Unlike what many "fitness gurus" would lead you to believe, getting abs is not super complicated. You CAN get the abs of your dreams if you follow 4 simple steps and work consistently. If you want the TL;DR version, head to the recap.
Without further ado, let's jump straight into it.
There are 3 states of calorie balance. Calorie deficit (when you're eating below your daily recommended calorie intake), calorie maintenance (when you're eating the calories needed to maintain your current weight) or calorie surplus (when you're eating above your recommended daily calories). We have a layer of fat above our abs that stops them from popping and in order to get rid of that, we need to burn off that fat. This means we have to be in a calorie deficit.
A calorie deficit means that you are burning more calories than you're consuming - as there is more going out than coming in, your body will start to burn fat as an energy source. That's what we want. How do you work out the calorie deficit you need?
Calculate your TDEE (your total daily energy expenditure). This is the total amount of calories you burn a day and how much you should be eating to be at calorie maintenance. You take this number and subtract anywhere from 10 to 25%. 10% will give you a low-calorie deficit and 25% will give you a higher calorie deficit. Example:
If my TDEE is 2200 calories a day and I want to subtract 20% (to be in a moderate calorie deficit) my new calorie intake would be 1760 calories. As your body burns fat, your TDEE will change and adapt and you'll need to revisit this number every few weeks.
Macros refer to the macronutrients in the food we eat. They are fat, protein and carbs. You need all three for a healthy balanced diet. Many people are already at a relatively normal weight, they just need to change their body composition (the ratio of fat to muscle). This is where macros come in handy. You don't need to calculate your macros to see your abs but you'll get your results a lot quicker.
Once you work out your TDEE and what your calorie deficit needs to be, calculate your macros. Most people will be somewhere around 50% of their diet as carbs, 30% of their diet as protein and then 20% of healthy dietary fat. I have a plant-based macros cheat sheet that shows you great alternatives to meat and dairy. Also, Damned Ripped has a great calculator that will work out not only your calorie deficit but also your macros split.
GYM AND BODYWEIGHT EXERCISE
Most people understand the first one or two concepts, but step 3 is where everyone seems to get lost. People think that if you do 100 ab crunches a day or super complex workouts, that's when their abs will show. When you do countless repetitions, you train your muscles for endurance not strength. In order to see results, you need to apply progressive overload to your workouts.
In the gym, this means you would slowly increase the amount of weight you use. Once your workout starts to become easier, add more weight but in small increments. Amazing machines for this are the Ab Crunch Machine and the Cable Obliques Machine.
If you don't have access to a gym, you can use your body weight instead but still need to apply progressive overload. Make your workout increasingly difficult by doing weighted ab exercises (e.g. you could but a backpack on your stomach will a water bottle and increase the number of bottles or use a weighted vest).
Abs are a great finisher, so you can tack them on to the end of your full body work out / arms/legs days rather than trying to squeeze in ab workouts on alternating days.
Contrary to what people think, muscles are not built in the gym or during exercise, they are built in the recovery phase. During this time, your body starts to repair the muscle that was ripped/damaged during your workout (don't worry, this is a good thing!) and knits your muscle tissue back together bigger and stronger. If you never give your muscles time off to repair and grow, you'll negatively impact your results. You should give yourself 2-5 days of recovery before training the same muscle group (depending on how intense your workout is).
This is a goal that takes time. Create S.M.A.R.T. goals and manage your expectations so that you celebrate little milestones which motivate you to keep going. Fat loss is not a race. Consistency is the key here and if you set your goals as long term rather than expecting a quick fix, you WILL get there. Fat loss is just as much of a mental game and I explain everything, including the psychology of weight loss in my nutrition and fitness planner.
In 3 minutes, I've just shown you how to get abs. It really is that simple.
Calculate your TDEE and be in a calorie deficit (revisit this number every few weeks)
Calculate your macros and eat accordingly within your calorie deficit
Train your abs using progressive overload either in the gym or at home
Allow your abs to recover - muscles are grown during rest, not during your work out!
Still want help? Get the only planner you'll ever need.