Must be the middle of July since everyone wants to know about six-packs; read on for some great answers from our fitness experts on how to really keep in strong shape for the summer and how to make sure you’re using the best equipment to do it!

Here’s the short list of questions based on topic:

  • Why No Six-Pack at 10% Body Fat?
  • Can Push Ups Build A Bigger Chest?
  • Can Barefoot Shoes Help Flat Feet?
  • Weight Loss Plateau & Hormones
  • Best Exercise To Get A Six-Pack?

  • Question #1 | Why No Six-Pack at 10% Body Fat?

    Question: Hi Marc, I’ve been working out for a couple of years and on the whole happy with my progress. I’m currently 6ft, 86kg with a body fat percentage of 9-10%. I’m following your advice of losing the fat before putting on any more muscle because I want to look more ripped.While my stomach is flat and defined its not as ripped as I’d like it to be – I’ve been doing a lot of cardio and stomach exercises while I’ve been cutting down. Is there anything else I can focus on (like specific stomach exercises or cardio) or will I not get ‘ripped abs’ until I’ve cut to around 7% body fat? And if so should I aim to drop to 82-83kg and then go back to adding muscle? – JMC
    Answer: @JMC – your question is a common one for guys who are around 9-10% body fat. In short, men (and women) have different body fat distributions so some guys have a six pack at 12% body fat, while others have trouble seeing a six pack at a lower body fat level. It depends on where you carry your fat. If you carry the fat on your stomach, then you may have to get even leaner to see your abs. In terms of getting the last bit of fat off, I would recommend intense interval training and NOT traditional cardio, which could have the opposite effect. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned in my How to Get Ripped article, you may have to add precision to your nutrition regimen and also tweak your carb intake judiciously. The leaner you get, the harder it is to lose fat of course. Finally, I would consider doing supersets of abs, so choosing two exercises, doing them back to back, to really get a serious abs burn. I also wouldn’t go above 15 reps. Going under 15 reps and adding resistance when necessary can help your abs “pop”. One more thing, you can check question #4 in this Q&A about How Lean is Too Lean?
    – Marc (Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

    Question #2 | Can Push Ups Build A Bigger Chest?

    Question: Sir, I want to know can push ups help to develop the chest? – Navkiran
    Answer: @Navrikian singh – Yes, push ups can definitely help develop the chest. In fact, some top athletes like Herschel Walker (a former NFL player and heisman trophy winner) used to do upwards of 2000 push ups a day and had massive chest muscles (See this article with more info about Herschel Walker – Inspirational Fitness Photos Of Men over 40, 50, and 60!). There was also research out recently which points to the fact that heavy weights are not necessary to build bigger muscles – Build Muscle Without Heavy Weights?. If you are able to add more volume over time by doing more push ups and harder variations (See 10 Push Up Variations), and you eat more calories than you burn with ample protein, you should over time be able to add muscle mass to your chest just by doing push ups.
    – Marc (Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

    Question #3 | Can Barefoot Shoes Help Flat Feet?

    Question: What about people with flat feet that over-pronate? If I don’t wear a running shoe with a lot of support, I develop some painful issues in my feet and knees. – Greg
    Answer: I came across this question a couple of times doing research for the article [See: Top 7 Minimalist Shoes]. There are a number of people with your same issue, but a lot have found that the barefoot or minimalist running actually helps because it strengthens your feet so much. Some people have even claimed to go from having flat feet to having strong arches after running this way for a while.I’m not an expert in foot mechanics or anatomy, though, so if you’re going to jump into it, make sure you do your research and start slow.

    Here’s a great discussion about barefoot running with flat feet you might find helpful:

    http://www.runnersworld.com/community/forums/runner-communities/barefoot-running/flat-feet-barefoot-running-3

    This is a helpful follow up answer by BuiltLean reader Jeff:

    “Greg,

    I too have extremely flat feet. I used to run in supportive shoes – mostly Asics – and would continuously be plagued by chronic foot, knee, leg and back issues. About to give up, I decided to give the “less is more” approach a chance. I stared using Nike Free Trainers during my lifting and sprint workouts. I was amazed at the results. I decided to give running a try with a minimal shoe. I broke in lightly and purchased the Adidas Climacool Rides. Being a big guy (6’4? 230lbs) I tend to not even feel the cushioning that most so-called cushion shoes offer, so I really was skeptical, but I was desperate. I could not be happier that I have made the switch.

    I regularly run on a trail that is covered in gravel and rocks. I am a natural forefoot striker, so the transition was made a bit easier for me, but I do fully believe that these shoes have tremendously strengthened my feet – especially my arches – and have completely eliminated that typical nagging injuries I used to face. My next pair will be even less supportive and cushioned. I am a true believer in the “less is more” when it comes to running/workout shoes.”

