6-Pack Abs, Ripped, Shredded, Washboard Abs - The fitness media is full of terms like these to describe abdominal muscles that stand out in stark relief. Yet sporting 6-packs is seldom what people think - and definitely not a realistic goal for most people outside of fitness models or bodybuilders preparing for a competition.
First, let's look at the truth about the people you see with shredded abs year-round. In most cases, it didn't take a lot of work to get those amazing-looking abs - they're most-commonly seen on people whose genetics blessed them with few, if any, fat cells on their midsection.
You see, everyone has ab muscles, and fairly well developed ones at that. You use your abdominal muscles in almost everything you do each day. They just aren't as obvious on some people because of the thin, or not so thin, layer of bodyfat that covers them. If you're one of the lucky ones that carries your bodyfat elsewhere, you'll sport that washboard any time you're not overeating.
For most people, though, eating little enough to show off a great midsection will run the risk of health complications if you try to maintain an extremely low bodyfat level year-round. Even those shredded bodybuilders you see in the mags and on stage don't stay that way year-round - they follow a strict and somewhat severe diet for 6 - 12 weeks prior to competing to get rid of bodyfat and use diuretics to drain their body of any surplus water as the big day approaches.
The same is true for the cover shoots for fitness and bodybuilding magazines - either a shot is used from the last time that athlete was prepared to compete, or they spend as much as a month preparing for that shot using training and diet to give them that look - and again, just for that shoot.
Staying ripped year-round would leave you feeling lethargic and tired at all times, inhibit your muscle- & strength-building progress, and could lead to more serious health issues. Remember that every organ in the body has some fat content, and that your body uses some of its fat stores to protect your inner organs. Depriving it of the nutrients it needs will also affect everything from your skin tone to your hair - to say nothing of the hormonal imbalances and their effects on your state of wellness.
A better solution for most people is to keep your stomach area strong by working your abdominals regularly and aiming to maintain a healthy overall bodyfat level. For most fit people, that will give you a fairly flat stomach that leads up to the swell of your chest - a highly desirable body image in its own right.
It's important to keep your abs strong at all times anyway, both because of all the daily activity and to help counterbalance your lower back muscles and their pull on your spine and hips. One of the keys to avoiding, or minimizing, lower back pain as you get older is being sure to keep your abs and hamstrings as strong as your quadriceps (thigh muscles) and lower back muscles to keep the forces on your hips and spine in balance.
By now you probably already know that you can't 'spot reduce' your bodyfat - that is, it will come off fairly evenly over your entire body. So trying to burn off just stomach fat or diet off just belly fat simply can't be done. It's necessary to reduce your overall bodyfat to start seeing any ab development, and that takes both a low-carb diet and a full exercise regimen.
There is good news, though... You CAN build an impressive mid-section even if you don't go to the extent of being totally ripped & shredded. A healthy, portion-controlled diet coupled with a workout routine designed to build bigger ab muscles can let you sport a belly to be proud of during the summer bikini season if you have the discipline to stay with it for a few months or more each year. For best results, consult a certified personal trainer for your workout plans and a certified nutritionist for an effective but safe diet regimen to follow.