The old adage "abs are made in the kitchen" is still kicking around. Unfortunately, so is the idea that crunches and hours of low intensity cardio is the best way to the highly coveted and elusive washboard abs. We are smarter and stronger, so why do we still see this combination of training when we are in the gym? How do we get abs? Well, like most of my answers to training-related questions, "it depends."

In order for any muscle to be defined, the following needs to be present:

  1. Development of the muscle
  2. Reduced body fat to see the definition of muscles

Development of muscle:

Abs, like other muscles of the body, require physical stress. Abdominal muscles are made through physical activity combined with the right fuel and recovery in order to grow. Applying the right training (intensity, time under tension, volume, exercise selection to name a few) to grow muscle applies, even to your abs!

Decreasing body fat:

Visible abs require a combination of lifestyle factors in order to happen. The main areas of lifestyle that require attention to have/keep killer abs are: exercise, nutrition, sleep and stress.


Knowing how to safely perform/adjust/program compound, multipoint movements will give you a big return on your investment. Not only are you training and challenging the body to keep a safe spine while you handle big movements, you are exerting more energy to complete these movements. This promotes a greater muscle building response and more total fat loss than crunches ever will. Stick to deadlifts, squats, presses and pulls for maximal return on time.


"Visible" abs are made in the kitchen. The right amount of the right type of fuel will get you growing muscle and burning body fat.

Start with gradual and sustainable changes so that you can get sustainable results. Most times doing an aggressive overhaul on a calorie restricted (= nutrient restricted) plan can lead to muscle loss and eventual regaining of fat or even more.

Stick to whole foods. Foods that are least processed will give you the nutrients you need to have energy and the least amount of artificial ingredients that can impede your progress towards those visible abs.

Include a variety of proteins, healthy fats, and carbs into your week.  Proteins are the building blocks to muscle. They also have the highest thermogenic effect, so you burn the most calories in order to digest them. Healthy fats help stabilize insulin levels and keep you burning fat. The sources include: nuts (most except peanuts), oils, avocado and various types of fish. Carbs usually get a bad rap when it comes to their involvement in the process. The truth is, you need carbs for muscle recovery/growth, replenishing muscle glycogen to be used as fuel for your next workout and brain function.

Stay hydrated. Water is essential to nearly all bodily functions. It gets your digestive system moving in the morning, staves off false hunger pangs and has a role in the detox process.


Give your body the time to recover/repair from your day's activities, detoxify and get it ready to handle what it expects you to throw at it later. Life is much harder on little sleep. Since your body is under stress and works harder to perform your daily tasks, it will not be working to get you ahead.


Good stress causes growth and bad stress causes a breakdown. When your body experiences stress, it does what it needs to keep you alive and in survival mode. It responds to physical stress at the gym by getting bigger, stronger, and more efficient.  Unfortunately, the uglier, more excessive type of stress from work or home is a counteractive way to manage your fat stores.

Abs can take time to develop, but here's a quick, killer ab workout:

Exercise - Reps - Variations

  • Hanging leg raises - 15 - roman chair
  • Palloff press - 12/side - standing, kneeling
  • Hollow plank - 30-60s - any variation of plank
  • Dead bug - 12/side - no movement of limbs

Complete one set of each and repeat the set two more times

Move slowly and stay focused on what you are trying to do. Keep a posterior tilt in your hips. All of these exercises are working against your effort and that's where the real work is.

Ab-solutely, your abs and lower back will thank you!