5 Common Myths About Six Pack Abs

Last week, I was downtown chowing down breakfast with my friend Patrick Hitches downtown Chicago. Patrick’s like a walking terminator and made his own abs transformation a few months back.

Our talk quickly shifted from just catching up to fitness and comparing notes on our six-pack transformations. And, as we talked, we marveled just how much bad information is out there about losing weight and burning fat (and even worse, how much of it I believed over the years). After talking it through and realizing many of the same myths are repeated over and over again, I decided it’s time to do some myth-busting on 5 commonly believed myths about six pack abs.

5 Myths About Six Pack Abs

Myth #1 – You Can Run Off Your Belly Fat

“I need to lose weight so I’ll start running.”


I have a love/hate relationship with running and while I love the challenge of being able to run farther than I’ve ever gone before, it’s an absolutely terrible way to actually burn fat. Running and getting lean are actually polar opposite goals (when’s the last time you saw a long-distance runner who was absolutely jacked and not named David Goggins?).

If you don’t believe this, lets take a look at a recent informal case study I just did using google image search. The first person is Stephen Kiprotich – 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist in the Marathon event. The second person is Usain Bolt – 2012 Olympics Gold Medalist Sprinter in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m events.

Which one do you want to look like?

Marathoners vs. Sprinters

Which one do you want to look like?

Long distance runners have a terrible tendency to be skinny/fat or just skinny/skinny. There are very few long distance runners that combine distance running while being ripped and strong.

Triathletes tend to do a pretty good job of balancing the two, but that’s a whole other story.

Unfortunately, this misconception that running leads to fat loss is not only common, but ineffective. Because of that, so many people buy into it who want to lose weight and get turned off to fitness altogether. The thought-action cycle usually goes something like this.

“I don’t like running” –> “I have to run to lose weight” –> *Decides to run to lose weight* –> *Doesn’t lose weight* –> *Hates running* –> *Gets discouraged that they can’t lose weight* –> “I don’t like running”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against running and adding in running to your workouts will definitely make you a better runner, but it won’t help you burn fat. In fact, you might hurt yourself if you’re overweight and put unneeded pressure on your joints throughout the exercise.

Myth #1 Busted: What To Do Instead

Cut out the 2 hour cardio sessions. If you want to burn fat, 20 minute sprint sessions or jump rope interval training will do much more for you than those 10 mile runs.

Myth #2 – Crunches Are An Effective Abdominal Exercise

If I see one more person spend twenty minutes doing crunches in a futile attempt to get a flat stomach, I’m either going to scream or cry (probably just scream though).

Crunches are not an effective abdominal exercise.

They won’t “spot reduce” fat on your stomach, and they only engage a percentage of your abdominal muscles and can put a strain on your lower back and hip flexors.

Myth #2 Busted: What To Do Instead

Get off your back. If you want to work your core get off your back and start doing full body exercises that work your core and stabilization muslces will much much more for you than spending an hour on your back doing 1,000 crunches. Also, planks are awesome. Do those instead.

Myth #3 – You Need A Gym To Lose Weight

We have more gyms now than we’ve ever had in the history of time. And people are still out of shape and overweight. You don’t need a gym to lose weight  and get a six pack – you just need to move.

Get outside, play, do natural movements or bodyweight exercises.

If you want to lose weight, you don’t need a single piece of equipment. Skip the treadmill, and do sprints outside. Instead of bench press, do pushups. Instead of throwing tons of weigh ton of weight on a squat rack and butchering a squat, do air squats or lunges to start.

Not only are gyms not not needed, but they actualy provide MORE excuses for not working out. How many times have you thought about going to the gym but instead said:

  • “It’s too far away.”
  • “There are too many people. It’s crowded.”
  • “There aren’t enough people. I won’t know anyone.”
  • “I don’t know what to do.”
  • “They don’t have the equipment I like.”
  • “I’m embarrassed to be around gym people.”

Unless you’re trying to actively put on muscle mass, there’s no need for a gym – you can do everything you need to lose weight with bodyweight exercises with a flat space in your house or garage. And, if you really need to have a gym, you can make your nearby playground into a home gym.

Myth #3 Busted: What To Do Instead

Do the best you can, with what you have, wherever you are. I decided to do home workouts so I had no excuses. The only reason I could skip a workout was if my lazy butt decided it wasn’t worth it. You can get a six pack using nothing but bodyweight exercises and discipline.

Myth #4 – There’s “One” Killer Ab Exercise

There is no one killer exercise to get your abs to show up. Here’s the truth.

Abs are a body fat percentage game.

Most people need to get to sub-10% body fat before your abs will show and that happens through diet – not anything else. The annoying and difficult truth is that abs are made in the kitchen. If you want to believe anything differently, you’re going to be very, very disappointed and spend way too much money on late-night informercial products selling you the “next breakthrough workout.”

