Q + A on Abs – what it takes worth it?

Posted: November 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm

For today’s post, I want to focus on a question I received for the November Ask Me Anything Series:

Can you talk about what it really takes to have abs? For example, what did it take to have the flat stomach you had during your competition prep? Is it something that others could aim for in terms of their physique goals or do you think it's unrealistic?

I have shared a post on this before, but it was awhile ago before many of my current readers were around. Instead of just linking to an old post, I decided this was a topic worth discussing again so I updated that old post to more specifically fit the question above. I hope you all enjoy reading it…and if you were around for the previous post, my apologies. As well as my gratitude for being such a loyal, long-time reader! 😀


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 she generally 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?
  • Have you ever worked hard to achieve a goal only to realize it wasn’t very maintainable and didn’t make you as happy as you expected?

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74 Comments to “Q + A on Abs – what it takes worth it?”
  1. […] looking for strength and a core that will take me places. Not six-pack abs (this reminds me of Tina’s recent post on abs, which was awesome btw, and I totally agree with […]

  2. Chrissi says:

    great post, and i appreciate the info. i would say i typically have great upper abs, but below the belly button can’t get rid of the pooch! UGH.

  3. amy says:

    this is a great post. I always wonder what it takes take to have ripped abs….i work out all the time and run like a crazy woman…but ive sort of given up on ‘ripped abs’ because im just not willing to cut my diet down to the extremes (i try to eat healthy, dont get me wrong). but i also think the point on genetics is a good one….some things you cant change. so i guess just do what you can and focus on being healthy..not ripped! its hard though 🙂

  4. Wow your abs look amazing!

  5. I just stumbled upon your blog. Love it! Great info on abs. Everyone’s abs are different. You have to be happy with what you can achieve with the sacrifice you are willing to make.

  6. Jamie says:

    Hey, Tina! Your abs look great post baby! I was wondering…does it ever bother you to not have the abs you did while were competing? I see women who have those ripped abs and although I know they are making extreme sacrifices, it is still hard to except that I no longer have that…do you ever struggle with this, too?

    • Tina says:

      I will admit that sometimes I will get the wishes or thoughts to look like I did then, but then I remember how TIRED and CRANKY I always felt. How HUNGRY I was…and how happy I feel now. That helps squelch any of those thoughts just as fast as they came. That doesn’t mean I don’t still try to work hard in the gym and let my body continue reshaping and changing. But I also know it won’t get that lean again wihtout going crazy restrictive – which I refuse to do. 😉

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