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Are Six-Pack Abs Worth It?
Greatist Journeys explore amazing stories from extraordinary people. This guest post was written by Joel Runyon, author of Impossible HQ. He recently dropped 34 pounds in 8 weeks and got six-pack abs with Impossible Abs. For more from Joel, follow him on Twitter.
From magazines to movies, great abs are everywhere, and like most other males on the planet I’ve wanted to know exactly how to get a six-pack for as long as I could remember. I had gotten close on previous half-hearted attempts, but never quite there. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought the six-pack was reserved for Olympic athletes, A-list movie stars, and the guys from 300.
So, about a week or two before Greatist's founder Derek embarked on his #absperiment, I began my own impossible abs challenge: “Get six-pack abs and have a photo shoot to celebrate.”
I finally put my money where my mouth is, stopped making excuses, and decided to do it. After a friendly wager with a friend and the guidance of a fitness guru, in eight weeks, I was able to lose 34 pounds, drop down to 5.4 percent body fat, and get a six-pack without stepping foot in a gym.
I had finally done it! But man, was it tough. For a lot of people, the sacrifices simply won’t be worth it. There are two main things you’ll have to master in order to get six-pack abs.
Abs are made in the kitchen, and anyone who says differently is lying. Want to change the way you look? Change the way you cook.
Unfortunately, diet is usually also the hardest part. For my regimen, it meant saying no to the following things for eight weeks:
- Bread, pasta, and grains
- Almost all fruit
- Dessert, candy, and sugar in almost all forms
- Milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy by-products (including happiness).
That meant my diet was almost entirely made up of meat, vegetables, and eggs with a few almonds here and there. That’s hard enough to do from a discipline perspective, but it’s even tougher from a practical perspective.
This meant planning my meals out in advance so I’d have something ready to eat that wasn’t packaged. It also meant learning to trade out protein bars, fruit, or pretzels for a nice head of broccoli for snacks and bringing along beef jerky and almonds on trips. Yum?
While it was tough, throughout the eight weeks, I started to actually enjoy some of the foods and my taste buds began to change. Foods like dark chocolate (92 percent), which seemed bitter at the start but was downright sweet towards the end. Broccoli, which used to be nothing less than food torture, turned into one of my favorite foods. Avocado and coconut oil became staples in my meals I considered indulgences.
Notice I didn’t say "the workouts." With the right diet, you don’t have to kill yourself working out to lose fat. You just have to be consistent. Once you get into a rhythm, workouts are the easy (-ish) part.
It was much more difficult to navigate the social side of things. Explaining a new, restrictive diet to your friends is just as tough, if not tougher, than sticking to the diet in the first place. Conversations end up going like this:
“Want a beer/burger/ice cream?”
“Nah, I can’t — I’m on a fitness regimen.”
“I’m getting a six-pack in 8 weeks.”
“I’ve got a photo shoot in 8 weeks.”
“Haha, that’s funny.”
Those conversations happen daily and it’s hard to turn people down over and over again when they’re just trying to be friendly and welcoming. It can be awkward to explain your diet and goal to colleagues without being that guy and making them feel bad about their own health decisions. This is especially tough at first, but like anything, it gets easier and easier the more you do it.
Which brings us back to the question.
Are Six-Pack Abs Worth It?
Like any goal, the answer will vary broadly depending on your own personal goals and ambitions. So is it worth it? Based on the two big sacrifices I list above, here’s my assessment:
Six-Pack Abs Are NOT Worth It If:
- You simply don’t want to have to put in the work to get a six-pack. The journey takes a lot of dedication, and if you don’t want to work at it, it definitely won’t be worth it.
- You’re a performance athlete and have an upcoming performance event. While six-pack abs might make you look good for it, you won’t necessarily perform better because you have them.
- You could care less about the aesthetic appeal. Six-pack abs are purely a vanity metric, not a measurement of overall health or fitness. In fact, sometimes to get six-pack abs you’re going to have to do some things that are uncomfortable and borderline unhealthy (especially the last few days before the photo shoot). If you could care less about the aesthetic appeal, then getting a six-pack is probably not worth it.
- The idea of a “six-pack personal challenge” has no appeal to you by itself. Some people like challenges and the idea of one is enough to go and do crazy things. If this isn’t you, then it might not be worth it.
Six-Pack Abs Are DEFINITELY Worth It If:
- You enjoy the challenge. Six-pack abs are really hard to achieve and unless you’re a genetic freak, it’s a tough challenge, both physically and mentally. It’s a challenge that gives you an excuse to do stuff you’ve never done before. If you’re looking for a tough challenge, getting six-pack abs is a great one.
- You need a goal to help get you disciplined. There’s nothing like a deadline with a consequence to get your butt in gear and get disciplined. You’ll create a few hyper-disciplined habits throughout the challenge. Once you get there, you can be less restrictive and still maintain your overall fitness level.
- You want to look really good naked. Six-pack abs are a vanity metric sure, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, six-pack abs make for a great photo shoot. But, even after the shoot, you’ll be able to maintain most of your physique by implementing just 80% of what you did throughout your transformation.
So Was It Worth It?
