Monty Python and the Holy Abs

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Okay Monty Python, grab your coconuts, load up your “horse,” and get started on your quest for those rock-hard abs you’ve always wanted.

I’m going to guess for most of you, abs are the Holy Grail of physical fitness.  Ryan Reynolds had abs that were so defined on Blade 3 that one writer assumed he had ab implants.  The actors in 300 became famous not just for their biceps and pecs but more for their abs that looked painted on.  Everybody is after them, but nobody can find them!

So what’s the deal? Are people looking in the wrong place?  Or are some people just genetically blessed with abs and others aren’t?  Let’s get one thing out of the way first.

95% of all Fitness Marketers are Full of ****

Think of the last 10 infomercials you’ve seen on TV (Weezer Snuggies don’t count).  I’d guarantee 2/3rds of them are designed to “give you a flatter stomach” in just a few minutes a day, three times a week!  Let me know any of these sound familiar:

These are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.  They’re all designed to “target your upper and lower abs, work those obliques, and build a set of sexy abs you’ve always wanted!”  New ab machines pop up every other day, and unfortunately people keep buying them!  You’re like Sir Galahad, chasing the Holy Grail into a building of ridiculously attractive women: sure it might make you feel better about yourself in the short term, but it ain’t gonna get you what you really want in the long run.

So why don’t these machines work?

Muscle is Different from Fat

If you’re a female, you’ve probably said “I want to tone up” at some point in the past.  If you’re a dude, you probably want to get “ripped.”  Here’s how it works: you have your bones, then muscle on top of your bones, then on top of the muscle you have fat, and then on top of the fat you have skin.

These are completely different materials.

Your muscle doesn’t turn into fat if you stop working out, and your fat doesn’t turn into muscle if you exercise all day long.  If you just eat better, you WILL lose fat but you won’t build muscle.  If you eat like crap but lift weights like crazy, you could have a body like Ryan Reynolds trapped inside a body that looks like Jabba the Hutt.


What this Means for your Stomach

It is 100% impossible for you to spot remove fat. If you have fat on your gut, doing crunches all day long will NOT get rid of the fat.  Depending on your genetic makeup, your body stores fat in various amounts in certain locations.  For chicks, it’s usually thighs and butt.  For dudes, it’s usually the gut.  You have absolutely NO control where the fat gets stored, and you have no control where the fat comes OFF your body once you start eating right and exercising.

You know what that means? 10,000 crunches a day will do almost nothing to reduce your beer gut (other than help with the calories you’ve burned doing the exercises).  The crunches will build up the muscle under your fat, but the fat isn’t really going anywhere.  So what’s the secret?

Ehhhh, I don’t want to spill the beans…

Get on with it!  Yes, GET ON WITH IT!

Okay, I’ll tell you.  Your abs are a direct correlation of your body fat percentage!  (Boring, I know).

  • Guys, unless you have a body fat percentage below 10%, you won’t see your abs.
  • Girls, unless you have a body fat percentage below 12-14%, you won’t see your abs.

You probably have a great set of abs right now (if you do any sort of weight lifting), you just can’t find them underneath all the fat.  This means that if you’re interested in “toning up” or “getting ripped” it is 95% DIET.  If you’re serious about developing a good looking stomach, it all comes down to what you eat.  Because you need to get to a really low body fat percentage, you need to be extremely dedicated with each meal.  It’s boring, it’s a lot of work, and it’s really difficult.  This is why most people don’t have abs.

Here’s my advice for all of those ab machines: don’t spend a single dime on an ab machine EVER. It is a complete waste of time.  Planks, side planks, and crunches on a stability ball are more than enough to work your abs.  Exercises like squats and deadlifts work your abs and core like CRAZY.  These are the only two exercises I do to work on my abs.

Enough about exercises though, let’s talk about what you’re eating.

Here’s How to Fix Your Diet

Analyze everything you eat, and find out where you can cut calories. (Remember 500 less calories a day = 1 lb of body fat loss per week). You can’t target specific areas of fat on your body; as you exercise more and eat healthier you’ll lose body fat all over.  It’ll probably come off your stomach last, so be patient and stick with it.  Once your body fat percentage drops into the single digits, you’ll start to see those abs you’ve quested after for years.

Okay so lets review what you need to do if you want a good lookin’ stomach:

  1. Eat less. Seriously. As they say “abs aren’t made in the gym, they’re made in the kitchen.”  Which is a really dumb phrase, but 100% true.  If you want to see them, you need to drop your body fat below 10%, so start by eating less!  This is 90% of the battle.  More important than eating less…is eating healthier.  You can do so by:
  2. Cut the crap out of your diet. No processed foods, no liquid calories, lots of veggies and lean meats.  Fruits and nuts are good too.  Follow a Paleo Diet to drop your body fat percentage the quickest.  I cut my BF% almost in half in three months, from 11% down to 6% following this type of diet.
  3. Sweat more. So you want to impress chicks on the beach huh?  RUN.  Better yet, SPRINT on days you’re not lifting weights or doing a body weight workout.  Have you ever seen an Olympic sprinter not have crazy abs?  Interval training for the win!
  4. Build your core – Squats and deadlifts work your core like crazy.  If you’re not a fan of these two exercises (and you should be), do exercises like planks, side planks, stability ball crunches (not crunches on the ground), and jumping knee tucks.  Notice there isn’t a single mention of a normal sit up or crunch.  Your abs are muscles too, so don’t work them two days in a row, they need to recover.  Honestly though, these exercises are such an afterthought compared to your diet when it comes to your abs.