    – Nate (Nate Morrow)

    Question #4 | Weight Loss Plateau & Hormones

    Question: I lost about 40 pounds 5 years ago and have pretty much kept it off, but I am starting to notice my the scale number creeping up the last few months. I used to weight around 118-120, but now I can’t get under 125 lbs and it seems to all be going to the belly. I run 2-3 times a week and do interval training using the Insanity DVD set workouts.1-2 times a week. Could this be because my metabolism is slowing down due to menopause? I will be 50 in July and wonder if I need to cut my calories, beef up my workout or both? – Becky
    Answer: @Becky – This is hard to answer as there are a couple of different reasons why this may be happening. Here are some of my thoughts:A – As you age, your metabolism will definitely slow down, due to both a decrease in overall fat-burning hormones, but also a loss in muscle mass. Also, you didn’t mention whether or not you do any strength training workouts. I don’t consider the Insanity DVD’s strength training workouts, because at best they’re meant to be metabolic in nature and not a building up of strength. Strength training workouts are best at keeping your muscle, which has a direct impact on your metabolism and fat-burning hormones, especially as you age.

    B – Menopause will cause a decrease in estrogen/progesterone levels which can do a number of things and can be a article (if not a book) in its own right.

    C – Belly fat is generally due to an increase in visceral fat which is increased due to high cortisol levels (chronic stress, which can include constantly challenging workouts can increase cortisol levels).

    D – If I were you, I would start with adding dedicated strength training workouts (the BuiltLean Program can be a great option for you) while increasing the quality of calories you consume – more veggies, healthy protein sources, etc.

    Hope that helps.

    – John (John Levya, CSCS, CPT)

    Question #5 | Best Exercise To Get A Six-Pack?

    Question: I want to get a 6 pack so what is the most effective exercise to achieve this? – Shane
    Answer: Hi Shane,I wish there was a most effective six-pack abs exercise for getting a six pack! The most effective way to get a six pack is to lose a lot of fat without losing muscle, which is primarily a nutritional challenge. Abs are made in the kitchen as they say.

    The abs complex is comprised of several different muscles (internal/external obliques, rectus abdominus, and transverse abdominus) that work together in different ways. Ideally, you would use a handful of different core exercises to adequately engage the entire abs complex which wraps around your midsection.

    In addition, the best abs exercise for you depends on your fitness level. For example, I love doing leg raises where I hang from a bar and while keeping my legs completely straight bring them all the way up to the bar where my hands are. It’s killer, but not sure if that would work for you. The idea is to find an exercise that perfectly matches your fitness level and you are not able to complete more than 10-15 reps.

    For more on abs, you can check out these article: 5 Abs Exercises and Plank Variations.

    – Marc (Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

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18 Comments

  1. profile avatar
    Aina Jul 13, 2012 - 11:31 #

    I was just wondering about the flat foot syndrome an hour ago! My feet are in agreement with the “less is more” approach. I’ve tried HIIT with sports shoes on (lots of cushioning) but it didn’t help, and I ended up feeling heavy and sluggish. Barefoot/socks on seems to be the way to go!

  2. profile avatar
    Paul Jul 13, 2012 - 11:57 #

    Marc,

    I’m 5’8″ 140 lbs, but my body fat hovers around the 15.5% mark. I’d like to reduce my body fat down to 12% but losing more weight just looks horrible on me (even my Dr. is telling me I should put on a few lbs.). What’s the best way to accomplish this?

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Jul 19, 2012 - 14:46 #

      @Paul – Well there are a couple options to try (1) lose fat without losing muscle, in which case your body weight will decrease as a result of losing purely fat or (2) try to gain muscle without gaining fat. It’s up to you which option you choose to make that aesthetic difference in your body.

  3. profile avatar
    milad Jul 13, 2012 - 18:56 #

    Mark,

    i need your help once more please, starting to get really frustraded

    i’m 5″11 at 160lbs and lift weights 5 times a week (day 1 legs, day 2 chest and so on…) and take 2 off days.
    all the fat i have is pretty much in the gut area (rolls when i sit and a bloated look when i stand), after doing some math and talking to u last time, i was advised to consume 1900 cal a day, to avoid starvation mode ,not loose muscle but to get ripped.
    btw i hold a desk job, so i guess i’m only active when in the gym, and i sometimes do sprints for 5 min after lifting
    i haven’t seen any results since i started, so now i’m thiking my ratios are off
    i’m planning on going to 50% protein, 35% carbs and 15%fat and still maintaing 1900 cal a day
    so when doing the math thats spread over 6 meals its 40g protein, 28g carbs and 5g of fats per meal

    my questions are: is my daily calorie intake enough or should i change it?

