Abs are the one muscle group that almost everyone wishes they had and that almost everyone wants to make more impressive. The abs are often considered among the ‘sexiest’ muscle groups and are a sign that a person is slim, toned and athletic. At the same time, building great abs gives you strength and performance benefits that can bleed into every other aspect of your physical ability. That’s because the abs provide your core and give you the strength to stabilize yourself during other movements.

But the problem is that many people have no idea how to go about building their abs. With that in mind then, read on and we’ll explore what makes the difference between a six pack and a beer belly.

Body Fat

The first thing to recognize is that you need to reduce your body fat percentage if you’re going to have visible abs. You can have the strongest muscles possible here but if you don’t lower your bodyfat percentage, then they still won’t be visible.

Note that you can’t target fat loss. This means that one of the most important keys to building visible muscle here is to make sure that you incorporate CV in order to burn fat as well.

Engaging the Abs

Another thing to recognize is that you need to actually engage your abs during exercise. Many people will perform ab exercises but won’t actually be training their abs so much as their hips. The hip flexors can perform a very similar job to the abs by folding the body in half but of course they don’t have quite the same visual appeal (if you ask most people).

In short, if you are performing sit ups and leg raises so that your body folds at the waist, then it’s not training the abs. Instead, you need to actually roll the abs and curl your stomach round through the movements.

The Different Ab Muscles

Making life more confusing is the fact that you actually have multiple different muscles in the mid section. The ‘abs’ as many of us think about them (the six pack) are defined by your rectus abdominis – the muscle plate that sits on the front of your stomach and has the six indentations we all want to achieve.

Meanwhile though, you also have the transverse abdominis. The purpose of this muscle is to provide support for the lower spine and also to ‘hold in’ the stomach. Training this muscle is not only important for performance, it also helps you to create flatter abs. You can hit this muscle by using the myotatic crunch (a crunch performed over a bosu ball so that your back goes past flat) or by using the ‘cat vomit’ exercise that involves sucking your abs in while on all fours to create an ‘ab vacuum’.

Finally, you have the obliques. These sit on either side of the rectus abdominis and give you more definition here as well as the ability to torque. Train them using twisting sit ups and similar movements.