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I've been struggling with weight almost entire life (I was just lazy). I'm 176 cm tall and I currently have 79kg. A year ago I was 96 kg.

I gave up soda, chocolate and eating after 6 PM and went to gym at least 4 times per week.

In last two months I got lazy again(started eating after 6PM drinking soda etc. and quitting gym) so I got small tummy now, but luckily I know what to do. I started running again (5km) in 30 minutes and I'm playing sport two times per week Tuesday (basketball) and Thursday (football). I rest on Saturdays, rest of the days I'm hitting the gym to run.

This time my goal wil be fit pack abs. I think I can do it (as from what I've read).

  1. I sleep well enough (8+hrs)
  2. I don't eat in unusual hours and not so unhealthy (I think)
  3. I have a pretty active life

One thing that I don't know how to do is get the fat level in my body to low (if that makes getting abs easier). How is that achieved?

Regarding the six-pack abs, people from expirience -> Any special foods I should lay off? Any special work-out?

Like this answer says :

http://fitness.stackexchange.com/a/2753/3805

Anything in particular good/bad food?

Additional question :

Thank you for your Response Boris one more thing. How does one measure body fat level?

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I run a lot (250km+ / month) and one year ago I was 170cm x 53kg (5.5-5.6% body fat) I also did, twice a week, abs exercices and I never got to see my abs :( Now I'm 56kg, abs still invisible but I feel better :P I really do have abs, but they are hidden under the abdomn skin :\ Never understood why... –  Marcx Jul 9 '12 at 19:20
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Bodyfat - Best way is DEXA scan or underwater weighing. Next is a skin caliper test (minimum 5 sites) done by a well trained person (Generally not the guy at the LA fitness down the road), and lastly a Tanita impedence scale. While the accuracy can be off, it is at least a consistent measurement, i.e. if it is off by 4%, it will always be off by that 4%. –  JohnP Sep 24 '12 at 21:28
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@Marcx Congratulations on achieving the first step - low body fat - now you need to build up muscle. Running a lot and being lightweight isn't going to get you there, you need to now focus more on muscle building exercises and a good protein intake. Have a look at my answer for more detail. –  andrewb Sep 25 '12 at 11:25
    
@JohnP I'll add that info to my answer to make it more complete, cheers –  andrewb Sep 25 '12 at 11:26
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3 Answers

First, congrats on your progress. I bet you look much better than before, and your looks will continue to improve while you lose more weight.

Getting abs to show though, is rather hard. In fact, surprisingly hard.

As a comparison, I am 176cm also. I got my weight down to 68kg before all abs started showing when contracting them. In order for me (and you) to have visible abs all the time, the weight will be something like 64kg-65kg.

This is surprisingly low, most people strongly underestimate the fat loss they need, in order to have good abs.

Your diet is much more important for weight loss than exercise is. The closer you are to the goal, the more strict the diet needs to be.

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While it depends on how much you want them to show, you need to be at 10% bodyfat or below to start really seeing the definition. STRICT attention to diet and workout out is paramount for that, and it's really not healthy to be below 5% for extended periods. –  JohnP Jul 8 '12 at 14:39
    
Great point @JohnP! –  DrTrungNguyen Jun 21 '13 at 15:37
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The basics of getting abs

Abs come from low body fat and large core muscles. Ultimately weight doesn't matter, though checking your weight can help with achieving the low body fat.

To get abs, you need to first need to cut enough fat that your muscle tone becomes visible. This is best achieved through the combination of healthy, disciplined, and goal-focused eating (I don't like the term diet - it connotes a temporary habit) and cardio. Along with that you need to build up your core muscles. I stress build up, as if you don't have large core muscles, you will never have abs even if you have zero fat.

A tip for getting good health and fitness - don't bother chasing after "special" foods or exercises. You won't get six pack abs without sweating hard and eating healthy - if you do somehow, then you'll still have your poor cardiovascular health to sort out.

You should cut fat and build muscle at the same time as there's no point going from excess fat -> scrawny -> cut like a rock when you can go from excess fat -> cut like a rock.

Step 1: Cut body fat

To achieve this, the most important thing is to burn more calories than you eat. So of course this needs a two-pronged strategy of eating well and burning calories. You also need to make sure that your calories are consumed in healthy forms.

To eat well, first cut out all the bad stuff like fast food, sweets, and other calorie-intense meals (e.g. lasagna, big portions of trashy carbs like white rice, etc.). These foods make you feel worse anyway. Try be quite radical with this bit, none of these foods should be eaten regularly if you really want to lose fat. Now add in all the good stuff (lots of veg and fruit, good carbs like oats and wholegrain rice).

