Abdominal muscles are riding on a wave of unprecedented popularity that shows no signs of waning anytime soon. To think of it, these were the least likely muscles to be spoken about in the golden era of bodybuilding.
But the social media generation is obsessed with abs. Me included.
At first a decent 4-pack was considered to be a milestone in fitness. Then any fitness buff worth their salt started to sport a ripped 6-pack and that became the go-to goal.
A few years later, some genetic outlier posted his pictures with a ripped 8-pack. The goal post had shifted and everyone who had a six pack were like, okay! How the hell do we get that?
Just when we thought that it couldn’t possibly get any more difficult, some random dude posts a picture of what ‘looks’ like 12-pack abs. As expected, the picture goes viral and suddenly, everyone has a new fascination to aim for.
When I first saw the picture a few months ago on social media, I was stunned. My first thought was, there’s no way this is real. But then, I found a few messaging board posts that spoke about the maximum number of separations one can have in the rectus abdominus.
Apparently, some people can be born with as many as six bands of muscle tissue that forms the packs. But there were a lot of people dissing that theory as incorrect.
That got me curious whether I too could be a genetic freak like that and be blessed with a 12 pack. Or even whether the 12 pack is for real. There was only one way to find out though.
I spent the next eight weeks eating, sleeping and breathing 12 packs. This is what I found out.
Is it Possible to Get 12 Pack Abs?
There’s only one way to naturally acquire a 12-pack. It’s to be born with it. There are other ways, which aren’t natural, with ab workouts like planks and push-ups, or the planche lean topping the list. But of course, there are others as well, which I will touch upon in a bit.
To know whether it is anatomically possible to get 12 pack abs, it’s important to understand what constitutes the abdominal muscles and the so called packs.
Anatomy of the Abdominal Muscles
The abdominal muscles can be divided into five components.
- The Rectus Abdominis – The primary muscle group that you see on the front of the torso
- The External & Internal Oblique – Commonly grouped together as the oblique muscles
- The Transversus Abdominis – Also called the Adonis belt at times.
- The Tendinous Inscriptions – Or the tendons that separate the rectus abdominus giving us the illusion of the packs.
The Tendons are what determines the number of packs you have on your abdominals. Each tendon runs horizontally on the rectus abdominis creating one pair of ab pack. The number of tendons you have multiplied by two is the number of abs you will have.
So, if there are three tendons on the rectus abdominis, you will have a six pack. If there are four tendons, you’ll have an 8-pack. Now, some people have very well developed lower abs which when clubbed with the oblique muscles creates an illusion of an additional pack of abs.
That explains the 10-pack abs. But till date, there have been no records of anyone born with 6 tendons separating their ab muscles.
In a nutshell, the 12-pack abs is either someone showing off their Photoshop skills, or it’s someone who’s at an extremely low body fat percentage and has a decent 10-pack. That clubbed with the right lighting, the right angles and it can create a very realistic illusion.
What Are My Options if I Wasn’t Lucky Enough to be born with 12 Pack Abs?
There are two viable options for anyone who desperately yearns for a 12-pack but was not born with it.
A decade ago, cosmetic surgery to enhance the appearance of a muscle group was a rare instance and generally frowned upon. Cut to today, it’s become more common than you’d imagine. In fact, it would be fair to say that most Instagram influencers who look picture perfect year round have gone under the knife at some point.
There are three types of surgeries that are primarily used to enhance the appearance of abs.
- Ab Etching – This is a minimally invasive procedure in which the thick layer of fat covering the abs are laser sculpted to make them appear more defined. The results depend entirely on your body composition. If you are at a very low body fat percentage already, but your abs are not visible, then ab etching will get the job done for you.
- Liposuction – Some people carry the most stubborn body fat on their bellies. No amount of dieting and exercise can trick the body into burning it for fuel. A simple liposuction might do wonders to improve the appearance of abs. In Liposuction, the fat on their bellies, or any targeted body part is extracted. Liposuction is generally preferred in young people, where the skin has enough elasticity to return to its normal form post-surgery.
- Abdominal Implants – Last but not the least, there’s abdominal implants. As implied by the name, silicone implants are inserted on the Rectus abdominis to create the illusion of a six, or in this case, 12 pack. Ab implants are expensive and the surgery is not without its risks. So most doctors would advise you against it. It’s generally considered as a last resort for people who are born without the tendons and hence, will not even have one visible pair of abs.
Trying to Create an Illusion of 12 Pack Abs
In most cases, the extremely well-defined abdominals that you see on Social Media are an illusion, with some generous help from Photoshop.
When a photographer once told me that he could help create an illusion of the perfect set of abs, I thought that he was talking about one of those crappy image editing apps that inserts an artificial pair of abs on your picture.
But turns out that he was talking about using lighting, angles and some sodium manipulation to make the abs appear longer and more defined than they really are.
