- If you want a six-pack, spending too much time on ab exercises is a mistake, says a personal trainer.
- Instead, prioritize fat loss through a combination of exercise and a calorie deficit, says Patrick Wilson.
- Remember, heredity plays a big role in how our midsections look, too, he told Insider.
Spending too much time on ab exercises is a common mistake people make when trying to define their midsection, according to a personal trainer.
If you want a six-pack or a visible stomach, most people need to focus on losing body fat, Patrick Wilson told Insider.
“Having definition in that area is primarily from having body fat low enough to see the core muscles,” he said.
Instead of doing long abdominal-focused workouts, people would be better off spending their time and energy on activities that will help reduce body fat overall, since you can’t spot-reduce fat, Wilson said.
“All direct core exercises are overrated,” Wilson said — a sentiment shared by Hyrox champion Hunter McIntyre.
There are three main factors to focus on to lose fat, he said:
- Being in a calorie deficit through diet and staying active throughout the day
- Eat enough protein to maintain muscle
- Strength training to help build or maintain muscle.
Having more muscle not only makes it easier to lose fat because it increases your basal metabolic rate (meaning you burn more calories at rest), but it also creates a leaner, “toned” look that many people want, Wilson said.
Focus on compound exercises to build a strong core
Wilson recommends that people use their time in the gym to prioritize compound exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, shoulder presses, bench presses and rows.
Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups at once and are an effective way to train the entire body.
“They work different muscles and you have to use your core a ton to stabilize the body,” he said. “When you start gaining weight, your core also gets stronger.”
However, doing some abs-focused exercises can help make them more visible—abs are muscles that can grow like any other, bodybuilder Sunny Andrews and fitness trainer Cliff Wilson previously told Insider.
Adding weight to core exercises helps build muscle, Patrick Wilson said.
He recommends spending five to 10 minutes, two to three times a week, on core work, doing exercises like planks, glute bridges, bicycle crunches, heavy crunches, and hanging leg or knee raises.
Create a calorie deficit with your diet
A calorie deficit is necessary for fat loss, which means that your body burns more energy than you are consuming, but you don’t have to count calories.
Wilson advises eating smaller portions and trying to eat more protein, fruits and vegetables to keep you full for fewer calories.
Similarly, being active through cardio such as walking or swimming and generally exercising throughout the day (non-exercise heat generation, known as NEAT) contributes to a calorie deficit, he said.
Genetics plays a big role
Wilson cautions that genetics plays a big role in abdominal visibility, as some people naturally store less midsection fat than others.
Genetics also determine what your abs will look like when you’re thin enough to see them, he said.
“If your abs don’t look like your favorite actor or fitness influencer (even if you’re super skinny), there’s not much you can do to change that,” he said. “Some people get too amped up and still don’t have their abs completely burst.”