Keeping a six pack while drinking a six pack?

We’ll maybe.

People have six pack abs because their muscles can be seen. Most of the time it’s because the person is lean – usually less than 10 percent body fat – to maintaining this level of leanness requires fairly strict adherence to a clean diet. However, this summer I saw something that changed the way I view ab training. I rode past a guy who had really big ab muscles. It wasn’t that they were well defined it was that they looked like Mr. Olympia abs on an average sized guy. It wasn’t until I got back to the gym that I realized the significance of what I saw.

I had been on vacation, camping in the east coast of Canada, and I hadn’t done any ab work. I had brought my bike and I got at least 2 hours of riding in everyday, but I had also brought along my bad camping habits, eating a box of cookies and drinking 3 or 4 beers a night. I gained a few pounds and lost some muscle mass from my upper body. Sadly, my 6 pack was gone, buried under a layer or two of too much enjoyment.

When I got back to the gym and training, I noticed that my ab muscles were still really hard. In fact, they didn’t feel like they had gotten any smaller and when I went though my routine it was clear that I had lost very little strength. The only difference was a layer of fat. Then it struck me, if I want to have my abs visible but don’t want to have to constantly worry about what I eat, just make the ab muscles big enough to be seen through the layer of fat. That’s what I had seen on the guy in the summer, huge ab muscles that were visible regardless of what was in front of them.

That was the day I change the way I train my abs. I made the decision to make them as big as I could so that they could be seen, even when I wasn’t paying particularly close attention to what I was eating. It meant treating them like a large muscle group (having their own specific training day and prioritizing their training). This was new to me, and from what I read it is not done by most people.

I used to treat my abs as an after thought, throw in a couple of sets whenever I felt like it and I’d always try to get a good burn from contracting the muscles very hard instead of working to make sure they were fatigued as a result of the weight they were lifting. I would also tear through the sets as quickly as I could to get them over with. Once I slowed down and focused on tiring the muscles completely, I began to see results. The hanging leg raises, weighted cable and DB crunches, and weighted machine crunches replaced my body weight only exercise that I had been doing to create defined hard muscles. The outcome has been fantastic. My body fat ranges between 8% and 12% and I have a six-pack regardless of where it stands. My body looks better when I’m carrying less fat, but my abs are always there.

If you listen to one thing, listen to this…

If someone was to ask me to give one piece of advice it would be this: eat only enough so that you are hungry in 3 hours and then repeat. I think it makes the biggest impact to overall health.

I say this because:

  • Digestion is very taxing on the body. Eating smaller meals avoids this.
  • Digestion can break down nutrients contained in food, lessening digestion time can increase the nutrient yield from a meal.
  • Quickened food absorption into the blood will help to stabilize sugar levels, allow for more consistent energy levels and the quick availability of nutrients improves exercise recovery potential.
  • Complete digestion improves bowel movement frequency and consistency.
  • Most junk or fast food meals cannot be digested quickly enough to be consumed automatically increasing the quality of the food that you eat.

Moving to this type of eating can be difficult however, as it requires a fairly substantial change in your eating habits. The three square meals a day approach that most of us were raised on was based on the need to maintain an 9-12 hour work day, allowing for big enough sized meals that would help someone avoid hunger until the next meal. This approach is effective at doing this, but it isn’t ideal for most people any more, given that we have improved freedom to eat whenever we need to vs. whenever we are allowed to.

The consequence to not eating whenever we need to, or to eating to avoid hunger for longer than 3 hours is fat gain unless you are particularly active. I say this because the body adapts to getting food every 5-6 hours and will come to rely on transient body fat to fuel energy requirements not met through eating – those periods of time when a meal is being digested and has no impact on blood levels. If we introduce food every 3 hours, we decrease the reliance on body fat to power our energy needs.

It will take you about a month of eating smaller meals every 3 hours before it becomes part of your daily life, but you can enjoy the improved health benefits after only a week or so. If your schedule and work allow for it, give it a try. It’s helped me add lean muscle mass and lower my body fat.

What did you learn last year?

Here is lesson 6 from the 13 things that Eric Cressey learned in 2006:

You see, goodwill — the willingness to help others — never runs out unless you allow it to by your own ignorance. These guys offered me tremendous information and expected nothing in return, but now that I’m in more of a position to help them out, their goodwill has paid off.