The trick is to get your six or eight pack to pop. I mean really pop out. Drop your body fat to single digits, use any standard sodium manipulation protocol to get your muscles to look pumped and flush out any bit of water that your body might be holding under the skin.
That’s the tough part. Once you are ready, any photographer who knows their job will be able to create the perfect combination of lights and angles to create the illusion of a 10 or 12-pack. When your oblique muscles and the Adonis belt is extremely well defined, and your six pack is clearly visible, it creates a cohesive appearance.
This makes the abs appear a lot bigger than it really is. So, what’s a six pack can look like an 8 or a 10 pack. If you have an 8-pack, you can very easily make it seem like it’s a 12-pack.
How to Get The Best Out of What You Already Got
In reality, it doesn’t really matter whether you have a 6 pack or a 12 pack. As long as your abs are well defined and visible, most people don’t really care.
In fact, 90% of the population does not even have visible abs. So your first goal should be to drop your body fat low enough ( to be more specific, you need to get rid of belly fat) for your abs to be visible.
How to Make Your Abs Look More Visible
I am sure that you have heard of the clichéd quote of the millennium. ‘Abs are made in the kitchen’.
I tend to differ. They might be made in the kitchen. But they are formed in the gym. In a nutshell, you need both, a clean diet and targeted abdominal workout – whether you go with calisthenics or weight training is up to you.
The second part is hotly debated. But we’ll leave the debates for the experts and focus on what seems to work for majority of fitness buffs.
Lower Your Body Fat
Let’s start with the kitchen first. You have to lower your body fat for abs to be visible. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this.
I know that it’s tough as nails for most people. What makes this so challenging is that there’s no one size fits all. My best friend has visible abs when he’s at 16% of body fat. Dude is gifted.
But I have to drop below 11% for even a four pack to be visible. My lower abs don’t even appear until I am sub 10%.
That said, how do you lower your body fat?
There are many ways, methods and dietary techniques for accelerating lipolysis. But I recommend that you go the good old tried and tested way.
Calories in minus Calories out.
Eat fewer calories (whether by resorting to omad diet or fasting) than what you are burning and you will drop weight. To shift the weight loss towards fat loss, fix your macros.
Aim for 40% Protein and a 60% split of carbs and fats. I personally prefer going low carb because I have no problems adjusting to a low carb diet. But if you feel lethargic or get brain fog when you go super low carbs, you can even go medium carbs.
The reason I recommend low carbs is to prevent frequent insulin spikes. For your body to burn fat for fuel, insulin secretion has to be controlled or limited as much as it is naturally and safely possible.
When you consume protein, the insulin spike is minimal. Dietary fat does not trigger insulin in the short term. It’s a different story in the long run. But if you are going for abs, it would be fair to assume that you won’t be running such a diet year round.
So, control the carbs, up the protein (taking 2 protein shakes a day work wonders here if you’re not getting enough protein from your meals) and hit a calorific deficit of about 300-500 a day. You should have visible abs soon. One last thing, watch your sugar intake closely, if possible, I’d advise you stop eating sugar altogether, same with those snacks that pump up your calorie count in every bite.
Exercise Your Abdominal Area
There are a lot of conflicting theories on whether you really need to do targeted ab exercises to have well defined abs.
One theory suggests that if you are doing direct ab work, you might be overworking the muscle without giving it enough time to recover. That’s if you are performing multiple compound moves each week, such as sumo deadlifts, bent over rows and doing squats everyday. Each compound move engages your entire core, which includes your abs.
In fact, there are many athletes who never perform direct ab exercises but have absolutely ripped six pack abs. Having said that, unless you are a well-trained, elite athlete, I would recommend that you add in some direct ab work to your routine, even if it’s short intense cardio after workout with challenges like 100 push-ups, 100 sit ups and 100 squats.
It’s like the secret sauce that helps a lot in overall ab development. Will your abs be visible without direct ab work? Sure. If your body fat is low enough and you are giving it everything in your lifts, it might be visible anyway.
But will it be as defined as you probably want it to be? I don’t think so.
Best Exercises and Workouts for Making Your Abs Stand Out
To create the illusion of a 12-pack, you need to have equal definition in all three parts of your abdominal muscles. To that end, I have picked one exercise for each part. These exercises will mostly also engage other ab muscles. But it’s primarily for the muscle that I have mentioned.
Hanging Leg Raises – My Personal Favorite
I am going to start with a lower abs exercise instead of the conventional routine where people hit their upper abs first. The reason? If you are like most people, you probably have poor lower ab definition. That’s the primary reason to hit them first.
Besides, hanging leg raises are tough as nails. If you save them for the end, you are likely to be more tired. So, do it while you are alive and kicking.
Video – How To Perform It
Muscles Worked with The Hanging Leg Raises
The Hanging Leg Raises targets a whole bunch of muscles in the abdominal and pelvic region. But I’ll limit this to the two primary muscles that get engaged.
