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For many lifters, abs and cardio go together like biceps and triceps. If you want to build a ripped six pack, then you need to do lots of ab work and tons of cardio, right?
Well, that's one way to go about achieving a solid midsection, but it's not necessarily the best and it might not even work for some people. At worst, it can leave you small, tired, and even injured.
So how should you train to get a six pack and, more importantly, do you need cardio to get where you want to go?
Let's find out.
What we usually refer to as "abs" are really nothing more than a single muscle, the rectus abdominis, which runs down the front of your midsection. It's crossed by three bands of connective tissue which give it the "six-pack" look and help you bend forward at various angles and to various extents.
In order to make your abs "pop," you need to build them up just like any other muscle group. That means employing a reasonable and consistent progressive resistance training program without going to extremes of reps, sets, or frequency.
But building up the size and density of your abdominal muscles is only part of the battle when it comes to achieving the six pack that you want. In fact, there are hundreds or thousands of guys walking around with stellar abs that no one will ever even know about simply because they are covered with a layer (or two) of fat.
Most estimates put the average American male at around 15% body fat, which is not obese, but many of us store fat first and best in our bellies. That's bad news for showing off our abs, and it means we need to lose fat in order to expose our six packs. The worse news for guys who labor away with set after set of crunches is that you really can't spot-reduce, or burn fat from JUST your midsection.
At some point, then, you'll need to get serious about fat loss if you really want to rock some solid abs at the beach (or just at home).
That's where cardio comes into the picture. When guys finally realize that a couple thousand crunches every day is doing nothing but making them nauseous and straining their necks, many turn to cardio in order to burn more fat.
In truth, this is not a terrible idea and CAN tip the scales (pun intended) in your favor. At its simplest, fat loss is about burning more calories than you take in, and extra cardio can help with that equation.
For most of us, though, cardio should be among the last tactics we employ for fat loss. First and foremost, we need to get our diets in check.
That means cutting out as much processed foods as possible, eliminating all empty calories in the form of sugar and fat (think chips, candy, and soda), and focusing on whole, unprocessed food choices. Once that's in order, then we need to hone in on our optimal calorie levels.
While most men should not drop below 1800-2000 calories a day, many of us have a lot of cutting to do to get down to those levels. And, considering that it takes walking or running about a mile to burn 100 calories, it's much easier to avoid eating extra in the first place then to try and burn off our indiscretions later on.
Once you drop your calories down to around 2000 or so a day, then it's time to reevaluate. Do you still have fat to lose in order to make your abs stand out?
If so, it might be time to incorporate cardio into your program. Start with something like 20 minutes a day, three times a week and add to both the duration and frequency until you're losing fat at a reasonable rate - no more than a pound a week.
Of course, if you're interested in using cardio for heart health, you will need to take a different and more consistent approach. You also need to talk to your doctor before you start a diet or changing your exercise routine. He can help you make sure that you stay healthy while you rip up those abs.
If you want to learn ALL about how to build a tight, ripped midsection, be sure to check out The Incredible Shrinking Waist.