The Six-Pack: is it worth it?

Jul 5, 2018

In the fitness world, nothing screams “sexy” like a nice set of abs. Let’s face it! The coveted “six-pack” is the most desirable and sought out body trait for gym goers (especially for males). It’s become a symbol of near physique perfection as well as a social status. These lean physiques have been linked with movie stars, rock stars, superheroes and professional athletes. Everyone envies people with a shredded midsection and presume their lives would be better if they had one too. Yet, would it actually? Would having abs like a cheese grater eliminate their insecurities and give them a better life? The better question is, “have these people ever wondered what it would actually take to achieve such a body?”

History of abs

We can blame Hollywood and the media for promoting such body images. In fact, the six-pack wasn’t always as popular as it is now. Even “Mr. Sexy” himself, Marlon Brando, didn’t care much about them. It wasn’t until the 1980’s and the increased popularity of bodybuilding that abs became a staple in the fitness industry. Actors such as Arnold, Sly, and Bruce Willis helped boost the sex appeal of abs to what it is now. With all the different social medias, the six-pack is bigger than ever, and so are people’s envy.

Media Misconception

As mentioned above, the media, especially social platforms such as Instagram have glorified the six-pack, tight butts, and flawless body image. Everyone wants the cover model body, not the average joe’s body because they want to stand out. The problem lies in that the images portrayed by these “superstars” are unrealistic and often unachievable for the typical family man/woman.

The realization must be made that such photos are often the product of months or even years of preparation for a single photo shoot. Movie stars and models know the date of their “shirtless scene” or “cover shoot” months in advance allowing them to look perfect for that specific day. Evidently, their bodies aren’t “cover ready” 24/7 and usually only look like that for a day. Therefore, it is important to understand that the body image portrayed is not a realistic or attainable goal that one could maintain forever. We also need to recognize that these individuals are paid to look this good, therefore commit all their time towards it. It’s their full-time job! Most of these high-profile movie stars often have a team of people helping them reach their goal. From personal cooks/chefs cooking their meals to personal trainers and assistants managing their environment. The “behind the scenes” assistants ensure each meal is eaten at proper times, each workout is completed and that no temptations are present in their environments! Now you can’t tell me the average person can control all that by themselves! Family, work and other commitments will come in the way!

Yet, society still demands that we obsessively strive to have what the images portray, and that’s better abs and tight butts. So that being said, if you’re still stubborn and wanting these unrealistic results, let’s take a look at what it actually takes to get “cover-model” lean.

The cost of getting “cover-model” lean

First things first! In order to get abs to ripple, one must get their body fat percentage to single digits. Achieving a body fat percentage under 10% is quite the feat of its own. This can take years of dedication and consistency through proper dieting and physical activity. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg for a set of Hollywood abs. To get abs like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, you’ll need to get under 6-5% body fat. Now if you thought 10% was tough, try 5%.

Getting to this type of leanness looks amazing but in fact, it’s not healthy or sustainable. You might be able to get a few jaw-dropping stares at the beach or feel accomplished for a short period of time, but that won’t last forever. Studies show that this type of leanness actually leads to the following health problems:

  • Loss of sex drive
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression and social isolation
  • Hormone imbalances; testosterone in males and amenorrhea in females.
  • Unbalanced life
  • Overtraining

To put into perspective what someone would need to do to achieve such low body fat percentage, look at the following points:

What you’ll need to DO:

  • Follow a meal plan which has precisely the perfect number of calories at each meal of the week.
  • Each meal has the precise amount of protein, veggies, and healthy fats.
  • Eat these meals 6-8 times a day, EVERYDAY.
  • Eat the same plain meals over and over again EVERYDAY.
  • Scheduled time in your day/week to prepare these meals EVERYDAY. This includes cooking, weighing and measuring each meal.
  • Bring these meals with you everywhere you go to ensure you don’t miss a meal.
  • Incorporate carb cycling protocols within the diet.
  • Drink ONLY water for liquids.
  • Exercise for 60-90 mins of sweating/intense bouts, TWICE a day, 6-7 times a week. (14-21 hrs/week!!!)
  • Sleep a minimum of 8 hours a night, EVERY night of the week.
  • Dehydrate yourself days before the photoshoot.

What you’ll need to GIVE UP:

  • ABSOLUTELY no alcohol beverages at all times. Forget going out for beers with the boys or drinking a glass of wine with the gals.
  • NO dessert or any processed foods (possibly once every 3 months).
  • NO consumption of high-calorie beverages such as sodas, lattes, juices…
  • Going out for dinner or drinks with friends, meaning you’ll miss out on socializing and fun events.
  • Any other commitments that take time since your number one priorities are eating and exercising.
  • Socializing anywhere that food or any temptations are present. Socializing will become very difficult.
  • Relationship struggles may occur due to time commitment towards getting lean.

On top of all this time-consuming list, don’t forget that you’ll also need to find the time to work your full-time job and keep up with family and friends.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but even if you can accomplish all of that you’ll still fall short of reaching “cover-model” leanness. The reason is due to the advancement in the digital age. The majority of all images in the media have been sprinkled with some sort of special effects. From Photoshop to perfect lighting, they’ll make anybody look like a perfect body.

Hopefully, by now you’ll see the point I am trying to get across. We need to start lowering our expectations of what we want our bodies to look like. Don’t get me wrong, as aiming to get a lean figure is a great goal and reaps health benefits. Instead of trying to become the next Calvin Klein model, perhaps aim to be the fittest you’ve ever been. Beat your “old best” and learn to love yourself and body.

Skip the occasional social outing to hit the gym or offer to be the designated driver for a night instead of drinking. Whether the case may be, set your priorities so they reflect your goals the majority of the time, yet allow yourself to enjoy life as well. If you’re consistent with your healthy habits and exercise routines then the results will show. You might not be “cover model lean” but let’s be honest, I’d rather have a few beers or occasionally go out for ice cream with friends then be stuck counting how many stocks of broccoli I am allowed to eat. After all, being happy is more important than a few more Instagram followers or likes, wouldn’t you agree?


Paul Bissonnette BKin, CSEP-CEP, NSCA-CSCS, FMSC, Pn1


  • Andrews, R. (n.d.). The cost of getting lean: is it really worth the trade-off?. Retrieved from Precision Nutrition:
  • Baechle, T. R.; Earle, R. W. & National Strength and Conditioning Association. (200). Essentials of strength training and conditioning (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Berardi, J., & Andrews, R. (2015). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition Certification Manual (Second ed.). Precision Nutrition Inc.
  • McArdle, W., Katch, F., & Katch, V. (2010). Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance (7 ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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