    -and if i go on those ratios, should i be consuming those exact number per every meal or should i take the entire carb portion in the morning and post workout when glucose levels are low, cause when multiplying 28g of carbs per 6 meals thats 168g of carbs per day, so that would be 84g in the morning and the other 84g post workout.

    also can i use those ratios on the off days?

    any advise would nice,

    thank you

  4. profile avatar
    Jason Jul 14, 2012 - 18:12 #

    For question #4: I am a 35 year old male and recently went through a bout where I was losing muscle and gaining fat all while following the same diet and exercise strategies that brought me down to 7% body fat and great shape. It started with fatigue and the inability to complete my workouts and then moved to the muscle loss and fat gain process. I knew it was bad when my wife confirmed what I saw. In fact, I have pictures taken only 30 days apart that show the dramatic negative change in my body. In short, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with low testosterone. I share this because women also have testosterone in their bodies that can decrease with age and might be a contributing factor to your situation. I would encourage you to get a good physical and hormone check. If it is hormonal, I would also encourage you to work with an endocrinologist for treatment and not your general doctor. I hope this helps some. Good luck and keep at it.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Jul 19, 2012 - 14:54 #

      @Jason – Thanks for sharing that story and sorry you had to go through such a frustrating experience.

  5. profile avatar
    mogalirekulu Jul 19, 2012 - 03:52 #

    is there any possibility to gain weight for vegetarians. Many people suggested to eat non-veg to gain weight but I’m basically a vegetarian.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Jul 19, 2012 - 15:40 #

      @mogoliefulu – that’s definitely not my area of expertise, but if you eat enough calories, you should be able to gain some weight even as a vegetarian. In fact, some bodybuilders like Bill Pearl are vegetarians.

  6. profile avatar
    Neal Jul 26, 2012 - 04:39 #

    Hey Marc, I’m 20, male, 136 pounds 5’8 with 12% body fat. I have been working out to gain some mass but after reading the articles, it seems that losing fat should be given the priority. However, I’m the skinny-type of person, so I look skinny on the outside but my muscles are just not defined. Is taking protein shakes advisable in the process of losing fat so that I can get slightly bigger and lean?

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Jul 26, 2012 - 08:30 #

      @Neal – Protein shake are not going to make, or break your results most likely. They are just protein after all. Everything else like your overall diet and exercise program will make the difference. As I’ve said in an article, I would advise against attempting to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, focus on one, or the other. Given your stats, it may make sense to try to add a little more mass to your frame if that is your primary goal. Just remember it takes time. 12% body fat is pretty lean.

  7. profile avatar
    Bryan Jul 27, 2012 - 15:28 #

    Marc – I’m a 25yo 6’4 and 210lb male medical student. I think my BMI is around 24 and I’m not sure about my % body fat. I’d like to lean up and eventually get a six pack and I’m trying to cut down on the fat around my waist/abdomen/chest. I’m working out 3-5 times a week which includes running 3 miles on an elliptical and biking 7 miles. That whole process takes about 45 mins. Then I usually lift weights for about 30 minutes mainly focusing on upper body and a different muscle group every day. I know I have muscle under the fat so my main goal now is to lean up. I’d say my diet is pretty good – I try to eat fruits, veggies, and protein/shakes. Do you have any suggestions that could make this process more efficient? And also, what kind of timeline should I be looking at to be able to visibly tell a change/difference in my body appearance? Your website has been an absolute help thus far! Thanks!

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Aug 02, 2012 - 18:16 #

      @Bryan – It’s really tough for me to evaluate an entire fitness/nutrition program in a comment field and my current clients pay me to do that for them. With that said, if you have not checked out my Get Lean Guide, there are some really solid nuggets of info in there. The idea is to keep things simple and don’t overcomplicate the process of changing your body. Regarding how fast your body should change, somewhere around 0.5%-1.0% body weight loss in fat per week is reasonable.

  8. profile avatar
    Alexis Jul 30, 2012 - 09:42 #

    Dear Marc,
    I’m a 30yr old F who has been increasing her activity and fitness level over the past year, then started triathalon training mostly for the fun of it 2 months ago. My routine is usually consists of brick workouts, 5-6 days a week, with some combination of 10-20miles cycling (indoors or out), 3-5 miles trail running, and 30-40 laps in the pool (which I’ve been steadily increasing). Then at least 30 min of yoga, some days a full hour for crosstraining as well as recovery. I used to weigh 117 pretty steadily (before I got healthy), but now my weight has jumped to 126, at at 5’3″, that’s a big jump! Everyone is reassuring me that this is muscle, but my clothes are definitely a little tighter too. I can’t figure it out, because my activity level and my energy level are through the roof, I feel awesome, and yet the scale climbs ever-higher!
    My diet is pretty clean (rarely eat any processed carbs, lots of vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein), and I usually stick to a cal balance of 1200-1400kcal/day (but that’s after deducting estimates for calories burned in my workouts, which is ok right? otherwise, I would be starving). I know its not very accurate, but the U.S. Navy calculation says I’m all the way up at 25%, with my goal being 19%. I’ve looked at your site, and I know the emphasis is on quick workouts, but I have to admit, I LOVE my runs outside, my cardio is what keeps me sane, and weight lifting bores me to tears. Any suggestions for someone who hates the gym and weights but needs to cut some lingering fat? Or am I doomed to… ugh, reps?

