack at the beach. In fact, that is what I get asked about most–“How can I get abs?” or, “How can lose this belly fat?”

Well, I am putting together a list of tips for you right here–simple concepts that most trainers will bury in a 300-page book or DVD series and then sell it to you. I should know, because I too have shamelessly done both of these: written books on how to get “Amazing Abs,” and even produced a DVD on the subject (which at least is now published free on YouTube).

My expertise came through the fortunate combination of genetics, lifestyle, timing, location and desire. I was able to become Men’s Health magazine’s primary abs model for a period of about four years, from 2005 to 2009, appearing on more than 10 of their magazine and book covers. Yes, that Men’s Health magazine. So of course after that, I instantly felt qualified to write a book and produce a DVD on the subject.

Seriously though, my genetic-fortune aside, after 15 years of being a professional fitness model I did manage to learn a few things about attaining and maintaining lean abs and a strong core, even if only through repeated trial and error of applied Bodybuilder Bro-Science. I was my own physiological guinea pig and having shredded, cover-ready abs was literally my bankable brand. While it’s true that bodybuilding and its commercial spawn of fitness modeling are highly vain, there is one fact that is undeniable: We know how to get ripped! In fact, I would argue that no other “athlete” genre knows how to get as lean as the professional fitness model. Why? Because the fitness model has the luxury of training for appearance first and athletic performance second, which I do not advocate unless you are getting paid for your looks. Otherwise, I believe we should all train for optimum function, mobility and health, first and foremost.

Before I get to the coveted, insider knowledge you are awaiting, there’s one last caveat I need to emphasize. As much as the weight-loss industry doesn’t want you to know it, genetics indeed play a significant role in being able to attain lean abs as well as how they are shaped and proportioned. The weight-loss industry is a billion dollar, never ending revenue source, so why would they ever credit anything to genetics? And since we have absolutely zero control over our genetics, we may as well not worry about them and simply focus on the lifestyle factors we can impact.

I can’t quote actual statistics here, but our genetic code plays a role in everything about us, including our body composition, our metabolism, our muscle shape and proportion, as well as bone structure and skeletal ratio. That can be a lot to try and alter through training, diet and other lifestyle factors. My point is, we all have the ability to get lean enough to reveal our 6-Pack (rectus) Abs, but we can’t change their shape or symmetry, or the gap (linea alba) that runs between them. Not all of us have the genetic potential to unveil an “8-Pack” because, for most of us, that rare, last row of abs are forever sealed under a layer of core-strengthening, muscle-encapsulating, fascia tissue. Not all of us will have the extra top row of “abs,” which are really our intercostals. Some of us have a natural genetic homeostasis set-point of 6 percent body fat levels without much effort, while others of us seem to hover around 12 percent body fat, all else being equal. Age is another factor that works against us. But there is a lot we can do, all while strengthening our core and improving our health and longevity–imagine that!

01 You cannot spot-reduce body fat:
On average, you must reduce your overall body fat percentage to below 8 percent to reveal your 6-Pack Abs, also known as the rectus-abs. The ideal (healthiest) way to reduce your body fat levels is through a combination of consistent exercise to include both strength and cardio, and clean-eating, to create a small calorie-deficit each day while optimizing your metabolism.

02 Include high-intensity workouts at least three times per week:
High-intensity exercise—where you are literally reaching some sort of physiological failure either aerobically, anaerobically or both—triggers a cascade of metabolism-boosting, hormone-optimizing, blood-sugar-dysfunction-fixing magic that takes too long to explain here but which I covered in detail last issue. Health experts now agree that consistent exercise is great but that incorporating some high-intensity workouts is even better. If you start training with high intensity on a regular basis, I promise you that your body composition will start noticeably transforming within a matter of weeks. Aim for 20 minutes of very high-intensity levels (after warming up) three times a week, along with your other workouts.

03 If you’re over age 40, swap out your 24-year-old trainer for an old guy:
While accountability is key to workout consistency and success, and all trainers can provide that service, age awareness matters greatly. The young trainer, though s/he has good intentions, has never experienced your old-guy physiology and fading hormones (also known as andropause or male menopause). Young ‘uns also don’t relate to your normal, age-related aches and pains for that matter. Find a trainer or a like-minded buddy about your age who is literally in the shape you want to be in, and hire him or ask to work out with him. He will understand you, your physiology and your recovery time much better, and he will provide the training and nutrition advice appropriate for you. If you are over age 40, it is time to transition to the holistic-health and longevity approach and let the get-huge, meathead mindset finally die.