If you won’t change how you cook, you won’t change how you look. Sorry, for bursting your bubble, but that’s the truth. In my journey to lose 34 pounds in 8 weeks, I never did a workout that lasted longer than 30 minutes. I simply created a consistent intense workout and drastically changed how I ate. If you’re looking for the best ab exercise, this is the best one I’ve found:

The best ab exercise is five sets of stop-eating-so-much-crap. – Chris Shugart

Myth #4 Busted: What To Do Instead

If you’re looking for the “one” thing that will get you closer to six pack abs than anything else, take a good hard look at your diet. The paleo diet is a good framework to start with. 

Myth #5 – You Can’t Ever Get A Six Pack

The biggest thing myth is that you think you can’t do it. As soon as you see someone else’s results, you immediately think to yourself:

  • That seems really hard.
  • Someone else could do that, but not me.
  • They probably have great DNA. I was born to be like this.

Bullsh*t.I say that because I’ve been there. Hell, when I started, I didn’t think I could do it until I got the photos from the photo shoot back! But that’s how it is anytime you challenge the impossible. It seems impossible until the very moment you actually manage to do it.

“It always seems impossible until its done.” – Nelson Mandela

It’s easy to believe and say that it’s impossible to get a six pack while sitting around drinking Red Bull and eating oreos.

Of course you it’s impossible when you’re eating red bull and oreos. You have to change things!

But, if you change things, you can change your results. Losing fat and getting six pack abs isn’t easy, but it is simple. You just have to know what to do and you have to want it bad enough.

Myth #5 Busted: What To Do Instead

Instead of sitting around talking about why you couldn’t ever do it, get off your butt, change your habits and actually do it.


Have you ever bought into one of these myths? What other questions do you have about losing weight and getting a six pack?

I’ve put everything I know into a blueprint called Impossible Abs. Find out more here.

photo 1 | photo 2

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  1. D M says

    As a 13 year Health & Fitness professional I see so much misinformation every day is it any wonder people havn’t got a clue. A lot of it is perpetuated by bro-science and changes according to the profit profile of the company disseminating the information. Your post is spot on. Attaining a sixpack is simple, it’s just not easy…but certainly NOT impossible.

    • Eduardo says

      1. Yeah there’s a ton of misinformation out there. (plastic sweat-suits anyone?).
      2. Running does effectively burn a ton of fat. Not the absolute best in time effectiveness, but one of the best practical-fun combinations in my opinion.
      3. I’d be jay fat if not for running about 15 mi a week (not that much in case you’re not a runner) . I’m 6′ / 190lbs and eat/drink anything -lean!

    • zayn says

      I used to do crunches a LOT, and over a year I didn’t see any results, then I started doing other exercises like lunges and etc but I only saw a very little difference, I had gotten weak ab lines…
      So, I looked into sites and found out that you could have hardcore abs but they won’t show if they’re covered by a layer of fat, I realised that was my problem.. I did cardio, drank green tea, football and just got more active and BANG! Six packs baby!
      Just never give up on your goals guys!

  2. Jeremy says

    Thanks for this! I came here from a link to your Kirsch post, and came across the six-pack post. After a year and a half at my job, sitting around in an office then going home and drinking has taken its toll.

    All of my previous attempts at workouts have failed because they’re too boring and/or I get distracted after a week and don’t turn it into a routine. Your tips from “34 pounds in 8 weeks” made me realize I need someone to keep me on track.

  3. says

    Joel, thanks for these tips. It’s funny because your first tip on running to lose weight is something I believed was true and actually had a plan to start running for this reason. Time to change my plans!

    • Andres says

      I know it’s WAY late, but running is actually good for losing weight, just don’t expect to have a six-pack from running alone.
      I’m 21, 5′ 7” and it’s about 2 years since the last time I got over 60 kg (most of the time around 58.5).

  4. says

    I agree with all of this. There is so much false information out there regarding fat loss it’s almost sad. The number one key is diet. As I mentioned previously in an article of mine, take in less calories than your body uses per day and fat loss is the only possible outcome.

    • ashley says

      This is not true. dieting can help you lose weight but often it is not FAT loss.. much of it can be water wieght or worse muscle, tendon, etc. Exercise will burn FAT. it will also add muscle which increases metabolism which increases your ability to burn fat at REST. and to add to that if you are not fueling your body with the necessary calories you may actually GAIN weight becuase your body will hold on to most of the calories you give it.

      • JP says

        Well, you could just cut out carbohydrates and go and do natural movements or just play some sports with friends. Carbs is our energy source, and if you cut that out, FAT becomes your body’s go to generator. Survive of protein and water, the definition of lean.

  5. says

    I love this article especially not needing a gym. I have spent the last 10 months working out at home with just a pull up bar and a stability ball for equipment. I have lost 40 lbs and now have a nice 4 pack! People just love making excuses!

  6. says

    Thanks, Joel!

    I like to be reminded that – “if you want what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done.”

    I love Chris Shugart and T-Nation.

  7. Jeanie Witcraft says

    Once again, congratulations on the journey!

    I have a question for you, since you have access to a lot of top thinkers in the fitness field.

    YES, it’s possible for women to have 6 pack abs.

    Is it healthy though? I keep hearing that going below a certain bf% will stop menstruation and throw all the hormones out of whack.

    What’s the truth on this? I have a long way to go before I’m merely healthy….I’m not particularly interested in a 6 pack myself, but I work with thinspo/eating disordered women who are interested in such things.

