Woman with 4-pack absShare on Pinterest

Defined, toned abs — commonly called a six-pack — are an often sought-after goal in the gym. But not all toned abs look the same. Some people sport a four-pack, while others may have an eight-pack.

Let’s take a look at the difference between ab types as well as the diet, exercise, and lifestyle tips that can help you achieve the strongest abs your genetics will allow.

Diagram showing the four muscle groups of the abdomenShare on Pinterest

The difference between ab types lies in the structure of your abdominal muscles.

Your abdomen contains four muscle groups. To get toned abs, you’ll need to do exercises that strengthen all four muscle groups. These muscle groups are:

Rectus abdominis

Once toned, the rectus abdominis becomes your four-, six-, or eight-pack. It comprises two connected muscle bands that run parallel to each other, down either side of the abdomen.

The linea alba is the fibrous band that separates the rectus abdominis. It forms the line that runs down the middle of the abdomen.

The rectus abdominis also helps:

  • regulate breathing
  • maintain posture
  • protect your internal organs

Transverse abdominis

The transverse abdominis is located deep within the abdomen. It extends from the front of your abdomen to the sides of your body. It helps provide stability and strength to your entire core, back, and pelvis.

If your transverse abdominis isn’t being worked, your rectus abdominis won’t become defined.

Internal and external obliques

The internal and external obliques help control the twisting and turning movements of your body. Along with the transverse abdominis, they provide a stabilizing girdle for your back and pelvis.

The external obliques are a large muscle group located at the sides of the rectus abdominis. The internal obliques are located just underneath, inside your hip joints. Working your obliques adds definition and tone to your abs.

Is it possible to have a 10-pack?

Being able to achieve a 10-pack is possible for some people.

You need to be born with a rectus abdominis that contains five bands of connective tissue running horizontally across it. You also need to regularly work out these muscles and follow a healthy diet.

Of course, what you eat and how you exercise also play large roles in how your abs ultimately look.

The rectus abdominis muscle has bands of connective tissue (fascia) crossing it horizontally. These bands give the appearance of multiple packs stacked on top of each other on either side of your abdomen.

You’re born with a set number of these connective tissue bands. You can’t build additional ones. Your genetics also determine their symmetry, length, and size.

A person with an eight-pack has four bands. A person with a six-pack has three bands. A person with a four-pack has two bands.

Many people’s rectus abdominis has three intersections. This means that if most people worked at it, they could achieve a six-pack.

But just because you have more or less doesn’t mean you’re stronger or weaker. It’s just your genes.

Some of the fittest people around can’t achieve six- or eight-pack abs. One of these people is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, even during his bodybuilding days, sported a four-pack.

Of course, what you eat and how you exercise also play large roles in how your abs ultimately look.

Both sexes have a genetic predetermination for the number of packs they can achieve. However, women require more body fat than men. This essential body fat is needed for:

  • estrogen production
  • optimum energy levels
  • healthy fertility

Because of this, it may be more difficult for women to lose enough abdominal fat to define their abs while staying healthy. Having too little body fat for your body type can lead to various complications in women, like:

  • menstruation issues
  • fatigue
  • a weakened immune system

Men have around 61 percent more muscle mass than women due to their higher testosterone levels. Men require less body fat for optimum health, too. So, they can more readily lose enough fat to show their toned rectus abdominis muscles underneath.

While your genetics help determine how your abs look, you can still build a strong core. A strong core protects your back and spine, preventing injury.

These exercises can help strengthen your abs and build muscle mass. If you want to have visible abs, you’ll have to spend time toning them at least every other day and follow a healthy diet.

Plank

This highly effective exercise works your entire core, as well as your glutes and hamstrings. It also improves balance and stability.

Directions:

  1. Get in a pushup position, balancing on your forearms. Your elbows should be around hip-width apart.
  2. Engage your core. Don’t let your back sag to the floor. You should start to feel your abs shaking.
  3. Exhale. Maintain this position for 30 seconds to a minute, building up to 2 minutes.
  4. Don’t forget to breathe!
  5. Repeat 10 times.

You can also try harder modifications, like side planks and knee touches.

Dead bug

The dead bug works your obliques, rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis muscles. It also improves core stability and helps correct excessive anterior pelvic tilt.

Directions:

  1. Lie faceup on a mat.
  2. Reach your arms straight above your shoulders with fingertips extended, keeping your elbows locked.
  3. Draw your knees directly up over your hips in a tabletop position with your shins parallel to the floor.
  4. Keep the small of your lower back on the floor.
  5. Inhale, lowering your right arm below your head while straightening out your left leg and lowering it to the floor.
  6. Exhale, slowly change sides, and repeat.
  7. Work up to 15 reps on both sides.

If your lower back doesn’t touch the floor, roll up a small towel and place it in the small of your back to stay stable during the exercise. This isn’t an easier or modified version, and it won’t diminish the exercise’s intensity. It’ll protect your lower back from injury.

Looking for a challenge? Check out these dead bug variations.

Bent leg V-up

This exercise focuses directly and intensely on the rectus abdominis muscle. It’s excellent for balance and full-body stability. It’s also effective whether it’s done quickly or slowly.

Directions:

  1. Lie faceup on a mat. Keep your legs straight.
  2. Position your arms so they remain straight on the mat at your sides.
  3. Exhale. As you inhale, lift your shoulders off the ground and sit up while lifting your legs toward your middle.
  4. Don’t use momentum to yank yourself up. Let your abs raise your torso up as far as you can go. As your abs become stronger, your ability to rise up higher will also increase.
  5. Balance on your glutes for several seconds. Don’t forget to breathe.
  6. Slowly lower your upper and lower body down simultaneously, then repeat.
  7. Work up to 25 or more reps.

For many people, getting sculpted abs requires time and dedication. These tips can help you get started.

Cardio exercise

Cardio exercise has been linked to reductions in belly fat. Less belly fat will help make your abs more visible. Cardio examples include:

  • running
  • jumping rope
  • swimming
  • cycling

Try to build cardio into your day-to-day life. Walk or ride a bike instead of driving. Take a run or swim before or after work. Hate running? Here are nine cardio alternatives to try.

Aim for a minimum of 20 to 40 minutes of cardio at least four times a week.

Resistance training

Exercises that require you to move your body against resistance help build muscle strength, tone, and endurance.

Exercise machines and enhancements, such as weights and body bands, all provide resistance. So do many water exercises.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

HIIT refers to short, one- to two-minute bursts of high-intensity cardio followed by a rest period of equal time. To be effective, each burst of cardio must be done at your very top capacity.

Because your body is working at its highest capacity, HIIT sessions burn lots of calories both during workouts and for several hours afterward.

Eat more protein

A high-protein diet will help you build and repair muscle. It’ll also help you feel fuller longer. Opt for lean protein sources, such as:

  • fish
  • tofu
  • beans
  • chicken

Your ability to achieve a visible pack of abs — whether a four-, six-, or eight-pack — is largely determined by genetics.

However, healthy lifestyle choices, like losing belly fat and exercising, can provide anyone with a fit and toned abdomen. A strong core also helps with overall strength and balance.