04 Limit sugar:
It’s lurking all around you: sugar, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, natural sugar, organic sugar, cane sugar, dextrose, soda, juice, high fructose corn syrup … no matter what it’s called, it is ALL SUGAR! Don’t be fooled by the fancy names. One form is really no better, or worse, than the other. They all trigger insulin. Therein lies the problem. It’s not that sugar is evil or that insulin is a villain—if you are active and only eat it in moderation. But if you work a sedentary job, are already over weight or age 40 or older, then you need to closely monitor your sugar intake and eat it strategically, or at least with constant awareness. If you are going to eat a high carbohydrate or sugary meal, it is best to do it right after you work out during the post-exercise recovery and uptake window. Sugar seems to turbo-charge the internal belly-fat storage process, causes the liver to work harder and increases risk of insulin-resistance and systemic inflammation. All these are collectively known as creating metabolic dysfunction and an apple-shape abdomen, marketed in the weight-loss industry as Syndrome X or metabolic syndrome.

05 Get a good night of sleep:
Sleep is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle and to optimizing your metabolism. Nothing fixes your metabolism like a sound night of sleep. It is also by design a natural fat-burning opportunity and a chance for all your hormones to reset. This is also when you get your largest daily dose of growth hormone, the most powerful, lean-body, restorative hormone we produce.

06 Use caffeine strategically and in moderation:
Caffeine is one of nature’s most powerful body-fat mobilizers, allowing us to burn more stored body fat during our workouts or during intermittent fasting by unlocking stored fat and dumping it also from the liver. That is, until caffeine becomes abused. Too much caffeine serves to unnecessarily elevate your cortisol levels all day (the “fight-or-flight” stress hormone), which also is linked to turbo-charging internal belly fat storage on the omentum. So consume your caffeine strategically, like right before your workout, especially empty-stomach cardio, to maximize fat-burning and workout focus-factor. Cortisol actually helps you work out with more intensity and it balances melatonin to naturally wake us up every morning. However, lay off the caffeine within five hours of your bed time because if it interferes with your sleep quality, offsetting any benefit.

07 There is more to attaining amazing abs than the 6-Pack:
The 6-Pack or rectus abs get all the credit and attention, but it is the transversus abs underneath them that cause a flat belly and tight waist by pulling in the entire abdomen like a corset. The abs are also framed by the obliques, which get little love even though they are more commonly known as love handles. The best way to exercise the transversus abdominus—and therefore train for a flatter stomach—is by planking. The plank exercise, and all its variations to include push-ups, target the transversus abdominus. Unlike most muscle groups, the collective abs are almost all slow twitch, type 1 muscle fibers. You can train them or at least isometrically flex them every day to maximize tone and buffness.

08 Final presentation:
You need to properly present your abs by not wearing your board shorts too high. If you wear them too high–above where your obliques taper in–you will give yourself the appearance of a wider, blocky waist and shorter torso. Your board shorts should sit on your hips to maximize a long, torso-tapering appearance. This does not mean go full gangster, saggy drawers’ style. Just say “no to crack!”–the quickest way to repel all potential beach babes. Butt crack is whack. Some manscaping may be necessary depending on how low your board shorts are sitting. Again, nobody really needs to see the jungle of growth that might be going on down south, bro. A tan to set it all off really completes your entire beach, board-shorts presentation. And when in doubt, just add in a subtle bit of isometric flexion to make your abs pop a bit. Don’t go full flex or you will just look like a meathead—or like you have gas!

I actually have about 10 more tips but my editor is telling me I have already rambled on long enough (They don’t have enough pages for me!). So hit me up online if you want some more insider advice from a self-proclaimed expert like myself. I have easily invested about 12 years of my life learning how to attain, maintain and present amazing, strong abs and core. And please remember that as vain and shallow as this article reads, your core is involved in every movement you make and is where your center-of-gravity is located. By training your abs to look good you will simultaneously, inherently be strengthening them and allowing your core to function at its optimum. Lastly, once you get your swimsuit abs dialed in, as tempted as you might be to share your results, please avoid the weird bathroom selfie. That’s another quick way to repel any potential babes. Trust me, my newsfeed is full of ab-aficionado selfies. While I’m proud to have inspired all of these guys, I just can’t seem to hide them fast enough.