7 Reasons Why Your Abs Aren’t Showing – and Why That Shouldn’t Be The Goal, Anyway
Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to get your abs to show? You work hard in the gym and you can FEEL how strong they are, and your diet is pretty healthy. But for some reason, they’re not poppin’ through like the way you want!
The truth is, the abs are some of the last muscles to really show definition for most of us. In fact, setting a goal to “get abs” is probably not the best goal to start with because it’s sooo difficult – especially for women (more on that later)!
Is it doable? Yes! But it’s important to remember that having ab definition isn’t a way to measure how in shape you are! You can have an EXTREMELY strong core and be in great shape without a 6-pack (or 8-pack if we’re being technical).
So now that those details are clear, let’s go over some of the reasons why your abs might be the most stubborn muscle to show definition.
Body fat percentage
The truth is, your body fat needs to be pretty low to actually see your abs. Even if you’re in amazing shape and your body fat is healthy, or even at the “athletic” level, it might not be enough for your abs to peek through.
Getting body fat low enough for visible abs is definitely harder for women than men. In fact, women may not start seeing a lot of definition until their body fat is around 20 percent or less. Even then, you may only see the upper abs and obliques and that’s only IF your muscle structure (like, from genetics) is favorable.
For fully visible 6-pack abs, women need to get their body fat down around 15 percent or less. And that’s REALLY hard to do.
Most fitness pro’s don’t recommend that most women go any lower than this, to avoid risking amenorrhea and other negative effects of too little body fat.
Ugh, why does bloating love to show up and mask our hard work?!
Haha! But seriously – if you’re bloated, those abs are NOT going to show themselves. If you’ve been eating a lot of things that cause bloating like high sodium foods, carbonated beverages, or sugar substitutes like sorbitol, you might have a little bloat going on. Same thing if you’re on your period! Bloating makes your abdomen slightly distended, which will hide the muscles you’ve worked so hard for.
Sometimes, standing up straight can make a HUGE difference!
If you’re slouching, letting your shoulders round, or not squaring your hips you will look shorter and your middle will kind of compress. Instead, pull your shoulders back and down, reach through the crown of your head, and square your pelvis. Try to stay mindful about this throughout the day! Strengthening your core will help with posture too.
If you sit a lot throughout the day, you might have tight muscles that pull your hips forward and therefore make your belly push out. Try to sit with good posture, stretch each day, and take plenty of breaks to get up and walk around.
@blogilatesI always feel so good after these! ##stretching ##howtobetaller ##posture ##pilates ##blogilates ##fitness ##healthy ##healthylifestyle♬ Put Your Records On – Ritt Momney
Effective core training
There’s wayyyy more to abs than crunches. Getting the definition you want involves ALL of the abdominal muscles.
That includes the transversus abdominals, the deepest of them all, whose role is kind of like a corset and draws your belly button towards the spine. Next are the obliques – internal and external – and they’re in charge of rotating and crunching your torso from side to side. Then, lastly, you have the rectus abdominis, that coveted “6-pack” that lines the center of your midsection.
Everyone likes to focus just on that rectus abdominis, but it’s super important to build strength for all of the abdominal muscles.
This 20-Day Ab Challenge targets ALL of the abdominal groups!
If your ab workouts focus on the same kind of work, it’s time to switch up your routine!
Say it with me: Spot. Training. Isn’t. A. Thing.
You can’t just do abs every day and expect to have abs. You have to work the entire body to decrease body fat, increase lean body mass and eventually get those abs to peek through. Also keep in mind that a lot of workouts involve your abs, even if you don’t realize it! When you lift weights, run on a treadmill, or hold a yoga pose, your core is ACTIVE and working!
At some point, you’ve probably heard someone say “abs are made in the kitchen.” It sounds a little diet culture-y, but there’s some truth to this! Nutrition is a big part of changing your body composition.
Something to remember – It’s really easy to feel impatient when you’re not seeing the results you want, but changing your diet too often isn’t the answer!
Changing your body composition (decreasing body fat and increasing lean mass) takes TIME. Just because you don’t achieve the ab definition you want within one week doesn’t mean it’s not working. Constantly changing your diet and trying this and that will only make it take longer. Plus it will make it hard for you to know what IS working!