    • says

      Well it depends on whether you want to get a six pack or just a flat stomach. Definition of your abs depends a little bit on your genetics and a little bit on what ab exercises you’re doing.

      But, I think the bigger question you had is about body fat. Women fitness will generally have anywhere from 15-25% body fat depending on what level of fitness you’re at and what exactly your goals are. If you get below 12%, that’s when you begin to have the hormone issues, etc, but you shouldn’t experience any of those problems if you’re in the 15%-25% range.

    • Janci says

      i’m at my ideal weight, most definitely not underweight – i’m 36 and a mom of 2. i work out occasionally, walking and doing yoga a few times a week. when my diet is clean (paleo), i have a six-pack. when i let my diet go, my six-pack disappears within a few days. so from my perspective, a six-pack on a woman can definitely be healthy!

  8. says

    I think you’ve somewhat inspired me.. but I am making it my mission to have a bikini bod/abs by the time I turn 30.. my next birthday.. not to get off my ass and do it!

  9. Luke says

    Most of this is pretty good info, however I think it’s total BS to say that running is a terrible way to burn fat or get lean. I bet Stephen Kiprotich’s body fat % is about as low as healthily allowable. Running burns a TON of calories and most any sedentary person would find that if they started running on a regular basis (while keeping their daily caloric intake the same) they’d lose weight. As for why the stereotypical runner is so skinny, I think there’s two simple explanations: One, some of them run so much that their bodies can’t maintain any extra muscle mass because they’re simply burning off too much energy, and Two, because the stereotypical long distance runner just doesn’t do much (if any) strength training. If you want to get more defined muscles any proper combination of diet and exercise will help, and running in combination with strength training should do the trick quite nicely.

    • says

      I put it as skinny/fat or skinny/skinny. My point was that most people think they can run their way to six pack abs and really it’s about diet more than pure running.

      Also, I don’t think most people who are forcing themselves to run because they think they’ll lose weight have Stephen’s body type in mind as their personal end goal.

    • says

      Luke –

      Running is the single most INeffective way to lose bodyfat when it comes to health and fitness. It utilizes stored glycogen as energy and is extremely catabolic to lean tissue.

      It is, in my very opinionated opinion useless – unless, you want to be a better runner. That’s the extent of what running long durations can do for your body – Running makes you a better runner, period.

      Here’s a solid article by my man Kiefer on EliteFTS (author and website both two of the most credible resources our country has to offer on legitimate training) // http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/women-running-into-trouble/

      Accepting Joel’s myth #1 is the fastest route to results.

      BTW – beast article brother!


      • ashley says

        false. running burns fat until you reach a certain point in the run (over an hour of a steady paced run) THEN you use glycogen.

        • says

          You actually have that backwards.

          Your body’s first response is to use the glycogen stores within your body. Most people have enough glycogen stored to last about 30-60 minutes of their exercise. From there, your body needs additional sources of fuel. The most common is to use gus or gels to get quick carbohydrate fuel and keep your body running. The alternate option is that your body can begin sourcing energy from fat, but unfortunately, most people’s bodies don’t burn it efficiently enough to prevent “bonking” in long-distance events.

          See about halfway down this page – http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/peggy1.htm

          • ashley says

            no no no. this is so frustrating. just study metabolism. on a regular, low to moderate intensity run, you are burning almost ALL FAT!! you store about 1500-2000 calories of carbohydrate. yes you burn these constantly, BUT you are burning at least 80% FAT at this intensity. in a marathon you have to take in carbs because of the low amount the body can store and as the run goes on (gets more intense and hard on the body) you burn a larger proportion of carbs and you take in a gel so you dont run out. but normal running at a low to moderate intensity will burn almost all FAT!!

        • says

          Joel is correct in his answer… Not to mention (especially in females) how long distance steady state running completely trashing your T3 levels resulting in a trashed thyroid functioning. The misconception on running is truly a disheartening one. It’s so important to understand the truth behind this.

          • says

            Running is great if you want to be a runner. If you want to burn fat – there’s are way more effective methods that take a lot less time, energy & frustration.

          • ashley says

            is this real life? where do you get such information?? running will destroy your thyroid?? really? please enlighten me.

    • says

      To add (and sorry I haven’t read the article yet, Patrick), the problem with long-distance running is that you build (or lower) your heart-rate, which helps you to run further and longer. As Patrick indicated, running makes you a better runner. You may, get the “six-pack abs”, but in essence, they aren’t. Long-distance runners become so skinny that they get the “six-pack” look by necessity because they have very little body-fat – but sacrifice strength (especially functional strength).

      I think what Joel is trying to debunk, is that people want six-pack abs, while still having a muscular physique, and having that everday-functional strength, but achieving it through long-distance running. The only way to obtain a six-pack (with a muscular physique) is through anaerobic exercises, or some form of high intensity interval training (I personally believe in CrossFit). This constantly shocks your heart and your muscles – which leads to fat being burned for up to 48 hours post-workout (whereas aerobic-only exercise burns fat only up to 17 hours post-workout).