- Lower Abdominals – The leg raise will target the lower part of your rectus abdominis. If you have a six pack, this will be the lower two ab muscles near the belly button or just below it. When you perform a conventional crunch or any other ab exercise, the lower abs are either left out entirely, or inadequately engaged. This is an isolation move that lets you target the lower abs.
- Hip Flexors – The leg raise is also one of the best exercises to target both muscles of the hip flexors. The Sartorius and the iliopsoas are extremely critical to mobility and function.
In addition to this, it also engages the rectus femoris, the pectineus, and the adductor longus, which work in synergy to help you perform the move. The oblique muscle works as the stabilizer.
- Hang on a bar with an overhand grip.
- Now slowly raise your legs in front of you. Ideally, you should keep them straight. But if you find it too difficult, you can bend the knees slightly. As you lift the legs, tilt the pelvis back a tad and exhale. If you do this right, you’ll feel this in your abs.
- Raise the legs only as much as you can with good form. Ideally, the legs should be at 90 degrees to the hips and parallel to the floor at the top position. But even if you can only lift it a little less than 90-degrees, it’s fine.
- Now slowly lower the legs to the starting position, while inhaling.
Pro Tips – Do not jerk the legs. The movement has to be slow and controlled. Always pause for one count at the top position. Do not lower the legs fast. Also, ensure that you maintain the pelvic tilt all through the move.
Suggested Reps – Do as many as you are comfortable with in one set. Try to start with 30 reps in total and then slowly increase to fifty.
Rope Crunches – For Fast Results
Rope Crunches or Ab Pull Downs, no matter what you call them are one of the most beneficial ab exercises for overall ab development. But that’s not why I have featured them above conventional crunches.
Rope crunches add weight to your abs and are an excellent isolation exercise. A lot of people are skeptical of adding weights to abs. Well, abs are just like any other muscle group in your body and to induce hypertrophy, it has to be exposed to a continual and progressive amount of stress.
Weights will add that stress. This will get you the results you are looking for in a much shorter time span.
Video – How to Perform It
Muscles Worked with The Rope Crunch
The Rope Crunch is for the upper abs what the hanging leg raise is for the lower abs.
Rectus Abdominis – The Rope crunch is probably the best isolation exercise for the rectus abdominis. That’s the entire upper abs for you.
Oblique – It also involves the oblique muscles and you can target the oblique by twisting the torso slightly. But that’s an advanced variation. I recommend that you stick to the conventional version until you get your form absolutely right.
Attach a rope to the cable machine and sit on your knees beneath it, facing the machine. Grab the rope. Ensure that your hips are locked and your back is bent. Somewhat like the cat stretch with your scapula protracted and your spine arched. Pull the rope downwards until it’s about the level of your head. Now lower your elbows and crunch inwards, keeping your abs contracted. Pause for one count and slowly return to starting position.
Pro Tip – The key to doing this right is to keep the hip locked completely and starting with a bent back. You need to roll the torso forward and contract your abs. The spine goes from a full extension to full flexion.
Suggested Reps – The ideal number of reps depends on your experience with the exercise as well as the weight that you are moving. If you are going heavy, about 5 sets of 8-10 reps should be good. If you are going light, about 5 sets of 10-20 reps are good enough.
An easier exercise you can do if you find this one hard is double crunches, you might also want to consider exercise equipment like hack squat machines since they make it a lot easier to target the abdominal area.
FAQs About 12 Pack Abs and Workout
I believe that abs are one of the least understood muscle groups in the body. I mean, if you want bigger biceps, everybody knows that you’ve got to grab a barbell and lift heavy. But when it comes to abs, there’s so much misinformation out there that it’s impossible to not get lost.
Here’s a brief FAQ that aims to answer some of the common questions that I had when I was starting off in my fitness journey.
Can You Really Get Abs in 30 Days?
That depends on so many different things. What’s your current body fat percentage? Have you dialed down your diet? Do you have a plan on how you are going to approach your training and nutrition? How old are you? If you are at 18% body fat and have dialed down your diet, you can drop 3-5% in a month’s time. Ideally, that should reveal your abs. But if you are at 25% body fat, then 30-days will be a long shot.
Are There Supplements Needed to Get 10 Pack Abs?
The only supplements that can potentially help you to reveal your abs are fat burners. But that’s a shady industry and I’d recommend that you steer clear of it. Stick to a good old diet and exercise routine and you should be good to go. If you want to invest in supplements, grab a decent whey protein shake so that it helps you stick to your recommended protein intake.
Who Has the Most Abs in The World?
There’s no record for the most abs in the world. That said, IFBB Men’s Physique bodybuilder Mohammad Ali goes by the nickname ‘Mr. 10 Pack’. You can check out his Instagram Profile @ifbb_10_pack. The dude used to walk around with legit 10-pack abs in his competition days. The separations on his abs are just insane.
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