Do you want shredded abs? Who doesn’t? In this post I will explain exactly how to get shredded abs in TWO easy steps:
Step 1: Be in a calorie deficit
Step 2: Repeat Step 1 until you are shredded
That’s it. There’s no magic. No secret. No quick fix. No super food or detox or special exercise.
To get shredded abs you have to essentially lose a lot of body fat. It also helps to actually have muscular abs underneath your fat. But I promise, even if you never work out your “core”, if you lose enough body fat you will eventually get some semblance of that “shredded” look.
But I lied. Only Step 1 is easy. To get in a calorie deficit all you have to do is eat less or move more. But Step 2 is the hard part because the key to shredded abs is to make being in a calorie deficit sustainable for months, maybe years. Therein lies the rub. If you are in a calorie deficit for a sustained period of time you are probably going to be hungry. Being hungry sucks. So the key to Step 2 is to make it such that your hunger or satiation is manageable for months if not years. People often turn to low carb diets for this purpose because filling up on fats and protein tends to keep the hunger pains manageable while you are in a calorie deficit.
The other thing that happens in a sustained calorie deficit is that your metabolism adapts to being in a deficit and makes it harder and harder to maintain Step 2. It will slow down your metabolism and it will increase your appetite. Your body was designed by evolutionary processes to make it easy to gain weight and hard to lose weight. This makes perfect adaptive sense in an environment where food was hard to come by and you had to burn a lot of calories gathering or hunting food. Now we can walk down to the local gasmart and buy thousands of calories for a few bucks with very little calorie expenditure. So the very metabolic adaptations that once made it easier for us to survive are now making us fatter, month by month, year by year. The freshman 15 is actually just the starting point for the Western tendency to get a little bit fatter every year. Because of this very real metabolic adaptation it’s critical to take intermittent “diet breaks” or “refeeds” to reset our metabolism. There’s a whole art and science to this.
However, the nature of this adaptation makes it almost inevitable that people will yo-yo diet in and out of Step 2. They will be in a calorie deficit for a week or two, lose a few pounds (mostly water weight anyway). Then they get stressed or go out to eat with their friends, get tipsy, and stop at Taco Bell on the way home to devour a 1000 calorie meal along with 3 large sodas. The drunchies are real. Temptations are real. Not all of us have the drive or motivation necessary to be restrictive in our diets 24/7 for weeks and months. We have snacks in house, start a movie, and feel like it’d be freaking awesome to munch our way through the entire movie. Then we have a huge dinner and later icecream at 11pm because “we had a long day and we deserve it”. The realities of our modern food environment make it such that we have to avoid temptation all day long. You’ve been doing awesome with your calories that day but then Carol from work brings in donuts from your favorite local gourmet donut shop. What do you do? You eat one. Then another. Then 3 hours later you sneak back in to see if there’s more left.
Not to mention how hard to is to even determine accurately whether you are in a calorie deficit since tracking calories is notoriously difficult. Nutrition labels are inaccurate, digestion absorption rates are variable, individual differences abound, and weighing out food precisely is a pain in the ass. Not to mention it’s difficult to sustain the habit of calorie counting for the months and years necessary to get shredded.
So the odds are stacked against you getting absolutely shredded, let alone in 12 weeks like so many personal trainers promise. If it was easy to get shredded abs everyone would have them. But it’s hard. Really fucking hard. You have to want it. Really bad. So bad that you are willing to sacrifice your social life and earn the scorn of your family, friends, and co-workers. You have to become that “crazy fitness person” who cares more about their sixpack than having a good time.
But the good news is that the principles behind getting shredded are absolutely basic and easy to follow: get in a calorie deficit and stay there. But the devil is in the details. I haven’t even begun to talk about the importance of developing and retaining muscle mass through strength training, which is super important. If you just starve yourself and do cardio all day you’re going to lose a lot of muscle along with fat which will slowly make it harder and harder to maintain the calorie deficit because your metabolism will be shit. So we not only have to be on point with our nutrition we have to find the time in our busy days to consistently hit the gym or workout for months or years. Like I said: it’s hard work. Real hard.
There’s a reason fitness models get paid to be fitness models: they have to basically spend their whole existence focusing on nutrition and fitness and even they don’t stay super shredded year round. It’s not even that healthy to have super low body fat percentages anyway (especially for women). So why are we so obsessed with abs? Why this cultural fixation on being absolutely shredded? My hypothesis is that it’s the rarity or novelty factor that largely drives it. Getting ripped abs is so difficult to achieve that those who do get them instantly stand out for it and are thus seen as desirable. But of course we all know that ideas about who or what counts as “hot” vary from time period to time period, culture to culture.
I hope this post illustrates both the simplicity of getting shredded and the complexity of taking that simplicity and making it sustainable for months and years. Good luck!