Many women who spend time in the gym will echo a similar frustration: It seems like no matter what they do, they just can’t get abs.
Why? Why does it feel like we can see progress and get definition anywhere else on our bodies but not here? Are we doing something wrong? Should our training be significantly different from men?
Why is it so challenging for women to have abs?! Let’s talk about this more.
Why Getting Abs is So Hard for Women
First, ladies, let’s get this out of the way: You have abs. The challenge is that you can’t see them, whereas with men, it seems like all they have to do is 10 sit-ups and they suddenly have an eight-pack.
So, what gives?
For starters, we tend to carry more body fat than men, and for a good reason: We need it to stay healthy and fertile, and maintain healthy menstrual cycles! There are a number of factors and the exact percentage will vary from individual to individual. Your genetics and build will play a role.
However, a healthy body fat percentage for women tends to fall around 20%. And the average woman tends to have more than that. Men can have less fat and still be healthy — anywhere from 10% to 15%, roughly. And it can go as low as 6% and not cause any issues.
For this reason, it can be much easier for men to have their abs showing, whereas for women, they’re hiding out beneath a layer of much-needed fat. (This is a good time to remind you that body fat is not bad, unhealthy, or ugly. Fat is not a bad word.)
Now, does that mean having visible abs as a woman is impossible? No. Is it going to be challenging? Very possibly. Should it be your number one goal when heading to the gym? Probably not.
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Why Having Visible Abs Isn’t a Huge Deal
We don’t want to tell you what goals you should and shouldn’t have. This is something personal to each athlete. However, we also know how easy it is to be influenced and overwhelmed by pictures we see on social media… pictures of chiseled women with very little body fat and shredded abs.
First, don’t believe everything you see on social media.
Second, having visible abs does not mean you are healthy. In fact, there’s a chance that these people are taking extreme measures to look this way.
Third, if you’re looking at a professional athlete, remember that they work out for a living. Don’t compare yourself to them!
Having visible abs doesn’t mean you’re any stronger or healthier than a woman with a softer-looking stomach. If this is how you define success, you might feel yourself constantly feeling disappointed and under way too much pressure.
When you look at yourself in the mirror, how do you feel? Strong? Healthy? Are you seeing progress? Do you feel happy and energetic?
These are indicators of success! Enjoy and celebrate them.
Now, we understand that even after reading all of this, you might still really want a more defined midsection. And we get it…
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How to Get a More Defined Core
Ladies, we’re not going to tell you to starve yourself and walk around depleted just so you can lose fat and have visible abs. #SorryNotSorry
But, if you want a stronger, leaner frame, here are a few tips for how you can have a more defined midsection in a healthy and sustainable way.
Yes, Abs are Made in the Kitchen
When you’re looking to lean out, start with your nutrition. Are you prioritizing wholesome, healthy food over processed food? Are you getting your macros from more nutrient-dense sources? Are you getting enough protein and carbs?
Don’t let common nutrition myths fool you — like claims that carbs make you fat, or fat makes you fat. Your body needs every single macro. The goal is to get these calories from nutrient-dense sources and give your body the fuel that it needs to stay strong and lean.
Swap Sit-Ups and Crunches for More Compound Exercises
Sit-ups and crunches are the go-to for women trying to get abs. Are these exercises bad? No. Are there far more effective options out there? Yes!
Squats will strengthen and tone your midsection. Deadlifts. Sprinting is essentially a full-body workout that torches fat and builds strength. Don’t think that targeting abs means focusing on exercises that only target your abs. There are countless other exercises out there that 100% utilize your core. And if that’s happening, you’re getting stronger and leaner.
On a similar note…
Weights are Your Best Friend
We kind of already explained this but wanted to give it its own shout-out. Yes, having visible abs means lowering your body fat percentage. But where a lot of athletes go wrong here is they go crazy with cardio.
Sure, doing a ton of cardio might help you shed fat, but it’s going to be very difficult to keep that weight off. This is because muscle is what burns more calories. In other words, having more muscle means you burn more fat. So, the goal should be to build muscle, which is going to keep you lean and burn calories even after you’ve left the gym.
Cardio is great for your heart and lungs. To keep your fat percentage in check, prioritize weight lifting.
Try Incorporating More HIIT
Yes, HIIT very often means cardio, but here’s the thing: Short bursts of very quick movement (read: HIIT) is very different from steady-state cardio, like running five miles on the treadmill. In a nutshell, HIIT is more taxing on your body in different ways. While you might think you’re doing more work with hours of cardio, it’s actually minutes of HIIT that can be more effective.
Ladies, it bears repeating: You’re already beautiful, abs or no abs. Focus on strength. Focus on health. Focus on how you feel. If you find progress in these three areas, then you’ve already won.
If a more defined core is still the goal, we’ll always encourage you to do it in a safe, healthy, and sustainable way!
Ready to get stronger? Read up on common myths about building muscle.