      Most people don’t aspire to look like Olympic long-distance runners, but they do aspire to look like Olympic short-track sprinters. Watch a video of Usain Bolt’s workouts – he’s nuts!

  10. says

    Love it Joel. I have a similar idea for “How to play the guitar.” You don’t need a book, you don’t need a course, you don’t need to learn chords. The idea is that you sit down and start making noise with the guitar. Keep trying until you find a noise you like. Repeat that noise and add another noise you like. Continue until you have a song.

    There you go. Instructions to learning guitar in 5 lines.

    You’re crushing it mate! Thanks for the quality reading.

  11. Rick McElrath says

    Actually running is an effective weight loss method, when used correctly. If you are severely overweight, and don’t follow a plan designed by experienced people who follow safe practices, you can get injured.
    I’ve lost over 30 pounds running, as part of a program designed by Hal Higgons for half and full marathon training. The long run is where the fat burning takes place.
    Another lesser known fact is that with men at least, belly fat, the fat called love handles, on the inner thigh is the last to go.
    When I started running, I had knee issues, foot issues, etc. Gradually, the knee issues resolved themselves as I lost the weight, and used good recovery therapy. My feet were wimpy, and have since been strengthened by the running.
    I never thought I would run a half marathon, which I have, am planning a full and a 50K in March.

    But ultimately, it’s calories taken in, vs. calories expended. No magic formula, no one secret plan, etc.

    Now if washboard six pack abs is all you’re after, I would say that your vanity, not your overall health is what you’re seeking to boost. If that’s it, and you don’t want to expend the energy, go buy a new Mustang!

    • says

      Weight loss //=// Fat Loss.

      You could lose an arm and that would still be an effective weight loss method.

      I’m not saying running is bad if you want to run a marathon. I’m saying it’s an ineffective method if you want to lose fat and/or get a six pack quickly.

      • Danny says

        Joel – any thoughts on running 3 miles, three times a week? Seems like a good way to burn some calories, could be used in addition to strength training and also wouldn’t transform you into Kiprotich.

        • says

          I think it’s okay as a component if you’re focused on being well rounded as an athlete (if short distance running is a component of that). I think it’s good to be able to do 3 miles easily. It’s certainly not going to stress you like long-distance endurance running will. I would say it falls into the “okay” category. If you enjoy it, keep it up. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it, but it’s not required or necessary to burn fat if that’s your goal.

      • Stuart says

        Running is great for a fat burn. Its like anything it is one training method and in order to attain a well balanced body one will find them selves performing weight or strength training of some sort. Its all about balance. If you run and thats all you do you will be lean but will not have a good body. If you weight train and do nothing else you will be muscluar but will lack cv fitness. You can burn fat using many methods but running in my opinion is one of the best. Boxers and fighting athletes have used running and road work as such to supplement there weight loss for years. Of course alongside weight and bag/ pads and sparring training. So run. And run hard. Keep it under 5 miles. But be fast and intense!!

    • says

      Rick –

      Your comment that it’s a “calories in/calories expended” is as on point as your opinion on running. Both completely false. If it was as simple as calories in calories out, you could drink your 3000kcals/day in vodka and maintain your physique.

      It obviously runs deeper than this as does the strategy of fatloss with cardio. If you had a crapload of weight to lose initially you more than likely lost 10lbs of water, 10-15 of muscle and because you were actually moving and not on the couch you snagged 5lbs of fat.

      Fat loss vs weight loss are two very differing things as Joel mentions above. :)


  12. says

    With all of the above said. Circuit gymnastics of handstands, L-sits, and other random moves I gained a lot of core strength, muscle and shape. Once you master any hard gymnastic move you will see you muscles through your shirt :)

  13. William Dulitz says

    The ONLY reason I run is to get from one obstacle to the next in Obstacle Course Racing (i.e. Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, MudChug, and Spartan Race), other than that, I’m not a huge fan of it.

    Cross training with the bike and bodyweight/found object training is much more enjoyable, though, people look at you weird when you’re doing long jump burpees down the recreation trail, or you’re carrying around a large stick in an unbalanced way.

    As of now, I have enough of a six pack…well, the outline of the abdominals is visible and I have no love handles (9-12% body fat). I want to be able to keep my endurance up, be able to lose weight during a challenge without getting the shakes like one of my friends did (chiseled six pack, 6% body fat).

    Maybe I’ll go for the six pack when I “settle down” in the future 😉

  14. E T says

    This information is great, but I think it somewhat assumes desired results and individual reactions to weight training are more uniform than actuality. I can utilize weight training combined with low impact cardio and disciplined eating habits to get “shredded” pretty quickly. With my 6’4, wide-body stature, however, this muscle-driven version of “shredded” turns me into a Dolph Lundgren character type. In the acting and modeling world, my current goal is not to become a jacked-up physical specimen, but to maintain a fit versatile body type. I’m shooting for “Ashton” not “Arnold”. That being said I have found that a daily dose of running and/or swimming, incline walking, and elliptical sessions to provide variation and recovery time for my knees work with minimal low weight/high rep strength training to reduce muscle mass while maintaining muscle definition. I still want abs, I just don’t want a 47 pack of pulsating muscle and veins busting out of my mid section : ) Either way, I agree, eating right is the ONLY way to achieve a defined midsection…regardless of how much muscle you plan to pack.