For me, yes. I absolutely love challenges. While it was an incredibly tough experience, it was also worth it.
As Derek mentioned in his summary, the challenge can be lonely and difficult. Friends and family didn’t always understand why I wasn’t drinking, and some were even insulted when I turned down certain foods while going out.
But I stuck with it and started seeing results. As I did, my friends and family went from asking you, “What are you doing?” to “Why are you doing that” to “How did you do that?"
I began to understand that personal fitness isn’t a mystery — it’s a science. My body is a machine that will do whatever I’m willing to train it to do. It was an eye-opening moment when I realized that it was possible, even for a normal person like me, to get six-pack abs. Wow. It’s incredible what you can achieve when you have a goal, a plan, and a reason to stick with it.
Getting a six-pack is as much about achieving the physical goal as it is about the actual challenge of transforming your body, understanding what you’re capable of, and showing yourself that you can do things you never thought possible. It’s definitely hard, but yes, it’s worth it.
Have you ever tried for six-pack abs? Was it worth the time and dedication you put into them? Let us know in the comments below!
Comments Leave a comment
Yes. Six pack abs ARE worth it. I, however, prefer to kill myself on the workouts and cheat on the food. I don't drink, but love love love sweets. It is really hard for me though because as a woman I am supposed to keep some body fat and anytime I get close I start getting flack from doctor, husband, etc, that I look too skinny. The hardest part for me is that tummy fat was the last to go. Basically, I've traded boobs for a 4 pack. I've never had a problem with the social aspect or feeling lonely. I've found friend who'd rather go for a 3 hour bike ride than go out for drinks. Great job! You look amazing.
@evilforestgnome I'm surprised you can cheat on the foods so much. Diet was key for me. I have a sweet tooth too and finally figured out a few ways to deal with it - http://joelrunyon.com/two3/how-to-deal-with-a-sweet-tooth
It's still there, but it's manageable :). Thanks!
I've had some before and currently trying to get then again. I think they are worth it since they make you feel good.
I'm just doing it with the diet this time. It's very bizarre, but working very well.
@Jamie Alexander diet is 80% of the equation. Glad you're having success Jamie :)
Congrats for going through the 6 pack challenge.
I don't believe in having a 6 pack at all, mostly due to the borderline health risk involved by having the body fat percentage below the safe number, but fair play to you for going all the way :)
@LucianIon You don't have to go below a "safe number." There's plenty of people that maintain 6% body fat throughout the year with no problems at all.
Derek, in his absperiment dropped to about 9.4% (http://greatist.com/fitness/absperiment-over-week-six/), which is more than healthy to maintain long-term. Can you point to any medical studies on 9% being below a "safe level?"
Great article Joel.
Being over 40 and almost 60lbs overweight. This six pack challenge, which starts for me tomorrow is a life saver. Carrying all this fat around my gut is going to kill me. I finally get the diet is 80% of the results, seeing how i worked with a personal trainer last year for six months.
I worked my ass off, but ate like crap, and at the end of it all, i weighed the same and still felt like crap. Tomorrow i start the challenge and i will lose 40lbs in the 8 weeks, and the final 15lbs 4 weeks after that.
I thank you again Joel, and if you are reading this, will shake you hand in person in the near future.
@railmanyes Fair play to you :)
Good luck in your challenge...
keep us posted on how you are getting on.
@railmanyes Awesome Patrick :)
Can't wait to see what happens. If you have any questions - let me know.
I have a question about fat burning. How long, or how many days does it take after cutting out the sugar an carbs does it take to really begin burning the fat, and if you have a cheat day with some heavy carbs, does it take the body days again to get into the fat burning.
@railmanyes @joelrunyon Fat is burnt when you consume less energies (calories) than your body needs to do it's daily activities. Look up your TDEE.
@Six_Pack_Shack @railmanyes @joelrunyon you're referring to weight loss, but fat loss is more than complicated than calories in vs. calories out. To achieve fat loss, you need to address food quality & makeup.
@railmanyes it depends on your body.
You'll likely experience a carb crash (drop in energy) the first week or so where you're not eating carbs and your body is still learning to effectively burn fat. However, after 7-10 days, most people adjust just fine and report higher levels of energy.
You might want to read the following links below as well:
did you do any kind of exercise? love to hear what that regime was like - clearly diet was key, but curious about your work outs, too.
@aapino hey man, I cover some more of those details in this blog post- http://joelrunyon.com/two3/how-i-got-six-pack-abs . Lots more details, including my workouts/reps/full-diet are included in the actual program if you're interested in that.
Great advice, if you want six pack abs you have got to eat right. So many people wrongly believe that they can eat whatever they want as long as they work out.
Abs are not just vanity muscles because it is helps in improving your posture, strength, balance, coordination as well as speed. If you look at most of the top athletes in whatever physical sport they all have defined ab muscles. It helps you perform better at very physical sports where you need strength and speed example tennnis, football, rugby, netball etc. You don't see a lot of top athletes in those sports with big bellies do you?
As it has to do with the borderline health risks of obtaining six pack abs there is none. Muscle is always good. Starving yourself won't get you a six pack. You have to eat a lot of food but high quality good food.
