how long to get abs

How Long Does it Take to Get Abs?

The short answer is that it depends on your genetics, your current body fat, and the effort put forth.

You must get seriously lean to get visible abs. Your leanness is determined by the amount of fat you have or body-fat percent.

The key to getting shredded abs is a body-fat percent below 12% for males and 20% for females. The visibility of your abs increases as body fat decreases. So, your abs are much more noticeable at 10% body fat than at 15%.

Are you ready for abs?

Here are the four basic steps to get abs:

1. Reduce body fat

2. Build lean body mass

3. Strengthen your core

4. Be consistent

1. Reduce body fat

The most important step to get abs is reducing total body fat. This is accomplished by using more energy in a day than you consume. The tricky part is to eat enough calories to maintain a healthy metabolism while creating a calorie deficit.

The first step to reducing body fat is to reduce net calories per day.

Your net calories are the number of calories you eat minus the number of calories you burn per day.

Calories consumed – Calories burned = Net calories

If you want to lose fat, your net calories per day must be below zero. In other words, you must have a negative calorie balance to lose weight.

Running is a great way to increase the number of calories you burn per day. The best form of cardio training is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This form of cardio has many studies to back its efficacy as a fat-burner. You will burn calories even after you complete your workout due to its long-lasting boost to metabolism.

The second thing is eating more protein.

I cover the benefits of a high protein diet enhancing weight loss here. If you want to know the science behind a high protein diet during a calorie deficit, I reference tons of studies so this is a must-read.

In a nutshell, protein is more difficult for the body to digest. This increases its energy requirements during digestion. This energy requirement during digestion is known as the thermogenic effect of food (TEF).

In a study conducted at the University of Milan, high-protein meals had a TEF of 62 calories for a 557 calorie meal. The high-carb meals averaged a TEF of only 21 calories while the high-fat diet didn’t fare much better with a TEF of 23 calories. (1)

High-protein diets have been shown to decrease hunger in the short-term, over 24 hours, and in the long run. (2)

This will make reducing calories and not over-eating much easier.

Since you will no doubt be in a calorie deficit during your quest for abs, higher protein intake is essential to maintain lean body mass. It is possible to lose a ratio of 25% muscle to total weight lost during calorie restriction! (3)

Luckily, this can be avoided with a high-protein diet. (4)

2. Build lean body mass

Higher lean body mass burns more calories even at rest. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body burns at rest per day. It costs the body more energy or calories per day to maintain a body with more muscle. This means burning more calories while doing absolutely nothing.

This means you will need to perform some form of strength training.

I recommend using compound lifts such as bench press, squats, and deadlifts. These exercises recruit more muscle fibers than other exercises. Compound lifting spurs more muscle hypertrophy or growth while burning more calories.

If you need some lifting motivation, check this out.

It is possible to increase lean body mass by over 3 pounds (lbs.) and reduce fat weight by 4 lbs. in as little as ten weeks. The cherry on top is that the resting metabolic rate can increase by 7%. (5)

If you want abs, you need to start strength training today.

3. Strengthen your core

Everyone has abs. If you can’t see them, they are under a layer of fat. You will need to reduce that fat to show off those sexy abs. There is no point in having abs if they don’t serve a purpose though.

If you want abs, you want them strong and powerful. For this, you will need to include core training into your exercise routine.

Here is a simple routine you can perform at home in less than 15 minutes.

4. Be consistent

Success comes from persistence. If you want abs, you will need to put the work in. This doesn’t have to be hard though.

Exercise adherence or the ability to stick to a workout routine will the biggest determining factor in achieving your fitness goals.

In order to be consistent, you will need realistic goals. This means you will need to start with very easy objectives and increase them as your daily habits improve.

If your workout and nutrition plan requires minor changes to your current lifestyle, you are more likely to follow through with it long-term. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a desirable physique.

The 6-pack Abs Success Formula
Resistance training + reduced caloric intake * consistency = 6-pack abs.

Resistance training increases BMR and helps reduce body fat.

Eating fewer calories than consumed will reduce body fat.

Add these two together and throw in the final ingredient – consistency and you will have those abs you so desire.

How long until I get abs?

If you want abs, a slower approach way be more successful.

Now that you realize the importance of consistency, you are probably wondering how long it will take to achieve your desired results.

Most trainers recommend reducing body fat by no more than 1 percent per week.

Rapid weight loss is a bad idea compared to slower sustained weight loss. In this study, subjects consumed either 500-750 calories less or 1,000-1500 calories less per day for a total of 15 weeks. The slow weight loss subjects lost an average of 12.1 lbs. While the rapid weight loss subject experienced an average of 11.44 lbs. Both groups lost about 12 lbs. but the slow weight loss group lost 1.1 lbs. of lean body mass while the fast weight loss group lost about 3.3 lbs.! This supports the idea that faster weight loss is not always better. (6)

It is important to note that this study had participants eating only 15% protein per day. If you read this article about supplemental whey protein, you will see that eating more protein can prevent lean body mass loss while dieting.

One percent per week may be too much for some individuals.

This study recommends athletes reduce body fat by 0.7% per week for optimum fat loss. It also shows that between 1-2 lbs. of weight loss per week is superior for exercise performance. (7)
Since you are on this blog searching for tips about developing abs, I will assume you are not an athlete and simply want to have stunning abs. In that case, I will use the average American male and female for my examples below.

Here is your average American I will use for the examples below.

