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15 Things You Should Know Before Trying To Get Shredded Abs

Here's everything the infomercials won't tell you.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

Everyone has their own unique goals for their health, wellness, and body. Some of those goals might have to do with body composition (whether for health or aesthetics). Not everyone cares about having a six-pack and that's just fine. But if you do or are curious about how it's done we wanted to provide the real deal, expert- and science-backed info on how to do it, free of promises about big body changes in a short period of time.

For this story BuzzFeed Life consulted three experts: Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University International in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and author of Strength Training for Fat Loss; strength and conditioning expert Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance; and Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition.

1. First things first: A six-pack is just a muscle that runs the length of your abdomen.

Thinkstock / Användare:Chrizz via Creative Commons / Via /

Meet the rectus abdominis aka the abs aka the long, flat muscle that runs vertically down the human abdomen. It's part of the core, or the muscles in the center of the body. These core muscles — including your abs — stabilize us while we're standing, control the head, neck, pelvis, and help us perform exercise or any vigorous physical activity from running and jumping to shoveling snow and raking leaves to lifting weights. Basically whether you're standing still or performing a feat of athleticism, your abs are helping you do it.

2. The way your abs look basically has to do with one thing: how much body fat you have.

3. For most people the first step will be figuring out how much body fat you'll need to lose.

4. Shedding fat will mean eating fewer calories than required to maintain your current weight.

Sally Tamarkin / Via

Basically, Tumminello explains, you want to shed body fat, which you can do by creating a caloric deficit, or eating fewer calories than necessary to maintain your current weight. To determine a ballpark for how many calories you should eat per day for your body composition goals, you can use this online calculator.

From there you will do some trial and error to make sure you are eating enough to have energy for life and exercise but are still losing fat at a reasonable (i.e., not too fast) rate.

Check out the example above. This 25-year-old male is 5-foot-10, weighs 190 pounds, and exercises three to five times per week. In order to maintain his weight, he should eat 2,872 calories per day. To lose one pound per week if he maintains the same activity level, he should eat less, namely 2,372 calories per day, and even less than that — 1,872 calories per day — if he wants to lose two pounds per week.

5. But you don't just want to lose any weight, you want to lose fat.

6. You'll also have to get serious and specific about full-body strength training.

7. And you'll also have to do some training specifically for your abs.

TheCoolThing / Via

In addition to your full-body strength training to gain muscle and reduce fat, you should also do exercises focused on your abs. Though it's not possible to spot-reduce fat (i.e., target a specific part of the body for fat loss like doing crunches for less belly fat), you can "spot-enhance," says Tumminello. "You can make muscle increase in density and size to bring them out more. You can create more developed, blockier looking abs."

But to do that, in addition to reducing the fat that's covering them up, you need to do abs exercises that really and truly challenge and overload your abs — more on how to that below.

(Buy this T-shirt on Etsy for $13.99.)

8. But you can't just do a million sit-ups, crunches, and planks to get bigger abs.

If you've ever seen someone banging out hundreds of reps of sit-ups and crunches you know exactly what not to do if you want a six-pack. Tumminello points out that training the abs should be like training any other muscle you want to get bigger. This means challenging your muscles with different kinds of workouts — some where you do more reps with lower weights, others where you do fewer reps using heavier weights — causing your muscles to overload, and then resting and recovering from your workouts adequately, all of which when taken together cause muscles to grow. Tumminello says that doing tons of reps of the same movement over and over can also cause injury and will not aid your goal of getting your abs to get bigger.

9. Start doing rollouts and pikes with a Swiss ball.

Lauren Zaser / Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

Tumminello says that abs exercises that also activate the shoulders or hips have been shown to be the most effective at activating the ab muscles.

His favorite two exercises for abs (also shown in a small study to beat out crunches and sit-ups in terms of how much they activate the abs) are the Swiss ball rollout and Swiss ball pike. Both are shown above and you can learn to do them both here.

10. Get ready to spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing food.

11. And be prepared to stick to your diet basically always and give up certain foods.

12. And also know that you'll have to prioritize rest and recovery, including sleep.

Your muscles don't grow when you're lifting weights. They grow when you're resting and recovering between workouts and the damage you did to them during lifting is being repaired. That's why taking rest days to truly chill and give your body a time out are crucial when it comes to getting results from your workout. This also means prioritizing sleep and relaxation and choosing, for example, a couple extra hours of sleep over staying up late.

13. All of this together means that your social life will probably take a hit.

Maintaining a strict diet 90% of time is almost definitely going to mean skipping not just favorite snacks or cocktails but also hanging out with friends. Tumminello says, "If we look at the social interactions we all have on a normal basis they’re designed around going out, having drinks and food, eating dessert. Doing that regularly isn’t conducive to physique stuff."

Unlike the average person who works out for what Tumminello calls "defense," or exercising so that they can enjoy the food they love without compromising their weight goals too drastically, eating for 10–12% body fat is an "offensive approach." Every single day you're thinking about how you can maintain a caloric deficit and get even leaner.

"There are memes that are jokes like 'No, I can't go to the movies because I have to go the gym.' That is really what these people are doing."

14. Try to be realistic about your expectations and remember that every body is different.

15. Don't forget to factor in enjoying friends, food, and life when you're deciding if you want to pursue a six-pack.

Bottom line: You have to want a six-pack more than you want happy hour cocktails, more than you want boozy brunch, more than you want to eat Nutella out of the jar, and more than you want to skip a workout.