    Just some perspective from a self-correcting, non-expert, fitness enthusiast, entrenched in a personally evolving trial and error plan for success…much love!

    • says

      My main goal with getting shredded is to know how far I can go in one direction. Then, I can tailor what I want to look like based on what i need to do (or in your case what role I need to play). If I go to the edge I know all the steps in between and know how to “turn the dials” to get to wherever I want to go.

      I’m definitely not staying at 5.4% for the long term, but it was a goal that let me figure out how to fine tune my physical dials, so I know I can get to 5,6,7,8, or 9% BF and look different ways if I want to. That’s why I did what I did and you can change your personal results based on how intensely you implement the program and restrict your diet.

  15. says

    Hi Joel,

    Last year a reader from my site wrote: “One beetle recognizes another.” And I am so glad to be able to say it here.

    This is a great article.

    There is so much more to being fit than having the shell of an athlete. So many are going for the six-pack-abs without understanding that form follows function.

    We are here to help our readers understand that to achieve an anatomically functioning body entails a lot of practice and repetition to get our limbs to move with bio-mechanical correctness.

    As you mentioned in your post, with MYTH #1, so many still believe that being able to endure long durations of activity is the answer. Take for example how many bones and muscles etc. make up our body.
    206 bones in the human adult
    640 – 850 muscles in the human body (depending on who you ask).

    Our resulting ‘figure’ or muscle tone is dependent upon how our body is aligned and whether we move with symmetry or not. (Most of us don’t move with symmetry for a whole host of reasons).

    I’ll be posting a follow up about this on my site in the near future.
    Glad I found you (my husband forwarded your article to me)
    …I look forward to reading more from you.

    Keep in touch.


    • says

      If you’re really trying to lose weight, I’d stay away for a few reasons:

      1) A lot of people are intolerant of it – they simply can’t handle lactose or casein found in it.
      2) There’s studies out there that see a lot of participants stall in weight loss when they introduce dairy because
      3) The sciency reason: Dairy causes an insulin spike reaction which can stall fat loss and cause weight gain.

      TLDR: It’s not the worst thing you can include in your diet and if you do partake, make sure it’s high-fat and cultured in someway (cheese, butter, yogurt), but if you’re really serious about losing weight and you’ve stalled out, there’s a lot of evidence for why you should try cutting dairy out of the picture.

      Personally, I have butter and the occasional yogurt, but don’t drink much or any milk at all anymore.

  16. Kate says

    Hey Joel,

    I’m not out for six-pack abs per se, but do really really need to work on my core stability. Planking is a great place to start, but do you have any other exercises you like when it comes to building even stability?


  17. says

    As someone who has done 3 Ironman races, I can attest to everything you write here. Training for 3 Ironmans did NOT help me lose weight. After racing triathlons and marathons for many years, I converted to CrossFit and now I do CrossFit and race 5k and 10k races and I actually feel much healthier. But changing my nutrition makes the biggest overall difference. (and now my favorite exercise is toes to bar!)
    So kudos to you for speaking the truth here!
    == niki

  18. David says

    I’m 22 now, however when I was in 7th or 8th grade I will never forget my doctor telling me that I’m not built to have a six pack. She said I could have a flatter stomach, but a six pack, no. I’ve never wanted to believe this, but I heard this from a doctor. It won’t stop me from going for a flat stomach I guess, which a nice goal to have. However it’s harder to visualize for myself what this goal looks like. With a 6 pack it’s pretty clear if it’s there or not. I need a clearer defined goal, I just wish it could be for the abs. It was addressed as a myth in the article that “you can’t ever get six pack abs”, but has anyone else ever been told this by a doctor? Talk about discouraging.

    • says

      I have no idea what you look like or the background of your situation, but EVERYONE has a six pack, you just have to get rid of enough body fat to see them. It seems pretty premature from a doctor to tell a 13 year old that. My usual response if someone tells me that is, “okay, watch me.”

      • David says

        5 10′ 190, with the same baby fat I’ve always had. Did football and track in high school. I think I definitely focused more on upper body than I’ll need to now (bench). Yeah true! It always puzzled me how she could even know that. Perhaps she was just telling me it’d be tougher for me to attain because of my body shape (stockier)? I don’t care, I’ll go for it.

        no more beer =[ a cold beer is one of the hardest things for me to say no to… no one said this was gonna be easy though. I’m moving into a studio in September, so there’s no excuse to not surround myself with good food. I don’t know if you already mentioned this or this idea, but I think it would be cool if you put some of your favorite recipes up or even a sample grocery list on the blog.

        thanks for the encouragement!

    • says

      I take everything doctors say with a grain of salt. Most doctors will discourage you from doing something as healthy as the Paleo diet…and from personal experience, I find the rest of their advice tends to come from the same place.

  19. J-D says

    Running is a great way to start a fitness and conditioning program. I went from 20% body fat to 10% by following an intensive 3 month cardio conditioning program. I can see my abs now, but I know in order to get down to the real “6 pack”, and reach my goal of 5% bodyfat, I now have to do intensive interval training, combined with resistance exercise and various other training exercises.

