1. Your body fat percentage is too high.
The number one reason why most people can’t get a six pack? They actually HAVE a set of six pack abs, but those abs are hidden underneath a layer of fat. No matter how well-developed your ab muscles are, if your ab muscles are covered by a layer of fat… well, it’s just not going to matter much, since you won’t be able to see those ab muscles. It takes an incredibly low body fat percentage to make a six pack “pop”— 10-12% for men and 15-17% for women (although this varies depending on your body type and how you genetically lose fat overall).
The fix: Lose body fat by monitoring your diet and incorporating more cardio.
2. You try to spot reduce fat.
Repeat after me: there is no way to “banish belly bulge” or “fight the fat rolls” or “bust the beer gut.” End of story! Spot fat reduction just isn’t possible— fat reduction happens all over the body, not just in one area, and the way we lose fat has more to do with genetics than it has to do with exercises. Pear shapes often find they lose those flabby arms quicker, apple shapes often find that belly fat lingers, etc. And there is nothing that you can do to change your genetics, body type, or the way you lose fat. You can’t ab blast it away, crunch it into oblivion, etc. Fat loss happens to the body as a whole— not just one specific area!
The fix: Don’t buy into spot fat reduction gimmicks!
3. You over train your abs.
Experts recommend training the abs no more than 1-2 times per week. People seem to understand that when training a certain muscle group, that muscle group will need a few days of recovery time afterward— this time is critical for muscle repair, growth, and development. But when it comes to abs? People forget the basics of muscle recovery, and they adopt a “more is better” attitude. They follow ridiculous 30 day ab challenges, they aim for 250 crunches every single day, and they basically make it so that the muscle group they’re working so hard to build… has no recovery time to, you know, actually build itself! Not to mention that over training the abs can actually “bulk up” the midsection with the added muscle— making you look even bulkier than perhaps you’d like… yikes!
The fix: Train the abs no more than 2 times per week.
4. You do crunches.
Studies have shown that crunches are one of the least effective exercises for training the abs out there. And don’t even get me started on the havoc crunches can easily wreak on your back! Since the “crunch craze” blew up in the 80s though, this exercise has yet to disappear into oblivion— despite its ineffectiveness. In fact, a study conducted by Peter Francis, P.h.D showed crunches to be one of the least effective exercises for activating the rectus abdominus and oblique muscles. Bottom line: if you can do 100s upon 100s of a certain exercise, it’s time to move onto something more difficult, because you clearly aren’t challenging your body any more. Not only that, but you’re wasting your time! Why do 100s of a less effective exercise, when you could be more time efficient— by moving onto more effective, more difficult, and more advanced ab exercises that give you the same workout with only 10 or 20 reps?
The fix: Ditch the crunches. Some alternatives? Hanging leg raises, bicycle maneuvers, Russian twists, V-holds, and planks/plank variations.
5. You have the same routine.
Muscles, believe it or not, have memory; they can and will adapt to physical activity over long periods of time. We’ve all experienced this. The first time you try an exercise, you may struggle to complete even 10 reps. But keep doing that exercise over months, and eventually you’ll find that same 10 reps doesn’t even challenge you any more. Yet you’re not seeing any physical improvement! Why is that? Because your muscles are smart! They’ve developed in the most efficient way to perform THAT specific exercise, so while you may be able to do that exercise easier, you may not be seeing the muscle growth and muscle definition you’d like. Staying married to the same exercises and the same routine isn’t going to challenge your body to the level it needs to in order to see those ab muscles develop.
The fix: Incorporate several different ab exercises in your training program, and a good rule of thumb is to change your training program every 4-6 weeks.
6. You’re ignoring your bread and butter.
No, not in your diet! There are certain strength movements which emphasize core strength and core stability so much, I personally believe they should be the “bread and butter” to any successful training program. Your bread and butter strength movements? Squats and deadlifts. For those unfamiliar with these lifts, you might be apt to mistakenly assume that since these don’t “directly” focus on the abs alone, that you’re not really training the abs— this is 100% untrue! Squats and deadlifts are both compound movements, and they both engage the core to a high degree— for balance and stability. Leaving these lifts out of your training program is only short-changing your progress!
The fix: Make sure you’re incorporating squats and deads (with proper form) into your training program.