Six-Pack Abs: A Realistic Goal Or Not?

by tinareale on November 22, 2011

I will start off by differentiating two “styles” of abs. On the one hand, some view abs as the picture on the left. Very defined, no pooches visible, lean with obvious musculature, the six-pack (or even four-pack) look. Others define having abs as simply a flat stomach with some definition, similar to the photo on the right.


[Source 1, Source 2]

The difference between the two matters greatly. So, for the portion of the question asking if the pursuit of abs is a reasonable physique goal, my personal opinion is NO for maintaining and achieving the more “ripped” abs look. Why? Well, there are many factors to keep in mind.

1. It is very difficult to maintain. A lot of things have to happen in order to achieve abs like the ones above. It is highly probable that years of tough workouts and a very “clean” diet would be involved. You would likely be eating very controlled day in and day out with extremely limited or no treats for a long, long time. And have to couple it with a fair amount of time spent in consistent workouts as well. For some, a lifestyle like that works. But for many, we have other facets of our lives and have certain foods we enjoy and don’t want to give up for life. I had abs for awhile last year during my competition prep.


Even at 14% body fat, they didn’t look like what you see on a fitness model. During prep, I was very meticulous with my food – counting, measuring, tracking, and eating much less than what my body needed. I spent hours (yes, plural) working out each day with high intensity. I knew the way I was living during prep wasn’t something I could (or would even want) to maintain.Some things aren’t worth it and I realized it doesn’t make me any less worthy to not have that stomach.

2. Unhealthy low body fat levels. In order for abs to be visible on a woman shegenerally would have to reach a body fat level of around 12%. Athletes have an average body fat percentage of 15-20% and the average woman has a percentage of 22-28%, which is NOT bad. In fact, low levels, such as the approximate 12% for six-pack abs, can be detrimental to your health. Issues ranging from fatigue to menstrual issues to low bone density are common when living at such a low body fat level. Personally, I would rather be healthy on the inside with energy, the option to bear children, and the ability to walk when I’m 50.

3. Genetics. You could work your butt off in the gym, diet like crazy, achieve the required level of leanness and STILL not have abs like you see in fitness magazines. Some women have more predominant abdominal muscles that will stick out and show up more readily when they lean out. Others will end up with a flatter stomach and may not have the clear sections of the abdominal wall show through.

4. Even models don’t keep their abs year round. You have to be wary that what you see in magazines could be “refinished” to help the look along. In my opinion, the image below looks iffy and touched up. Also, when women work towards a photo shoot or fitness competition they have a specific date to work towards. They lean down for the event and then go back to more real life living. That doesn’t mean they don’t look amazing other times of the year, but it is likely their midsections aren’t quite as defined 24/7/365 like you think.


And while I do believe that it is reasonable to work for and maintain abs that more resemble a flat but not overly defined stomach, I would highly suggest focusing less on aesthetic goals. I believe it is more beneficial and rewarding to simply have a goal to care for ourselves with proper nutrition and challenge ourselves accordingly with fitness related goals. I think working towards those types of goals, without a specific image of our “perfect” body in mind, will bring us right to where our bodies feel best. And where we should feel best, too.

  • What are your thoughts on abs?


1 Erin November 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Throughout High School I had a six pack because I was on the swim team which meant 3 hour practices 6 days a week for months. Three hours of swimming equals 18 – 22 miles depending on the type of practice. Six days a week. After graduating I lost my 6 pack very quickly and tried to hold on to it. Tried to keep it up but I found it didn’t fit into my lifestyle and striving for something that didn’t provide me with strength or true value (in my opinion) was wasting my time. Instead, I focused on keeping up my endurance, toning up and building more strength. Once I changed my focus I found myself enjoying working out and seeing results. Since then I’ve stopped dreaming of having a six pack and instead dream of running a 1/2 marathon or doing another triathlon and I feel so much healthier!

2 tinareale November 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm

couldn’t agree more! It becomes such a focus…an unworthy focus. Much prefer living life and shooting for other goals, too. :)

3 Amanda @ Diary of a Semi-Health Nut November 30, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I love this post! I dislike when women hold themselves to the standards of models or magazine covers! It is NOT healthy to have such low body fat for women and it’s crazy to think that someone would want to damage their overall health just for the six pack. I feel, as you do, that our goal should be to have a healthy, happy body.

Thanks for sharing this! And I’m glad you mentioned (in a previous post) that you did lose your menstrual cycle when you were competing.

I think girls/women need to know that although you were ripped (wowzers you were ripped), our bodies need a little fat to function properly! :-)

4 Randa December 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Great great post. Reminds me of when I first started to work out at a gym, and the sweet trainer lady who gave me my orientation and baseline “fitness test.” I told her I wanted a six pack (I was semi-joking, more saying it to be funny but didn’t really know much about it so was thinking I wouldn’t mind achieving one). Her response, which I still remember, was “women should NOT have a six pack!” She went on to explain the body fat percentage facts, like you did, and steered me to healthier goals. I appreciated it!

5 tinareale December 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm

That’s so awesome that she actually encouraged a healthier goal. I think some trainers would just be like “Oh, we can work towards that together!”

6 Kim December 1, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Thanks for sharing this post. I needed to read this as a reminder on what NOT to focus on. I had a six pack for about two years — no menstrual cycle, exercising often and at high intensity, strict eating, and then realized it was a ball and chain. By God’s grace I was able to gain freedom from this struggle. It’s not worth pursuing something so fleeting and a six pack doesn’t define me. It is still hard and I do still struggle especially since it is my brother’s current goal and seeing him achieve that makes me want to again but I have to battle the lies and stand firm in truth.

7 tinareale December 2, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I understand it still being a struggle because those thoughts of “I could…” come back. But, like you said, life is so much more free and fulfilling now. We both have to keep focusing on that . :)

8 mariel January 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm

love this post :) so true

9 Tonette Nicolas (@tonedTonette) March 21, 2012 at 11:10 am

I’m so glad I came across your blog. I was really feeling frustrated for not having really tight abs and my mom is getting worried I’m becoming too skinny for working out. I guess I kinda forgot the point. But thanks to this I remembered why I wanna be fit in the first place – to live longer and enjoy more happy moments with my family. Thanks again! :) I will get my mind back in the game of HEALTHY living :) God speed!

10 tinareale March 21, 2012 at 11:24 am

It’s so easy to get sucked into unrealistic ideals and pushing ourselves beyond what’s healthy. I know I’ve been there! But enjoying life with balance feels so much better. Best wishes to you!

11 Dee January 12, 2013 at 7:49 am

Light flat abs feel super and healthy

12 Tony Gomez February 13, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Hi, I am a man. I just have a message for all you girls. If you look at the 2 photoes of women’[s stomachs at the top of this webpage, guess which looks more attractive to me? The one on the right, that’s right the one WITHOUT the abs. Women just do not look attractive with muscles, you need to be lean yes, but you should not look like a body builder. Just an opinion but I am sure many men would share my thoughts. ABS look great on men, but not on girls. I am trying to build ABS myself which is why I stumbled on this webpage.

13 ab ripper x routine May 29, 2013 at 3:15 am

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What web host are you the usage of? Can I am getting your
associate link to your host? I want my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

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