Undereating is another mistake people tend to make. Even if you’re trying to lose fat, you have to fuel your body to avoid muscle loss and achieve results that are sustainable.
The process is slow and definitely takes patience. But it’s worth it!
Everyone's abs look different!
Guess what? Some people just don’t have the muscle structure for a 6-pack. For some people, only a few of the abdominal muscles will show definition.
We all store fat a little differently.
If you’re someone who holds onto fat in the abdominal area or you notice weight gain there first, it will probably be more difficult to see ab definition than it is for someone who stores more fat in their hips and thighs.
Focus on strength even if your abs aren't showing
Having a strong core is a HUGE deal for soooo many more reasons than looking good in a swimsuit. So before you get too discouraged that the abs you’re training for aren’t as visible as you’d like, pay attention to how a strong core is improving your body – better posture, less back pain, better overall workouts, better balance, and more efficient day-to-day function.
It is definitely not the end all and be all, so don’t let what you see dictate your progress. Remember, the deepest abdominal muscle – the transversus – can’t be seen at all, yet it’s sooooo crucial in developing core strength. Building a strong core should be the goal!
What questions do you have for me about all this?! Leave it in the comments below!!
30 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why Your Abs Aren’t Showing – and Why That Shouldn’t Be The Goal, Anyway”
There are 30 comments posted by our users.
I mean, amenorrhea would 1000000% be a free gift with purchase situation for a lot of people.
When I was pregnant with both of my kids I worked out (of course carefully). I think what is key to having good abs is diet. I’ll admit I love sweets and bread and try to eat it in moderation (even then it is hard :O ). And of course I do Cassey exercises which makes a big difference to staying in shape! Thank you a million!
P. S. I wish I can carry all of the grocery bags! 🙂 It’s a lot of bags!! 😀 😀
This is a fantastic article and like 10000% truth. Thanks for the great info!
I can’t use the app today. I can’t see today’s workout on the calendar.
There’s a lot out there for clothing options these days for different styles and cuts of all types. My question is: do you believe that anyone can where anything? Or is there a specific, more stylish way to dress depending on body type? I’m not 100% sure what to wear, basically ever. Because to wear what’s comfortable, or what’s comfortable to me, doesn’t always suit the occasion. It seems most companies are trying to make their clothing accesible to any body shape and size but on the flip side, it does seem that most outfits are made for a specific body. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!
Also, what advice do you have for those of us who have excess skin and belly fat from pregnancy? Is there any way to tighten that skin with muscle and toning and core strength?
Cassey, you are such an inspiration and so encouraging! I just love all your blogs and your app is so great! I found you on YouTube and had been using your workouts on there, but I absolutely love your app!
Do you think you will ever teach us a bit more about strength training as in weights? Like using barbell with deadlifts etc? I’d love to see that in the future, but with your positive spin and super encouraging way of doing things!
Thank you, Cassey for all that you are and do for us! 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving! So thankful to have found you!
What suggestions would you have for weight gaining and lower ab workouts?
“Yep, yet another blog post talking about how bloating loves to show up and mask our hard work.”
So true, soo so true that bit regarding how the literal structure of our muscles make up a huge difference when “getting abs”.
For me, having visible definition doesn’t take much, like not really watching my diet, or spending 2 hours everyday working out, I can get “results” pretty quickly, but 1 hours less of sleep and in two days my definition is gone, I’m super bloated, etc.
To go from the 11-abs look to full blown six pack, it takes me like 6 weeks (tops?), but it’ll fade away in the blink of an eye if stress gets ethe best of me, ’cause it disrupts my sleep, my hunger levels (spoiler alert: I don’t feel any hunger at all and it gets hard to even think of food), and my overall wellbeing, taking that into consideration, having visible abs is a mere afterthought.
I wouldn’t really say having a body fat percentage lower that 15% is mandatory for visible abs in women, every one is built differently, after all, I’ve been “higher” than 15% with visible abs, and also lower than that with no definition whatsoever lmao
“Say it with me: Spot. Training. Isn’t. A. Thing.”
YES! EXACTLY THIS!
You can strengthen a certain area but you lose fat all over!
100% agree that visible abs are not the only way to measure progress and/or fitness level, at all!