  9. profile avatar
    David Aug 02, 2012 - 01:57 #

    Hi Marc,

    It’s interesting to see the guy in the first article is 6′ and 86Kg and has 10% BF and a toned stomach. I’m also 6′ 87KG but about 17% BF with the classic ‘spare-tyre’. I was motivated by the Transformassacre and I’ve been exercising intensely mixing weights and cardio for 2 months and saw my weight drop from 92KG to 87KG in the first month, but have stayed at 87KG since then. My shape is still changing, but the weight’s not coming off. I’ve continued to lose inches off my waist and I notice that my stomach is getting gradually flatter, but the fact that I can’t get below 87KG is messing with my head.

    Should I be worried about losing the weight or should I just say what the heck and be happy with losing the fat.

    My point is that I didn’t know it was possible for a 6′ guy to be 87KG and look good without having the muscle mass of a body builder. I keep thinking “I’ve got a BMI of 26 so I’m still overweight”.

    Thanks!

  10. profile avatar
    Laurence Sep 13, 2012 - 22:29 #

    hello mar,

    i understand you are a busy man, but i would surely appreciate some input on a challenge i have at hand regarding a six pack, and not just any six pack a blocky veiny midsection, im a 5’3 163 pound male, i weighed about 144 pounds last year and was at around 7 to 5% body fat and had nice abs problem was i wanted to put on some size so hence i began a dirty very dirty bulk session put on about 30 lbs and cut down from 180 lbs about a month and a half ago, and im currently 12% body fat at 163 lbs and have visible obligues, sarates and the top four blocks of the rectus. here is the problem i seem to be holding some fat on my lower back im pretty vascular all over my body but it seems my lower back is caring that last bit i have managed to drop alot of body fat with out doing cardio it keeps me hard and full but if i were to choose to do so what would be the best to keep my mass and lose that last bit my nutrition looks as follows: 6:00am; meal 1= cup of egg whites, 1/2 a cup of oats, and a banana. 9:00am; meal 2= 6 0z of oven baked plane talapia, cup of steamed brocoli. 12:00pm; meal 3= 6 oz plane talapia, 1/2 cup of brocoli.
    3:00pm; meal 4= 6 oz of oven baked plane talapia, 1/2 cup of brocoli. 6:00pm; meal 5= 6 0z plane talapia, cup of brocoli. 9:00pm; (befor bed) meal 6= 1/2 cup of none fat cottage cheese vermont style, 1 cup of egg whites with ground black pepper. pleas let me know if i could change any thing, i do about an hour of weight training 6 days a week and i do abs 7 days a week as well as calves, some days i do double day splits but as of late just single splits.

    1. profile avatar
      Laurence Sep 13, 2012 - 22:30 #

      excuse me i ment to say marc.

    2. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Sep 15, 2012 - 17:42 #

      @Laurence – after reading your comment, looks like you’ve been spending some time on bodybuilding.com 🙂

      As I wrote about in my how to get ripped article, at the end of the day, if you get your calories right and eat enough protein, you should be ok. My guess is somewhere around 1800 calories could work, but I’m sure it’s something you’ve played with at this point. So if you just continue with the working out and create a calorie deficit, in time the fat should come off (like 0.5-1.0lb per week).

      It sounds like you have added some muscle to your abs during your bulk session, but wanted to mention I love supersets and trisets for abs not going much above 10 reps. I started to see a real difference choosing hard exercises and really beating up my abs to create hypertrophy. Hanging leg raise, rope crunches etc.

      My own lifting style has changed like the one you are using, which is more bodybuilding focused to a more functional style using more muscle groups. My guess is once you achieve the physique you want, you should consider switching as well. It can also help your body look naturally strong, as opposed to like you live at the gym.

  11. profile avatar
    Gabriel Oct 17, 2012 - 01:50 #

    Hey Marc, Im 25 male, weigh 150 lbs with an 8% of body fat. I have no idea why at this low body fat percentage I still don’t look as defined as I should, and my abs don’t really show.

    I’ve been intense weight lifting for 4 years now and while I do look athletic I don’t look close to what I would like to. My workouts are pretty extreme and I lift heavy.

    Should I target a lower BF%? Im a hardgainer so Im afraid if I lose more fat I’ll automatically lose muscle mass.

    What do you recommend? I know Im a weird case but don’t know what to do now..

    Thanks a lot.

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