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7 Reasons You Can’t See Your Six-Pack Abs

What’s the point of all those sit-ups if you don't get that ab definition? Here’s why you’re struggling to see the fruits of your efforts.

It takes a lot of work to get well-defined abs. We’re talking relentless hours of exercises devoted to burning belly fat and core exercises in order to achieve that fitness vanity project that is a spectacular set of six-pack abs. So when your efforts aren’t yielding noticeable results, it can be downright embarrassing.

There are several reasons you could be having trouble seeing those ripples across your midsection, from what you ate for dinner to which moves you’re doing at the gym. We’re not saying that addressing all items on this list will miraculously result in the six-pack you’ve been dreaming about, but it will be a step in the right direction.

You’re working the wrong muscles. A lot of guys confuse a strong core with a six-pack. They are not the same thing. You can have the leanest, toughest mother-of-a-mid-section in the world, but if you’re not working your vanity muscles, you won’t get that ripple effect. Crunches and sit-ups work the rectus abdominus — the muscles near the top of your midsection. But the obliques, the largest, outermost muscles that begin along your side and wrap towards the front, play an arguably bigger role in defining your six-pack. You can work this muscle group by doing side planks. And don’t forget to work your transverse abdominus, the deepest abdominal muscle that helps hold you erect: You can strengthen it by doing glute bridges.

You’re eating too many vegetables. You have the right idea: Choose broccoli and kale in place of chips and cookies to lower your weight and reduce body fat. But cruciferous vegetables come with a small problem. They give you gas, which makes you bloated and disguises the six-pack. Your body will ultimately adjust to its new fiber-rich plan, but until then, mix up the broccoli with zucchini and asparagus, vegetables with a lower propensity to inflate the gut.

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You’re working out too much. It’s tempting to make every day a core day when you’re in pursuit of such a lofty goal, but any fitness pro will tell you that gains in performance happen not when you’re working out, but when you’re at rest. That’s when all those microscopic muscle tears from the previous sweat session repair themselves, knitting fibers back together in a stronger pattern to strengthen the muscle. If you never allow for recovery, you never allow for the process of growth.

You drank too many beers. Not necessarily because of the extra calories (although that matters as well), but because an excess of carbonated liquid sloshing around your gut can make you look bloated. Flush the system with good old water, wait 24 hours, and take another look.

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You’re eating too much. Fat in particular. True, calories are calories and consuming too many will pack on pounds, causing your body to lose lean muscle definition. But getting six-pack abs is not just a weight-loss game, it’s a body fat percentage game, meaning if you want to see true six-pack definition you need to get that body fat number down around 6 percent. If that sounds crazy, it kind of is.

You’re not oiled up. You read that right: One reason those six-packs pop on the cover of bodybuilding magazines is that they’re lacquered up with oil, which catches the light and accentuates the body’s contours. If you want the look, squeeze a few drops of baby oil into your palm, rub your hands together, then work them over your abs like you’re applying suntan lotion. Hey, this is a vanity project — accept it.

You need more resistance. Would you ever hit the gym with a goal of doing 100 biceps curls? Unlikely. But when it comes to abs, people tend to favor reps over resistance, which is a mistake when you’re trying to build muscle. The body will adapt to volume, so you need to periodically kickstart the growth process by adding extra weight or resistance for stimulation.