After you've done that, you need to watch your calories. Try keep track of them in a simple manner and do a bit of read up on calorific content of different foods. You could be quite surprised. Also get used to reading the nutritional information on packets. I'm not a fan of fully detailed calorie tracking, as I don't think it's sustainable unless you're OCD.

For the cardio bit, you want to be doing some good cardio exercise every second day for a substantial period of time. Aim for an hour at least. Find out what your thing is, whether it be running, swimming, or cycling. If you find exercising on your own difficult, maybe do a team sport or get a group of people to exercise together with. Make sure it's a group of people who are keen otherwise they'll just drag you down.

This step is challenging, as eating calories is surprisingly easy and burning calories is surprisingly hard. Have a look at some calorie websites to get an idea, and get some people or even professionals to support you in this.

Step 2: Build muscle

This should be done through exercises that get all your body, and some core-focused exercises. It's not good to just build a single muscle group.

Start by getting good at an endurance level of repetitions (20+), then move to more strength and muscle growth repetitions (10 very hard repetitions). A common error is to do huge numbers of reps - this will do little to build muscle size.

Basic sit ups are are a great start, do three sets every second day. Here's some more ab-focused workouts:

  • Twisted sit ups - twist your torso 90 degrees one way as you reach the top. These are great for your obliques.
  • Lifted leg sit ups - lift your legs up so that your shins are floating parallel to the floor, and thigh is perpendicular to the floor. You can get quite creative/masochistic with this one - stretch the legs out horizontally but not touching the ground, then all the way vertically, etc. It's fun!
  • Medicine ball sit ups - hold it above/away from your head, sit up and throw it against a wall and catch it
  • Big V sit ups - whole body is straight, then your body goes up like a V pivoting at your waist
  • Floating flutter kick - lying on your back, legs out horizontally but not touching the ground, kick your legs like you're swimming with knees straight. Do this for 3 sets, as long as possible
  • Squats - start without weights, then add weights once your style is good. Great for core strength and stability. See here for a great guide to proper technique.
  • Gym machines - there are a handful of core-burning gym machines, they usually focus on a sit up movement but add weights. These can be very effective.

First get your reps up to maybe 50+ in a set for easy sit ups, then start doing more challenging ones, like the big V, where you can only do 10 reps. The medicine ball is great, as you can just get a bigger medicine ball when it's too easy!

Diet is very important at this stage. Once you've reached a low body fat, your calories eaten should equal your calories burnt. You now need to make sure you have a good intake of protein. Your mindset needs to move from slimming to bulking up with muscle.

Swimming is brilliant for abs

All those sit up exercises came from my years on the swim team in high school. We took it quite far, including some sets of 1000 sit ups. This isn't necessary for nice abs! Back in those days I had a good set of abs, including the Vs of the obliques. My abs are still evident now, and I don't do heaps of exercise - I just have avoided getting fat, and make sure to fit in some exercise when I can. I'm blessed with a high metabolism, but with correct eating and exercise anyone can achieve this.

Swimmers need rock solid core muscles, as that's what enables our legs to move relative to our torso. Here's a few places where core muscles are vital:

  • Dolphin kicks off the wall for most strokes. These are powerful, double-legged thrust-like kicks underwater. Your core muscles basically need to move your legs back and forth as hard as they can and as quick as they can.

  • Dolphin kicks while doing fly

  • Controlling rotation for freestyle and back stroke. With both these strokes, you rotate your torso as much as 90 degrees to enable you to get the maximum pull. Your core needs to control this rotation.

Along with core-focused muscle work, swimming burns a good deal of calories, and also works all the other major muscle groups in the body, particularly shoulders. It's also a great sport because of the lack of physical impact.

Don't forget the rest of your muscles!

If you only do sit ups, you'll end up with a fairly hunched over physique. Make sure you work your back just as much, and while you're doing that, just work the rest of your body. May as well get your whole body in good shape!

Measuring fat

Here's a few approaches, from best to worst (and probably least accessible to most accessible):

  1. DEXA scan - this is a type of X-ray, so you need to go to some form of medical practitioner for this

  2. Underwater weighing - this works off body density (fat floats), though this will make someone with dense bones and muscle appear to have less body fat than they really do.

