Those who are frequent flyers at the gym are after one thing, and that’s a washboard stomach with six-pack abs. However, sometimes this is not possible for various reasons, the most common one being genetics. There are several different types of abs that a person can have, depending on one’s genetic makeup. Additionally, how visible their abs are can be affected by genetics. The different types of abs for women can be four, six, or eight-pack abs. More uncommonly they can have ten or twelve-pack abs. No matter how much they work on their abdominal muscles, they will only achieve what their genetics have predetermined for them. This means that some people simply cannot have a six-pack, no matter how hard they work at it. That said, they can tone and buff what they have to the maximum by understanding the abdominal muscles and how to work them.
Here we will focus on what you need to know about the different types of abs and the muscles that need to be worked to build them. We’ll discuss the overview of genetics behind why you may not be able to achieve that desired six-pack and why ab exercises are not enough to burn belly fat. Now on to what you need to know about defining your core.
What Are The Different Types Of Abs?
To understand the type of abs you can achieve, it is essential to understand the different abdominal muscles you must exercise. They are the transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, external obliques, and internal obliques. You must work on each muscle to achieve the well-defined muscles many seek. Work some muscles to achieve the best definition on other muscles.
The Various Abdominal Muscles And Their Functions
The rectus abdominis is the primary abdominal muscle that can be seen in what many refer to as the “six-pack.” It runs from the ribs to the pubic bone and, during contraction, displays those characteristic bumps of the abs many strive for. However, its primary function is not in its appearance; rather, it structures movement between the ribcage and pelvis. Additionally, it also helps with breathing, protecting internal organs, and maintaining your posture.
Deeper inside and not visible in any way to the human eye, the transversus abdominis rests. It brings stability to your trunk and maintains the internal pressure of your abdomen. It has a side-to-side orientation as opposed to the up-and-down orientation of the other abdominal muscles. It is the deepest of all the abdominal muscles and directly affects the back. If you do not adequately work this muscle, you will be unable to define the rectus abdominis properly.
The obliques are on the sides of the rectus abdominis. The external oblique muscles do the twisting of your trunk. Note that the opposing side contracts to perform the movement. For example, if you wish to turn toward the right, your left external oblique muscle will contract to make the movement. The internal oblique muscles flank the rectus abdominis right inside the hip bones. Their function is opposite that of the external oblique muscles. For example, if you wish to turn left, your left internal oblique muscle must contract. Working both sets of these muscles will add tone and definition to your abs (3, 4).
That brings us to what type of abs you can develop. We have already mentioned the traditional six-pack, which is a goal for many, but what are the other types and what makes you develop one type over another? Let’s take a look.
Types Of Abs
The types of abs people can develop are known as four-pack, six-pack, eight-pack, and in uncommon cases, ten and twelve-pack. The rectus abdominis is the muscle in your four, six, or eight-pack. Despite how hard you work your abdominal muscles, your body may not be able to develop that elusive six-pack. Your genetics and the distribution of your belly fat play a large part in the appearance of your abs.
Are The Shape Of Your Abs Genetic?
People get different types of abs from genetics. They are naturally born with connective tissue or fascia that crosses the rectus abdominis. This fascia crosses the muscle in bands and gives it the appearance of a four-pack, six-pack, eight-pack, etc. As they work the rectus abdominis and strengthen it, the muscle creates bumps between the bands, giving the appearance of the abs.
Each person is born with a specific number of these bands and they cannot change throughout their life through any means. Their genetics will also determine how symmetrical their abs are in addition to their length and size. This means they may not have the “perfect” shape you may want as they become more and more defined.
This means that a person who develops a four-pack only has two of these bands, while a person who develops an eight-pack has four. Many of the people who develop a six-pack have three connecting bands. This means that no matter how hard you try to uncover the perfect six-pack, you might only ever uncover a four-pack or get a surprise and reveal an eight-pack.
It is important to note that having a certain number of bands does not denote a difference in personal strength. There are extremely fit people who are only able to achieve a four-pack (13).
Do Ab Exercises Help You Burn Belly Fat?
Surrounding the abs are two types of fat: subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is located between your muscles and your skin, while visceral fat is located around your organs in your abdominal cavity. Visceral fat is the more dangerous of the two, leading to complications such as type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and metabolic syndrome. Genetic factors are behind the exact positioning of both visceral and subcutaneous fat (9, 11).
Because genetics are involved, there may be limitations on how much of your abs you can reveal. While you can complete fat-burning exercises, there may be a limit to how much fat is removed, hence displaying your abdominal muscles.