How can you tell when you’ve got abs? The easiest most accurate way to determine if you have abs is this: look in the mirror.  Do you see abs? You have a body fat percentage below 10%.  Don’t see abs?  You DON’T have a low enough body fat percentage yet.  It’s science.

Now, if you’re looking for a more accurate measurement of your body fat percentage, I recommend picking up an Accumeasure Body Fat caliper.  It’s super cheap, and it works just as well as any of the other way more expensive methods.

Good luck in your quest, brave knight.



photo: JoeBone

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    35 thoughts on “Monty Python and the Holy Abs

    1. Very nice post. I literally laugh every time I see that dumb Ab Circle Pro commercial on TV. Those people look so ridiculous. I also can't tell you how many times I have tried to explain to people that losing weight starts in the kitchen. You can go to the gym as work your butt off, but if you still eat badly, you will not see the progress you really want. I laughed at the Ryan Reynolds/Jabba the Hut comparison….good way to put it!

    2. Hey Moepower, thanks for the comment man!

      Yeah, the ab circle pro is freaking ridiculous. I think the winner has to
      be the hawaii chair though. What's sad is I could probably develop an ab
      machine, market the hell out of it, and make a fortune. Don't think I could
      look myself in the mirror though.

      -NF Steve

    3. I had a friend with an Ab Lounger – an invention which is proof that people think that they don't have to get off their duff in order to look good. It was a comfy chair to sit in, though, just not practical.

      Also, have you looked into the difference between white fat and brown fat? Brown fat is something that comes up at swim practice every once in a while, and it's prevalent mostly in Swimmers and cold weather athletes. I need to do more research on it, really.

    4. I hope one day there actually IS a product that can spot-remove belly fat. Why? Cause people would look RIDICULOUS having ripped six-pack abs but the rest of their body was all jiggly. People would probably look worse off than before, being all out of proportion. You'd think common sense would override any idea of buying into one of those ab localizers… has anyone ever existed that had both arm flaps and a sweet core?

      Keep up the mythbusting Steve!

    5. Bahaha, the ab lounger! That actually might not be so bad because it is a
      full range of motion for your stomach and lower back, but good lord do you
      look ridiculous using it.

      I'll have to look into white fat and brown fat. Hope all is well m00se!

      -NF Steve

    6. I actually knocked his lava-lamp off the shelf and broke it with the ab lounger. Those things aren't safe in confined areas. D:

    7. I think people also have to understand that you can be in great shape and not have a six-pack. I know that the 6-pack is held up as the pinnacle of fitness, but I've seen many professional athletes who are not “ripped” but can run circles around me. I work out every day, consider myself to be in good shape, and have 16% body fat the last time I checked. But I don't have a 6-pack.

      Life is about choices. I could try to go that extra mile to get in under 10% body fat and the six-pack. But that would also mean giving up “cookie Thursdays” at work or not splitting a dessert with my wife when I go out to eat. I lead a healthy lifestyle with the occasional indulgence. That means I have to accept the fact that I won't have 6-pack abs. I'm ok with that.

    8. hey Brent,

      Great point man. One I definitely should addressed in the post. You can
      certainly be in amazing shape and not have a six pack. It comes down to
      what you want out of life and what you're happy with. If you want to lose
      your gut and get in shape, taking things to the extreme isn't necessary.
      However, if you really want to get a six pack (abs, not beer), you're really
      going to need to work for it, and even then your genetics might be fighting
      you the entire way.

      Well said.

      -NF Steve

    9. I wanted to say that I see you are a big fan of interval training (I love Tabata myself, can't get enough). You struck me as one of those people who would have a Gymboss already instead of a stopwatch!
      And thank you for the advice on changing my diet! I know I've changed it significantly (I have certain things I can't eat anymore), but knowing the stuff on this site is great to know!

    10. Just a comment about your “How To Fix Your Diet” part…I've always been a girl never to eat breakfast, small meals, I basically was anorexic, except I've always been overweight. I never ate enough and that was my problem. I still have a hard time eating all the food my body needs because I'm so accustomed to not eating! I used to FORGET to eat! So for a girl like me, I have to think the other way around when people say eat less.
      It's not difficult for me to eat healthy food, I love vegetables and fruit is the BOMB!! I need meat in my diet or I don't function properly, I know my body doesn't like bread too much, it basically makes me feel crappy. The only thing I maybe have difficulty with is dairy. I have asthma, so dairy gives me more mucous, which doesn't help my breathing, so that's tricky. To top it off, I could live without gummies, sour chews, skittles, smarties, m&ms, you name it (except chips and occasionally chocolate 🙂 ). So the only thing *really* screwing up my weight is not eating enough.
      I know a lot of people have trouble eating less, but there are people who don't realize that they need to eat MORE!

    11. Every Other Day Diet Review – Every Other Day Diet program is designed to help people lose weight in a healthy way without making them give up their favorite food. In fact, Jon Benson this guide creator of this program states that this is the only way to lose weight in a healthy way and to keep it off into the future.

    12. You know, I've heard such great things about the Gymboss, I just haven't got
      around to picking one up yet!


    13. You know, I've heard such great things about the Gymboss, I just haven't got
      around to picking one up yet!


    14. Now I finally understand when I was 145lbs and thin why I couldn’t get abs, body fat percentage!!!

    15. This is more like it, nonsense advice for getting abs!

      For me this has worked the best:

      1) The Paleo Diet
      2) HIIT combining bodyweight exercises and kettlebells
      3) Cutting out processed foods
      4) Building the Large muscle groups
      5) Cardio first thing before eating anything

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