Free abs spreadsheet

I created a spreadsheet for the calculations used below. You can download it here.

If you find this tool helpful, please share this post with friends and family.

Getting abs as a man

How much weight do I need to lose?

The average male in the United States stands at 5’9 and weighs 199.8 lbs.

Kevin wants to get washboard abs. He is your average 20-something American male.

We are going to figure out how long it will take him to get abs.

I will make this simple and use his fat-free mass as a method of keeping track of his lean body mass or muscle.

At 199.8 lbs. with 20% body fat, Kevin has about 160 lbs. of fat-free mass.

The next step is to calculate how much weight he must lose to reach 10% body fat while maintaining his muscle.

I played with the numbers a bit until I reached a goal of reaching 10% bodyfat while keeping my fat-free mass a couple lbs. less than it is right now.

Again, I can’t stress the importance of eating a high-protein diet during this journey. I recommend whey protein shakes before the gym, after the gym, and before bed. Here is a detailed review of my favorite whey protein brands.

Unless you are genetically gifted or have high testosterone, there is a chance you will lose muscle mass as you lean up. With this in mind, I have included a little muscle loss in these calculations.

Kevin must lose about 25 lbs. of weight while only losing 2.5 lbs. of muscle.

With a conservative weight loss target of 1.5 lbs. per week, it will take him just over 16 weeks. If he really pushes it and loses 2 lbs. per week, it will only take him a little over 12 weeks.

How much to eat per day

This depends on your activity level, how many calories you burn per day, and current weight.

Using the example above, to lose 2 lbs. per week, Kevin must eat 2,126 calories per day along with doing his full-body resistance training program 3 times per week.

Bottom line:

If you are an average male like Kevin, you will need to lose about 25 lbs.

It will take a normal male about 16 weeks to get abs with consistent calorie restriction and exercise.

This can vary depending upon your current body-fat percent and the way you store fat. This is genetic.

Getting abs as a female

The average woman in the US weighs 170.8 lbs.

Meet Jill. She is recently single, ready to mingle, and wants to get abs.

She weighs 170 lbs. at 30% body fat giving her 119 lbs. of fat-free mass

She must reduce her body fat to 20% while keeping her fat-free mass relatively the same.

I estimated a loss of 3 lbs. of fat-free mass (keeping 116 lbs. fat-free mass) during her journey to abs. Typically, females have a more difficult time gaining and preserving muscle due to hormone levels.

Jill must lose 25 lbs to reach 20% body fat.

How much to eat per day

If Jill wants to lose 2 lbs. per week, she must eat around 1,428 calories per day in conjunction with a full-body resistance training program 3 times per week.

This is definitely on the lower end and not recommended. If she eats 1,688 calories per day she can lose 1.5 lbs. per week without risking her metabolic rate. Realistic goals will help her stick to her calories.

Bottom line: It will take a typical American female just over 16 weeks to get abs. This estimate is based on losing 1.5 lbs. per week. It is possible to reach this goal in a little over 12 weeks losing 2 lbs. per week.

Your plan for abs

Figure out where you are

You must know your body-fat percent.

There are many ways to determine your current body fat with varying degrees of accuracy. The most accurate is hydrostatic (underwater) weighing with other methods decreasing in accuracy as user-error increases.

If you want to spend a little money and accurately find out your body-fat percent, I recommend getting a bod pod assessment. It is as accurate as hydrostatic weighing and much easier. It will cost between $45-$60.

There are cheaper methods you can use at home. The two most popular methods are calipers and a tape measure.

The caliper method is relatively accurate depending upon the person taking the measurements. This method determines body fat by collecting skin-fold measurements. The most important part of getting an accurate reading with calipers is repeatability. You must use the same technique every time or your results will be inaccurate.

Skinfold Calipers

Circumference-based measurements using a tape measure are the fastest way to estimate your body-fat percentage at home. Simply collect the needed measurements with a tape measure and plug them into the US Navy Body Fat formula.

Now that you know where you are, figure out where you need to be to reach your body fat goal. This free online target weight calculator can help.

Figure out where you need to be

Once you figure out your target weight, you will need to decide how many lbs. of weight you want to lose per week.

Make this achievable and very easy in the beginning. The easier your plan is, the more likely you will stick with it. Sticking to your program is the only way to succeed. You can increase the intensity of your weight loss program once you get those habits built.

Calculate your target daily calories based on desired weekly weight loss. Remember, it costs 3,500 calories per pound of fat.

A simple way to determine how many calories to cut daily is to take the weight you want to lose in lbs. per week (for example 2 lbs. = 7,000 calories) and divide this number by 7. This will give you the number of calories you should reduce daily.

The Plan for Abs Summary:

  • Determine current body-fat percent.
  • Find your goal weight and body-fat percent.
  • Pick your weekly weight loss goal.
  • Calculate your calories per day.
  • Lift weights 3x per week.
  • Be consistent.

That’s it!

What’s the takeaway?

Consistency is key. Remember to aim for 1.5 to 2 lbs. weight loss per week.

An average person will get abs in 16 weeks of consistent calorie restriction and exercise.

Eat more protein and drink more water. If you want faster results, add cardio.

Genetic factors can play a role in metabolism and how the body stores fat. Everyone is different. If you want an individually tailored plan and don’t want to figure it out on your own, I suggest hiring a personal trainer.

Bottom line, if you want your abs to show then you need to reduce your body fat.

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