For those interested check out the Paleo Diet. It is a great way to get lean:
This post couldn't have come to my inbox at a better time. I'm doing a similar challenge, and at ten days in I've noticed results but also the loneliness and pure horror when I ask for very specific preparations at restaurants if I'm left with no choice when traveling. Just what I needed to hear to push through the next four weeks and beyond. Thank you!
@Shelby206 Hey Shleby! I know EXACTLY how you feel :). Don't worry about it, it gets easier over time and if you act comfortable and confident asking for it - a lot of times your server/host won't want to disappoint.
Let me know If I can help at all :).
To be fair, though, part of the challenge for both you and Derek is that you were doing it in such a short time, right? I mean, I understand that if you want to get and keep six pack abs you need to be pretty consistently good about your diet, but I don't think it's quite as extreme as you make it out to be if you're not as concerned about a deadline. 34 pounds in 8 weeks is pretty crazy and would obviously require a super strict diet.
Lol. Apparently Morgan and I had the exact same thoughts at the exact same time.
@Morgan B The deadline was important as I had a small window of opportunity to finish the goal. You'll see most things on my site have to do with "challenges." While I tend to eat similar to this normall, I'll be running an upcoming ultramarathon which is sort of a different challenge and requires different concessions - hence the timeline.
5.4? Probably more like 8-9. People consistently under-estimate BF %s. I have read this article and the one that Derek wrote. I am perplexed by both writer's idea that it takes horrific levels of sacrifice to achieve and maintain this level of BF. Perhaps you are both talking about achieving this in such a short time from a higher BF %. Any kind of crash diet (that's essentially what you two have put your bodies through) does take a fair amount of willpower. But I know several guys, myself included, that have been maintaining a six pack for over a decade. It's not even so much as a thought at this point. Furthermore, in the last two years, Intermittent Fasting makes maintaining this BF % a pretty mindless process.
@robertcwellsiii Great minds, etc. I've been dabbling a little in IF the last few months, mostly just not eating breakfast. Are you on any particular IF plan?
I'll say, generally yes. I generally do a 14-15 hour fast during the week. From about 10 pm - 1:30-2 where I break the fast with lunch. I do this most (3-4) days of the week unless a) I don't get enough sleep (need foodz for da energeez) b) I really need to be on my game that morning (reports due etc.). On days I workout at 7 am, I have BCAAS before and every other hour after the workout until I break the fast. On days I workout after work, I have nothing before "Lunch". Just coffeez and da waterz.Usually about once a weekend, I'll do a longer fast (Once again, this is all pretty mindless and unplanned at this point. I suppose I plan it out if perhaps I know there's gonna be some kind of feast / event / big dinner one night). In which case I'll also usually workout before the dinner, but not always. I'll fast till maybe 6-7 p.m. or so. I'll also usually combine this with a long walk or stretching. I'll have some BCAAS if I workout. But otherwise, black coffee and water.
On days I workout, I break the fast with some carbs. On days I don't, I tend not to. Like I said, it's all pretty mindless at this point. Training is likewise. Just make sure it's training and not "working out". Have goals that the training can align with. Diet is 70% of people's problems. Working out that doesn't make sense and no goals is the other 30%. To that point, no wonder this seemed so hard. Working out 6 days a week is pretty unrealistic for a working professional. It may have served his purpose for dropping weight quickly (although I'd argue he could have done it more effectively without....note the emaciated look, he lost a fair amount of muscle mass...but I also understand the "no gym" restriction).
@robertcwellsiii @Morgan B For what it's worth - I'm a working professional too :)
@joelrunyon @Morgan B I don't want to get way off track. What I'm getting at is that I think you should emphasize the "8 weeks" aspect of it, as well as the choice to use bodyweight only exercise, not the achieving low levels of bodyfat. I think for a site about fitness, you are unfortunately selling an overhaul, which is similar to biggest loser, and all this other quick pill garbage out there.You did a great job of showing what can be accomplished in a short amount of time, using limited equipment. But then asking "if it's worth it?" implies that this wasn't some fitness binge. I just think that most people have the wrong ideas about what it takes to achieve low levels of bodyfat and decent muscularity. It doesn't have to be a workout 6 days a week, cut out all fruit, "binge". I do think everyone should push themselves every now and then to see how far they can push themselves in a short amount of time, which is what you did, and I applaud you for that. But that spartan level of commitment is just not needed or realistic for most people.Good luck on the ultramarathon!
@robertcwellsiii Hey Robert! Not an estimate. Actually got it measured. You can find more details here - http://joelrunyon.com/two3/how-i-got-six-pack-abs
@joelrunyon @robertcwellsiii I'm trying not to come off as an ass here....but "Under the same testing conditions, it shows within an average of +/- 2% of percent body fat." That's from their own website. And if I was a gambling man, I'd say that as you get nearer to minimal levels of bf %, the margin of error increases.
I LOVE what you said about "The Friends". I'm running up against that now, and I gotta be honest..I don't mind being "that girl"! It's been amazing! Even my mum's getting the hint..and it's only taken 6 months. Thanks for putting that piece in! It's imperative (or at least it has been for me) to have people who are going to respect it.