The internet is a bottomless pit of pictures that can instil body envy in even the most confident person. But as one Instagram influencer is eager to point out, getting that enviable body can be a long and arduous journey.
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Cassandra Olholm, an Australian influencer, trainer and nutritionist recently posted a before and after shot of her abs, showing a flat but undefined belly in one shot and a super defined six-pack in the other. The kicker: she said it took her five years to get the six-pack.
The former competitive runner started doing CrossFit five years ago, which is when she began to hone her strength and build her remarkable core. But, she says, while it can be achieved with a lot of resolve and determination, the problem is that most people think they can sculpt abs in two weeks thus setting unrealistic goals for themselves.
“The hard truth is that it will take time, it will take energy, sweat, tears and maybe even a little blood,” she wrote.
How to get six-pack abs
The primary obstacle to unveiling abdominal definition is, unsurprisingly, fat.
“If you have fat covering your abs, you’re not going to see a six-pack, and as a result, it’s a not a realistic goal for most people,” says Kathleen Trotter, personal trainer and author of Finding Your Fit. “There are so many factors that make it hard to get a six-pack.”
For a visible, defined six-pack, men need to whittle down to six to nine per cent body fat, while women need to be in the 16 to 19 per cent range. (This is considerably lower than the recommended 15 to 20 per cent and 20 to 25 per cent, respectively.)
What’s worse, the older you are, the harder it is to achieve — and that’s even harder if you’re a woman. Trotter says women naturally hold on to more fat because it’s needed for reproduction. Once you add in the fact that women have more catabolic hormones, which break down lean tissue, and tend to experience sleep disturbance and elevated stress levels in menopause, it makes having a six-pack all but an unattainable dream.
But it may not even be a necessary one, Trotter says.
“A six-pack is an aesthetic goal, not a health one. You can have a strong core, which will help you with balance and posture, and stave off injury, without seeing a six-pack.”
It’s not that women or men of a certain age can’t achieve it (young men have an exponentially easier time of getting a six-pack), but it takes a lot of commitment and hard work.
It starts with nutrition. Trotter says you need to limit sugar consumption as much as possible, eat lots of lean protein and fibre, limit alcohol and processed foods, and drink lots of water. In terms of exercise, she says to focus on strength and interval training that works the large muscle groups by doing exercises like deadlifts, lunges and pullups. Finally, you need to focus on decreasing stress while increasing your amount of sleep, since stress triggers the cortisol hormone which affects where you hold your weight.
“It’s almost impossible to say how long it will take to see results because it’s based on so many variables,” she says. “A fit 18-year-old boy could see results in as little as two weeks, but a [middle aged woman] who is stressed, doesn’t sleep and is 40 pounds overweight is going to take much longer — a year or even more.”
That’s not to say it’s unattainable; it’s just really hard. Even Olholm, who is 27 and a fitness professional, admits it’s a tough goal to achieve.
“To be brutally honest it comes down to the combination of two things — hard work and consistency,” she wrote. “It’s not easy.”