Wtih that being said, Cassey, would absolutely LOVE if you could come up with a training program (or callendar, maybe a challenge -because gotta love those- something like that) that combines pilates AND functional moves, like something that replicates day-to-day moves we do, but pilates style? I’m not creative enough to think of it on my own, and if I were, I still enjoy your workouts very much, so <3
Ooooh have you tried PIIT 28?!!! I think that may be what you’re looking for! 🙂
i’ve begun to see SOME definition in my upper abs. and in the middle i swear the fat pouch is cut in half down the middle!! the lower abs is still pretty bad. probably because of the fat pouch! haha. But seriously Cassey, your workouts and posts are an inspiration. Thanks for being there for people like me!
Thank you for the post. Quite informative and a reminder that fitness takes time.
Hey,want to train under u
how do i know if it’s just bloated or belly fat?
Is there such thing as an 8 pack?
Yes!! Our rectus abdominis has 3 tendinous intersections that cross the abs, anatomically creating an “8 pack”!
I really admire your dedication to trying to help people out and make them feel better about themselves, whilst educating and making things interesting and fun!
I would so like to collaborate with certain things as have several avenues to go down (am 24 from UK) – I have sent a couple emails and really hope I can hear from you soon!!!
Please be kind to yourself also, as you too deserve to be happy and healthy and to not overdo it. I struggle with quite a bit (which I mentioned on emails so won’t bog everyone down here!), so I know things aren’t simple and easy, but somehow just got to plod along. I hope that if anyone is struggling, they have a good network and safe space to be in and I wish everyone the best in their journey and we must try and unite when things get hard, there has to be a better way!
Love and best wishes to everyone out there!!!
I really want that to help decrease my weight. And i think it’s really amazing pdf and i want to learn more that
kind of sad because abs were the whole reason i started working out for. i’ve only started working out “properly” for almost eight months from around sixty five kilogrammes to hopefully around fifty now. i tell my story a lot so you probably saw me a lot lol. there’s still a layer covering my abs, though if pressed i can feel them and that’s how i comfort myself haha
wasn’t officially diagnosed with an eating disorder though maybe it wasn’t that serious but i’m slowly recovering. still have those “unhealthy” and “unrealistic” goals of losing weight more, but i guess i’m prettu happy with where i am now, and i hope all of you are too. sending love <3
Can you share a video on not to eat things which causes bloating?
That would be a bad idea because bloating is caused by different things for each human. Thus you can not give any general advice on this other than to Just watch how your body reacts to things and avoid those who cause bloating. For Cassey it’s refined carbs, but I can handle them really well, I get bloated by too much fat and protein though 🤷🏼♀️
I’ve learned to focus on how well my clothes are fitting and try really really hard not to get consumed by what the mirror is showing me, especially when I know I’m PMSing. I’ve learned to focus on how strong my entire body is getting from arms down to my legs, and then I work towards challenging myself to get sore or do the non-modified moves. It really is all in your head sometimes and the mirror lies a lot. But I’ve learned the value of balance in my meals and beverages and telling myself that I am no longer 21 and can’t consume everything and anything I want all the time. I’ll treat myself but then I’ll get right back on the mat to sweat it out.
I don’t want a 6-pack but I do want those 11’s! What muscles create the ab crack?
Yes interesting topic I’d like to learn too!
Great post Cassey! When I started cycling, I started getting ab definition because of the increased amount of cardiovascular exercise I was doing. When I moved from TX to MT I naturally let myself gain weight for a year, then decided to get back in shape. It took an entire year to see my abs again by being in a small caloric deficit each week and exercising moderately (Pilates and interval training cardio, since I can only really ride my bike for 3 months out of the year here), but consistently. It definitely takes time and patience! During that time I focused on improving performance and having fun with the movement, which eventually took over the entire goal of getting back in shape. 🙂
This is a great post, Cassey! This really makes me feel better, and I want to work on building strength!
Love your posts. Always make me and keep me motivated. Thank you for everything you do!
Really good post. Thanks, Cassey. Worth remembering that for many women they also need to regain or build up their core strength post-natally before they can even begin to get abs. Pilates is perfect for this.
I started seeing my abs just 2 months after I started your calendar and after 5 months I have a pretty nice definition. But God, I still can’t get rid of that hip fat and nicely fit into my fave jeans :))) You said that girls need less than 15% fat to see abs. I think this would be the case for my hip fat :))