    I am just saying that running is a good way to get started on your way to a 6 pack, and prepares you well for the final steps that are needed. Looking forward to your 6 pack program Joel!

  20. Emmet Buchanan says

    I’m curious about 2 things Joel( and all); Any recommendations on stretching around taking on 6 pack abs? And I’m doing the Tough Mudder in Sept outside of Seattle, and I want to make sure that I’m training for that properly, even though I’ve started a game of having 6 pack abs by my Birthday in Oct. I just started 2 days ago, and I can’t wait to see what you post on the work out and all the details! Any suggestions?

  21. Matt G says


    Read your initial “Impossible Abs” post almost two weeks ago. Went to the store and started that diet the next day. Today is Day 12 emulating what you did (albeit not quite as strict), and I’m already 7 lbs down. Glad I found you!!!

    I do have a question though, how many calories did you eat daily? I’m a smidge taller and bulkier than you but we have similar body types. I’m doing the Insanity workout at the same time so my caloric needs are really high. I’m trying to stay at a 2500 daily minimum and even that is probably too low most days, however I’m having a hell of a time eating that much healthy food. I’m never hungry and I force feed myself every 3 hours.

    It’s working, but it’s really quite awful – the food choices are fine, it’s the quantity that is killing me. Before I read your post I’d eat a ton more calories in fruit, dairy, and bread and did not have this issue.

    • says

      I have no idea. I haven’t tracked calories once.

      I would say, if you’re not hungry, then don’t eat. You’re going to find that proteins and fats are WAY more satiating than carbs which is why you’re not that hungry. Don’t try to force feed yourself if you’re not feeling it. Eat when you’re hungry.

      If you start wanting to bulk up, then you’ll want to look at calories a little more closely, but otherwise listen to your body and do what it tells you to do.

  22. says

    Joel this is straight up awesome man.

    In particular I liked the point about “you don’t need equipment”. I can second that. I bought into that bulsh** myth for a while too. When I moved to Japan last year I lived in the countryside. They had ZERO gyms.

    Initially I tried running but it didn’t do it for me and on top of that it hurt my joints. After fluctuating with my weight I took a step back and got real with myself:

    “Izzy, there is always a way. Quit making excuses”.

    I took a walk and right across from my house was a small playground. I took a look. And within minutes I saw my new gym. I could do pull ups, dips, angled push ups, foot work, suicides, squats, the list goes on and on.

    Now, I don’t BUY into any excuses (Cold Shower Treatment helped too!). I moved from the countryside and live in the city. Now, there aren’t any playgrounds near my home. Instead, my gym is is a small dirt parking lot. I do a ton of body exercises and it works great. I get the best workouts I have ever had in my entire life and I USE ZERO equipment.

    I’ll repeat it for emphasis: I have the the greatest workouts in my life in a small dirt parking lot every morning (except Sunday).

    Awesome post man.

  23. Frank says

    Great Article Joel!

    This is so true

    The best ab exercise is five sets of stop-eating-so-much-crap.

    — Chris Shugart (@ChrisShugart) August 9, 2012

    I just started following the Primal Blueprint and have really enjoyed this approach to eating. I refuse to call it a diet, its a lifestyle.


  24. Júlio Prado says

    Hi, nice article you have here. congrats. But, I still have one question about six packs. Well, I know you gotta have below 10% bf to have something showing up, but, I’m still confused about it. I have always been a skinny guy who doens’t eat much crap. I started to workout 2 years ago, theres not even a single fat on my belly. last time, I was around 7% bf,still not 6 packs at all.. everything I got is something like 4 packs. Do you know why I don’t have full 6 pack? thanks =)


  25. Chad Fahlman says

    Agree with all of these except number 1. Man is number one just plain WRONG.

    Attempted summary: Growing up I loved running in most of its forms – even on a treadmill. My friends and I were very active. Starting in high-school and going into adulthood I’ve regularly lifted weights and performed resistance exercises. After high-school my family genes kicked in and I progressively got fatter from overeating.
    I am no stranger to hard work and discipline. I’ve tried many combinations of diet/exercise over the years including HIIT, Fasting, and Paleo. Though they have yielded fatloss and other improvements it was ultimately a life-style I couldn’t sustain. More than that, it was a lifestyle I DIDN’T want to sustain. Nobody wants to live their life constantly sweating about the smallest metrics. Quite frankly I had more stress from dieting than not.
    So I stopped dieting. I ate what I wanted whether it was a burger, pasta, loaded with carbs, too few carbs. Beginning at the new year I hopped on that dusty treadmill and have been performing ‘steady-state cardio’ daily. To be more specific, my routine typically involves running for an hour at 4-7mph. Sprinting has been mixed in because I ENJOY it but the bulk of my cardio is running or, hell, walking at a fixed speed. I focused on the total calories burned.
    And you know what? In all the years of dieting and weight lifting and pure HIIT the bodyfat has not come off quicker.
    It should be noted I eat when I’m hungry – but I eat whatever when I’m hungry and forget about portioning. I began truly enjoying fruit/veggies and willingly consuming whole foods not because the experts told me to, but because it was fuel and enticing. I avoid excess calories by drinking only water. I suspect this is how our ancestors ate. Let’s face it: Given an opportunity they would have eaten anything. They did not count calories or macros. They weren’t immobilized by ‘routines’. They didn’t eat like fatasses.
    Running WILL help you burn fat.
    If you love to run, then RUN despite what experts tell you.
    You will NOT get rail thin. You likely do not train in the excess that marathons runners do.
    Don’t eat like FAT ASS.
    If you are overweight SPRINTING can be dangerous. It is hard on the joints. This is coming from someone with years of sprinting experience.
    My way is NOT necessarily the best or only way but don’t discount it if it’s something you truly enjoy.

