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Low body-fat levels are key to six-pack abs.
Flat abs are a byproduct of a bodybuilding lifestyle. Lifting heavy weights and following a fat-burning diet make your stomach flat, ripped and enviable. Bodybuilding requires devotion, commitment and perseverance. You can't just do a bodybuilding style abs workout and expect to create a midsection that look like it belongs on the cover of a fitness magazine. A flat stomach requires lifestyle intervention, not just a hard workout.
Low Body Fat
When in competition shape, a bodybuilder can hover around 3 to 5 percent body fat for men and 9 to 12 percent for women. These extremely low body-fat levels are why their abs appear flat and ripped. Abdominal exercises create strong muscles, but these sit under a layer of fat. A bodybuilder burns fat by combining heavy, compound lifts, high intensity interval training and proper nutrition.
Maintaining abnormally low body-fat levels isn't healthy for the long term, which is why bodybuilders aren't always in competition shape. Your abs will appear flat and muscular at body fat levels between 7 and 11 percent for men and 12 and 15 percent for women. For some women, these levels may be low enough to halt menstruation -- and may not be healthy.
Heavy, compound lifts train your abs and build muscle all over -- which is why they're a favorite of bodybuilders. Researchers from Appalachian State University published a study in a 2008 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" showing that squats and deadlifts, mainstays of bodybuilders, are as good, if not better, at activating the muscles of the trunk when compared to stability ball abdominal exercises. Instead of stimulating just the rectus abdominis, the front sheath of the abs, these moves call all of your abdominal muscles into play to assist with stabilization.
Chin-ups, step-ups and push presses are other exercises you should include at least three times per week to build muscle and recruit your abdominal muscles. When you build more muscle all over, you burn more calories from fat -- which also helps your abs pop.
You won't usually see bodybuilders heading out for a 10-mile jog. This type of training isn't conducive to muscle growth or flat abs. Sprint training, in which you perform short spurts of high-intensity exercise followed by periods of rest, helps encourage fat loss. A 2012 issue of the "Journal of Obesity" revealed that high-intensity interval training done for 20 minutes, three times per week for 12 weeks resulted in significant reductions in body fat and trunk size in overweight men. This type of training is done for just 15 to 30 minutes at a time, not long enough to cause your body to break down muscle -- an anathema to bodybuilders. You'll also stimulate the release of human growth hormone with sprint training, which helps encourage greater muscle growth and complements your resistance-training efforts.
It's a cliche but very true: Abs are made in the kitchen. Eliminate fried foods, processed sugar, refined carbohydrates and other processed, nutrient-poor foods. Instead, focus on watery green vegetables, lean protein and whole grains -- the clean diet of a bodybuilder. You should also focus on staying fully hydrated, which discourages water retention and diminishes hunger -- especially helpful if you're trying to cut back on food intake to lose a few pounds.
Specific exercises that target the abs are often part of a bodybuilder's abs routine, but they aren't as important as the other fat-loss efforts. Hanging leg raises, scissor kicks, medicine ball twists and standing rope crunches are moves bodybuilders employ to train their ab muscles. These moves help create strong abdominals so you can stabilize during heavy lifts and look ripped when you do lose the fat around your midsection.