However, completing ab exercises alone will not help you burn belly fat. There is a widespread misconception referred to as spot reduction that people believe will allow them to reduce their fat in specific areas by just working those muscles. Yes, you will feel the muscles as they are worked; however, you will not burn belly fat around your abs this way (5).
You must create a total body fat burn to have the most impact on revealing your abs. While most exercise protocols rely on regular and steady exercise, such as running or jogging, this often leads to poor weight loss. Those overweight or with significant fat deposits around their midsection will need a higher-intensity workout to increase fat burn.
A study published in the Journal of Obesity found that implementing high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) can reduce subcutaneous fat around the abdominal section of normal-weight and slightly overweight individuals. Including HIIE decreased insulin resistance, which is known for increasing subcutaneous fat in this area (6, 7).
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can burn more fat than moderate-intensity training and allow you to work out less. This type of training continues to burn calories even after the workout has ended. The benefits continue for hours. In addition, as your body returns to its resting state, it will use its fat stores to help in this process. Because of how strenuous this type of workout is, you should not perform HIIT more than two to three times weekly. Your body needs periods between exercises for complete recovery (1).
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Why Do Women’s Abs Look Different?
Women have different appearances in abs than men due to different fat depositions. In a study conducted and published in Biology of Sex Differences, it was found that women more commonly have a pear shape when compared to men. This shape generally tends also to lead to different health characteristics. Because of the different deposition of fatty tissues, ab presentation will also differ between the two (10).
Additionally, women have more estrogen than testosterone. Testosterone allows for muscle building, while estrogen can make fat burning increasingly challenging. Women can still achieve well-defined abs; however, it may take significantly more effort than men. They may also need a lower fat percentage. It should be noted that there are risks with their fat percentage being too low. This can cause problems with menstruation and increase the chances of fatigue (8).
Regarding different types of abs for women, the same rule applies regarding whether they will have four, six, or eight-pack abs. Genetics will determine the structure of their abs, just as with men, with fascia crossing the dominus rectus.
What Is The Best Abs Shape?
In addition to the perfect six-pack, many gym goers strive for the ideal V-cut abs. Out of all the different types of ab shapes, this may be the one that is the most sought after. The V-shape is where your transversus abdominis meets with your oblique muscles. Having this line in a state of perfection is one way to demonstrate your prowess in the gym and dedication to your healthy diet.
However, as we explained, it is not just about doing ab exercises. You must perform enough cardio to burn the subcutaneous fat around your abs to make them visible. Genetics will also play a role here, making it easier for some to get the perfect V-shape than others (2).
Additionally, those with a pear or apple shape will have a more difficult time due to the way their fat is deposited on their bodies. It will make burning the fat off more difficult. Losing belly fat is one of the key aspects to achieving V-cut abs. Because women more often than men develop a pear shape with their fatty tissues, they could have a more challenging time working toward this shape.
The Bottom Line
That perfect six-pack may not be possible for some people, which is perfectly fine. Their genetics may not allow for it to happen. It does not make them weaker or deficient in having different types of abs. However, by understanding the abdominal muscles and how they work, they can make the most of the kind they have.
Because fat deposition is mainly genetic, this may prevent complete visibility of the abs no matter how hard you work. One of the best ways to remove belly fat is to incorporate high-intensity intermittent exercise to boost total body fat burning, which will also help with insulin resistance. Ab exercises alone will not be enough to help remove the subcutaneous fat.
Additionally, while many strive to obtain the V-shape with their abs, genetics may also limit this. Some people may have an easier time gaining this definition than others, based on their genetic makeup and the way in which they deposit their fatty tissues. They will also need to eliminate any subcutaneous fat covering the area by adding enough cardio activity to create a total-body fat burn. As with other types of abs, more than ab exercises are required.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 8 Reasons HIIT Workouts are So Effective (2014, acefitness.org)
- 10 Exercises That Help You Get V-Cut Abs (2019, healthline.com)
- Abdominal muscles (n.d., betterhealth.vic.gov.au)
- Abdominal muscles (n.d., my.clevelandclinic.org)
- Do Ab Exercises Help You Burn Belly Fat? (2020, healthline.com)
- High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss (2010, hindawi.com)
- High-intensity interval training reduces abdominal fat mass in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes (2016, sciencedirect.com)
- How to get defined abdominal muscles (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Metabolic obesity: the paradox between visceral and subcutaneous fat (2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sex differences in human adipose tissues – the biology of pear shape (2012, bsd.biomedcentral.com)
- The genetics of fat distribution (2014, link.springer.com)
- Variation in Tendinous Intersections of Rectus Abdominis Muscle in North Indian Population with Clinical Implications (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Why Do Some People Have Four-Pack Abs? (2019, healthline.com)