  3. Skin callipers - these are big pincer things that measure the thickness of your skin. With measurements taken in certain areas (at least 5), along with height and weight, you can calculate your body fat using a guide. There's an art to measuring the skin correctly, so it may be best to go to a professional.

  4. Electronic scales - these often have a nifty way of measuring your body fat, probably by sending electrical signals through your body.

I never really got into measuring body fat, I've only had it measured 2-3 times my whole life. Usually you can just look in the mirror and tell how you're going.

I also found the calculation to be unhelpful. I was measured at roughly 11%, but I had virtually no fat. All the calculations are indirect approximations, correctly calculating might require you to be dead!

Though as pointed out by Moses/JohnP, they are usually off by a fixed amount, so you'll still be able to track your progress to some degree.

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Amazing answer, +1. As a footnote, I recommend doing squats to parallel. Squats are amazing for the abdominal / core muscles, as well as the posterior chain / lower back. Also, regarding your BF% measurement, there are accurate ways to measure it while you are still alive :). That being said, pin point accuracy isn't necessarily the goal, but rather a consistent measuring device to track approximate progress. –  Moses Sep 24 '12 at 19:20
    
@Moses Thank you :) I'll amend my answer with that info –  andrewb Sep 25 '12 at 11:26
    
Awesome answer! +1 for "Swimming is brilliant for abs". @andrewb So, can I trade jogging or bycicle for 2-3 times of swim as cardio? –  weber Sep 26 '12 at 3:34
    
@weber Yeah definitely. It's just really important to get swimming right. Don't just jump in the pool and swim laps until your tired - do sets, and go hard so that your heart rate is seriously elevated for a good length of time. Also, I really think that cross training is the best. So maybe 2 swim sessions, and 2 run/cycle sessions. All-round fitness is the best. –  andrewb Sep 28 '12 at 7:58
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The standard advice, "Abs are made in the kitchen", is bogus.

Do you really want ABS? Abs that will show even when you are 12 -14% BF?

If so, you need to build them up. Make them grow so that even if you are not losing body fat, they still become more visible (this is the smart way to do it).

For this to happen, you need to lift like an athlete (using powerlifting and bodybuilding methods).

Your core lifts should be:

  1. Squats
  2. Deadlifts
  3. Presses (overhead, bench, and pushups)
  4. Chinups/pullups

They should be done heavy (1-5 reps for anywhere from 5 -20 sets) 80% of the time and the other 20%, go for reps (6 -15 for 3-6 sets).

To hit your abs further, you should do anti-rotation exercises like 1 Arm row, Turkish Get Up, Wide stance chop, Ab rollouts, Pikes, RKC Planks, and other hard "isolation" movements. Once again, reps should be anywhere from 5 - 15.

If you are doing endless crunches and other ab exercises, you are not building your abs for growth. You are building them for endurance (which means they may be even getting smaller!)


Other Considerations:

Diet:

There are no "fat loss foods" or foods that by themselves will ruin your abs. What matters most here is total caloric intake. Eat at maintenance or a little less and your abs will shine through if you lift hard. If you follow a Whole Foods approach, you should be fine.

Lifestyle:

Stress will make fat stick to your stomach, even when you are losing weight. So if you got emotional/psychological stress, learn some techniques to help you calm down (like meditation). Other stress includes not getting enough sleep (you are fine) and doing too much running. "Chronic cardio" is counter productive and must be done away with if you want a 6 pack. Instead, all cardio sessions should be short and sweet. For this, do sprints and HIIT. 20 -30 min for twice a week should be enough.

Good Luck, bro.

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I would like to see some proof for the claim that "Stress will make fat stick to your stomach". Also telling someone to do squats and bench presses and promoting a "WithoutAGym" facebook page seems a bit contradictory. –  Baarn Sep 24 '12 at 19:11
    
I show people how to get results no matter where they are or what circumstances they are in. I also show them how to do presses and squats outside the gym ( ie set up their own home gym). And are you familiar with Cortisol? Googling "cortisol stress stomach" should open up pandora's box. :) –  Levi Clampitt Sep 24 '12 at 19:21
    
You can google almost everything, and find some crackpot who claims it's true. Checking Wikipedia Cortisol is supposed to have some relation to stress, appetite and obesity. (Not confirmed) It does not however not say anything about the location where the fat sticks to. –  Baarn Sep 24 '12 at 19:31
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@LeviClampitt Yes, but spam is spam, and explicitly not welcome here. I invite more of your answers and heartily reject your spam. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 24 '12 at 20:29
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