    • says


      I’m not saying “don’t run at all.” Heck, if you look around the site, you’ll find I’ve run multiple marathons, half marathons and an ultra marathon. I’m a runner.


      If people are looking to burn fat, running long distance is not the most effective way to do it. You say sprinting is hard on the joints for those overweight – how is running 3, 6, 13, or 26 less stressful on those same joints?

      I’m a runner. If you love to run, then you should run.

      BUT, if you thinking spending 5 hours on the treadmill is going to get you the most efficient results – you’re wrong. I can prove it with 20-30 minute workouts consistently.

  26. Mudit says

    hey hi joel, just wanted to ask you how to lose fat from stomach and those flaps, i don’t have fat elsewhere on my body but too much on waist making it look like a tyre.
    3 years back i was around 100 kgs and was very fat, i did lot of running and now i am 85kgs and i just have a tyre.
    my height is 6ft and my the body is not balanced , the legs are very thin compared to the upper part of the body.
    Now my only goal is six pack abs, how can i proceed with it, and how can i get it in quickest possible time..?

  27. Piyush Aggarwala says

    Hi Joel,

    Tha is for your post. After reading it and every single comment above, I couldnt find what I was looking for. As an ex-runner, converted crissfitter, and now an avid triathlete, what’s your take on Olympic and half ironman distances?

    I have several Olympic and HIM distances and I have to say that more than just running, the combination has give me a solid 4 PAC. No, not a six and I hypothesize that it’s because of my diet.

    Let me know. Thanks!

  28. Jacob says

    It seems in one of your comments you say that “everyone has a six pack”. Maybe you should put this in one of your myths, because although that may be true, two people with the same 10% body fat can look COMPLETELY different. One person may have a full 6 pack while the other is no where close. He would need to get down to a very low 3-6% to probably show any. The reason being is because he has very little lean muscle mass.

    • says

      Below 10%, almost everyone’s 6 pack will show. However, how that six pack shows up depends a little bit on your musculature – which does vary person-to-person.

  29. Donna says

    Very true… i had a six pack and these two months i started eating a lot and i gained some fat around my belly. i workout 3-4 times a week (cardio, strength) but my unhealthy diet made my hard work useless :(

  30. John says

    The reason marathon runners are so skinny is because they run 100+ miles a week. Burning about 4000 calories a day. AT LEAST. Of course sprinters are gonna be jacked. All they do is lift weight and do speed which is what targets your whole body just like a full body workout would. Of course they’re going to be extremely skinny. But they’re also extremely cut. Your right, Marathoners aren’t “Jacked’, that’s because it’s impossible to maintain muscle running the distance and SPEED that they do. Whenever you do 26.2 miles at sub 5 minute pace once your body gets past the fat burning stage it starts eating right away at the muscle.

  31. Uwais says

    Hi there, I have a few questions to ask.

    I’m a kickboxer and work out twice a week. We do technique training but also do a good amount of bodyweight conditioning exercises like squats, planks, crunches, pushups etc. Since I’ve started I’ve seen a return of my abs, however I just can’t seem to get through this barrier!! It’s been around a month now since I’ve seen an improvement in my abs, so how can I step it up to get those killer abs that I’m after?

    I’ll be honest, I eat a good amount of crap, mostly because I have a high metabolism, so eating that kinda stuff doesn’t bother me, it never really shows!

    I want to start road running, not for burning fat but for fitness. I know you’ve busted that myth, but will it make any difference to my abs, or will it just be neutral in that sense?

    Other than fixing my eating, what else can I do…? Once again, I train twice a week, technique + conditioning + continuous fighting. Should I start training more often as well?

  32. shirwa says

    Interesting I am a marathon runner and I run km I am injured at the moment and all i want to do is go run. I completed the Oceans 56km recently and guess what I have a 6 pack and I am ripped in my stomach area. My bodyfat is 16.9 percent not bad for a marathon runner. My diet is clean I have recently changed to paleo diet would like to see how the cutting back on carbs and running long distance improves my running and if it get the body fat down I do agree you need to eat a good diet healthy good fats almonds, avo, coconut and lean proteins plenty

  33. ron says

    Saying running and becoming lean are opposites, or “this misconception that running leads to fat loss is not only common, but ineffective” seems overkill. I mean you disproved your own statement by showing a picture of the marathon runner, who is clearly lean and has little fat. I understand what you are saying, just should have thought about your word choice a little more.

