- If you want a six pack, it’s a mistake to spend too long on ab exercises, a personal trainer said.
- Instead, prioritize fat loss through compound exercises and a calorie deficit, Patrick Wilson said.
- Remember that genetics play a big role in how our mid-sections look too, he told Insider.
Spending too long on ab exercises is a common mistake people make when trying to define the mid-section, according to a personal trainer.
If you want a six-pack or visible abs, most people need to focus on dropping body fat, Patrick Wilson told Insider.
“Having definition in that area is primarily from having body fat low enough to see your core muscles,” he said.
Instead of doing long ab-focused workouts, people would be better off spending their time and energy on actions that will help reduce body fat overall, as you can’t spot-reduce fat, Wilson said.
“All direct core exercises are overrated,” Wilson said — a view 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 keeping active over the course of the day
- Eating plenty of protein to help muscle maintenance
- Strength training to help build or maintain muscle.
Having more muscle not only makes it easier to lose fat because it boosts your basal metabolic rate (meaning you burn more calories at rest), but it also creates a leaner, more “toned” look that many people want, Wilson said.
Focus on compound exercises to build a strong core
Wilson recommends people use their time in the gym prioritizing compound exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, shoulder presses, bench presses, and rows.
Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups at once and are an effective way to train your whole body.
“They work different muscles and you have to use your core a tone to stabilize your body,” he said. “As you start to do heavier weights, your core gets stronger as well.”
However, doing some ab-focused exercises can help make them more visible — the abs are muscles that can grow like any other, bodybuilder Sunny Andrews and physique coach Cliff Wilson previously told Insider.
Adding weight to core exercises helps build the muscles, Patrick Wilson said.
He recommends spending five to 10 minutes, two to three times a week, on core work, doing exercises such as planks, glute bridges, bicycle crunches, weighted crunches, and hanging leg or knee raises.
Create a calorie deficit through your diet
A calorie deficit is required for fat loss, meaning your body is burning more energy than you’re consuming, but you don’t have to count calories.
Wilson advises eating smaller portions and trying to eat more protein, fruit, and vegetables to help keep you full for fewer calories.
Equally, staying active through cardio like walking or swimming, and generally moving throughout the day (non exercise activity thermogenesis, known as NEAT) contributes to a calorie deficit, he said.
Genetics play a big role
Wilson cautions that genetics play a big role in ab visibility, as some people naturally store less fat in their mid-section than others.
Genetics also determine what your abs will look like when you are lean enough to see them, he said.
“If your abs don’t look like your favorite actor or fitness influencer (even if you are super lean), there’s not much you can do to change it,” he said. “Some people get super lean and still don’t have their abs fully popping.”