If there’s one body part that almost everyone wants to get a little more defined, it’s the abs. Scrolling through YouTube videos and fitness apps, there are countless core-themed workouts of all lengths and intensities. And this isn’t a new trend—go back a few decades to the ‘90s and you’ll find super popular workout videos like Abs of Steel (11 minutes) and 8-Minute Abs (self-explanatory). There was a lot more neon and slightly more bike shorts involved, but the goal has stayed the same: Get a toned midsection in just a few minutes. And as much as we understand the desire to tone your midsection, know that abs are not the marker of strength, fitness, or achievement. The truth is, getting defined abs isn’t just a matter of doing a ton of crunches, and factors like body types, genetics, and nutrition all make an impact. In fact, it's very difficult to achieve a six pack, so do not feel discouraged if chiseled abs aren't in the cards. However, if you want to target your midsection and tone the area, there are some things you can do.
Meet the Expert
Can You Get Defined Abs in One Week?
The short answer is most likely not. In order to see definition in your midsection, you have to have minimal body fat on your midsection, says Anna Victoria, trainer and creator of the Fit Body App. Average body fat percentages vary based on gender and fitness level: For example, women have higher body fat percentages than men, and athletes have lower percentages than average people. If you’re looking to decrease your body fat percentage, the American Council on Exercise recommends that 1% a month is safe and doable. So depending on your starting point, reducing your body fat can take time—certainly more than a week.
However, Victoria says if you already have minimal midsection body fat, you can see improvements in your definition by eating whole, natural foods and reducing bloating. If you don’t have minimal body fat, in a week you’ll see a reduction in bloating but not necessarily any additional definition.
What Are the Best Exercises and Workouts to Get Defined Abs?
Just because you won’t necessarily get that six-pack stat doesn’t mean you should abandon ab exercises altogether. Victoria says the best way to get defined abs is to engage your transverse abdominals (your deepest abdomen muscles, which run horizontally and wrap around your sides), regardless of whether or not you’re doing a targeted ab move. Some good news for people who hate crunches: “You actually do not need to do one sit-up or crunch a day in your life in order to get defined abs,” says Victoria.
Because your core is used in a variety of exercises, Victoria recommends you also target other muscle groups and simply engage your abs during other strength training moves. Squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts can all be amazing ab workouts if done correctly.
What Other Things Should You Consider in Trying to Achieve Defined Abs?
Your diet is a huge component of getting defined abs. “Abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen,” says Victoria.
Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, LDN, CPT, echoes that diet is key. You can get stronger, but the muscle will not necessarily show if you have a higher percentage of body fat. Some of this is genetic (e.g., not everyone can achieve six-pack abs), which is out of your hands (and totally okay!), but your diet and eating is within your control, so there are a few areas you can focus on.
Nutrition For Abs
Trying to exercise or eat your way to defined abs in a week is not realistic, and if you did try to make dramatic changes to have it happen quickly, it would result in changes that are unsustainable says Palinski-Wade. Instead, reducing body fat and building muscle definition should be long-term goals that are achieved by making small, realistic changes that you can stick with over a long period of time. Here are a few tips from Palinski-Wade to get started. (Note that different body types will respond differently to dietary changes—speak with a physician to determine the best and safest way to modify your diet).
- Reduce your sugar: Sugar can cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which tend to store body fat, so aim to reduce sugar to less than 10% of your total calories.
- Limit refined carbohydrates: Replacing refined carbohydrates with slowly digested, complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole wheat breads and legumes) may help reduce belly fat. Palinksi-Wade says to start by identifying your biggest sources of sugar and refined carbohydrates and swapping them with fiber-rich foods and lean protein. Over time, add in more vegetables and diets and reduce processed foods.
- Eat enough, but not too much: You need to eat enough to meet your daily needs, but too many calories—even those coming from quality foods—will cause your body to store excess energy as fat. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has some suggested ranges of caloric intake based on gender and physical activity levels.
- Eat protein: Consume 10%-30% of your calories from quality protein. Your body needs adequate protein to build and maintain muscle mass, so making sure to meet your protein needs daily can help you with your goal of building abdominal muscles.
- Have balanced meals: Palinski-Wade suggests that at each meal, balance your plate by filling it 1/3 with lean protein, 1/3 with a slow-digested carbs, and 1/3 with produce. This way, you’ll meet your nutrient needs, reduce added sugars, and still enjoy a satisfying meal.
American Council on Exercise. What Are the Guidelines for Percentage of Body Fat Loss? Updated Dec. 2, 2009.
Te Morenga L, Mallard S, Mann J. Dietary Sugars and Body Weight: Systematic Review and Meta-analyses of Randomised Controlled Trials and Cohort Studies. BMJ. 2013;346:e7492 doi:10.1136/bmj.e7492
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source. Carbohydrates.
American College of Sports Medicine. ASCM Information on ... Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance. Published 2015.