  34. Zak Ahmed says

    Im 13 Years old i am 5,5 and 145 pounds. My mum says i am about to hit my growth spurt. i don’t have control of my meals as my parents will decide i seat a lot of fast food. i tend to skip breakfast and dinner a lot of the time but i am seeing no results on getting slimmer. I exercise a lot i train once a week for and hour and a half i do 2 50 min pe lessons a week and have a 70 min football game on saturdays and also i play basketball after school at home and during the season and i am getting a gym membership as i have no space to sprint and stuff please can someone give me answer i am looking for to get lean and have abs before i hit my growth spurt.
    Thanks Zak

    • says

      Hey Zach,

      At 13 years old – the biggest thing is to be patient. Your muscle definition & size will come when you start to hit that spurt. Give it time & don’t worry too much about putting on tons of size or leaning out too much. Have fun & enjoy football & basketball.

  35. Kate says

    I combine jogging with strength training every day and eat a very healthy balanced diet. I am toned with a six pack and a low body fat percentage. After the birth of my daughter I used this method and lost 70 pounds and have an amazing figure. As a result I find it confusing as to why your article states that running does not contribute to fat loss? Strength training alone would not have been enough to rid myself of the huge amounts of weight I had gained during pregnancy and its basic maths – if you burn more calories than you consume and you lose weight (obviously while still consuming the recommended daily intake of calories to prevent your body going into starvation mode). While I agree that running alone will not give you amazing abs I think it is a shame that you could potentially deter someone from jogging based on a ‘case study’ of two images of two athletes without backing up your assumption with sound medical fact. I guarantee that anyone who consistently jogs will loose weight if combined with a healthy diet. Add in strength training and you will see fantastic results. Nonetheless I really liked the other points you made, especially the final myth. I never believed I could make it to where I am today. I never thought I was ”that” person & the best decision I made was one year ago when I decided to get off my ass and do something about it!

  36. Ben says

    I don’t Believe diet is the most important thing. My friend is a SS in the Marine Core, and he eats like none other. Always eating ice cream, candy, drinking soda, and all that stuff that everyone says is horrible for your body. But he is also in the best shape of his life: 6 pack, can run 5 minute miles for multiple miles, and he’s just honestly in amazing shape. But he has never dieted, he’s has just worked his ass off getting in shape.

  37. Ryan Lossing Weight says

    I also dissagree with the claim that running is useless, but I do agree that diet is more important.

    I just lost 15 lbs in a few weeks. I would say that nearly all of my progress is the result of keeping a food diary, cutting calories, and eating better food. However, this doesn’t mean that my running has been useless. I cut over 1,000 calories per day (over 7,000 per week) by eating better. It takes an absurd amount of running to burn that many calories. So I definately know the diet has been the biggest help. However, the 2000 calories/week that I burned by running has certaily played a roll in reducing my weight.

  38. David Kline says

    Definitely diet is at least 80% of the issue. I am 6 ft and was 222 lbs and lost 30 lbs in about three months just eating better, reducing some calories and it wasn’t that hard. After about a month you notice your cravings start dissipating and it’s easier to feel full on less food. I use Total Gym at home for about 15 minutes a day and do some deadlifts but that’s it.

  39. Mac says

    4 out of 5 are solid….myth 1 is not a myth….running creates a caloric deficit which leads to weight loss….period. That could have wrecked the entire article

  40. James morirty says

    I have lost a lot of fat by a walk run combination everyday for about an hour. I much prefer to do this than sprint.

  41. John Stevens says

    Ya know whats funny, I lost 30 pounds in one month because I RUN everyday and play soccer and my six pack is coming back, it depends on the person, all this science stuff may be right to a broad audience but it isn’t accurate for everyone

  42. Nick says

    The problem with your article is you don’t back it up with fact. Sorry but a picture of two different types of runners means nothing. You ignore other variables that contribute to their physique, like genetics.

    The FACTS say that running does burn considerable fat calories. The reality is you are always burning a combination of carbohydrates and fat calories. Even when you are sitting and watching tv you are burning about 50% fat calories. For example, let’s say you watch tv for an hour and burn 50 calories, 25 of these calories will be fat calories.

    Now let’s say you decide to get up and run. Yes at first, the percentage of fat calories burned will be lower (about 30%), but the amount of calories will be higher. After the first 15 minutes, the percentage of fat calories will increase to about 40%, and then 50%.

    So let’s say you go for a 30 minute run and burn 400 calories. In the first 15 minutes you will burn roughly 60 fat calories and the second half you will burn roughly 80 fat calories. That’s 4.67 fat calories per minute (granted this will be different for everyone).

    Granted, running isn’t going to give you rock hard abs, but it will decrease belly fat on the abs. Plus it has other benefits like mental health, stress reduction, and heart benefits.

    My source is my college anatomy and physiology textbooks.

  43. Jade says

    I’m a woman and currently sit at 18% body fat. I do yoga, kettle bells, weight at, Pilates and running 6 times a week (I vary what I do as I enjoy all of it). I eat gluten free, milk free and refined sugar free. I still have no abs, wwhhhyyyyy??


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