5 Steps to Ripped Abs

5 Steps to Ripped Abs

Ripped abs are the hallmark of a lean, muscular body. It is not necessarily a sign of elite fitness, but rather very low body fat.

However, having a 6 pack is not just for 20-something genetic freaks. Anyone can get there, it just takes some consistent effort and dietary discipline.

If you are middle-aged or older and busy with a career, you can still follow these 5 steps to achieve a 6-pack. The fundamentals are the same, no matter your age. You will see many other benefits as well, such as improved core strength which greatly improves your lower back health.

Table of Contents

The first and most important thing to know, is that ripped abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.  A full 90% of the effort is a lean diet, not doing 3 hours of sit-ups each day. 

It is a very common misconception that to achieve a 6-pack, the most critical thing is doing thousands of crunches. It is just not the case, so make sure your effort and focus is pointed in the right direction!

  • 90% Clean, nutritious diet
  • 10% Ab work and an effective overall fitness plan with resistance training

Ripped Abs DietThe reason diet is so important is that to get ripped abs, you must be around 10-12% body fat, no way around it. Forget BMI, as it can be very inaccurate if you are a fitness buff with a lean, muscular build. 

Body fat percentage is the real measuring stick, and you must be down around 10-12% for your abs to shine. BMI is now considered by most experts to be inherently flawed. 

If you are naturally muscular or are genetically big-boned, you can be in very good shape and have low body fat, and yet your BMI can indicate you’re overweight.

Click to check your BMI, and also learn about the inherent problems with this method of measuring body fat.

So, here is the blueprint to achieve ripped abs. It’s simple, but it’s definitely not easy!

STEP #1: Protein With Every Meal

Best Protein for Lean Muscle Mass

Try to eat at least some protein with every meal, and there are two reasons for this:

  1. Protein is the most important micronutrient you can eat to build lean muscle and develop ripped abs.
  2. Protein is the most thermogenic of the micronutrients, so it will burn the most fat. (1)

Some great lean proteins to have with every meal:

  • Salmon (great for your heart, as well as your skin)
  • Canned chicken or tuna (this is a little higher in sodium, but so convenient to get a quick pop of 15 grams of protein)
  • Egg whites
  • Turkey Breast
  • Lean Steaks (Top Sirloin is Best In Class here)
  • Grilled Chicken Breast (no skin)
  • Lean Burger (4% to 8% Fat) – so 93% lean is the best
  • Protein Shake – this is a great one post-workout. Mix this with skim milk in a mini-Blender and it is delicious and great for your body. See our top pick below for the best protein powder on the market today.
  • Skim Milk (great for bones, great for your body)
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STEP #2: Achieve 10% Body Fat for Ripped Abs

Weight LossNow we all know this one is much easier said than done. 

As a general rule, once you achieve 10-12% body fat your abs will show. 

Purchase a body fat calculator, and check your body fat once a week at the same time and day each week (when you wake up).

Or a simpler way is to use our body fat calculator, which can be done by taking a few quick measurements.

The most important thing is a clean, nutritious diet to get to 10% body fat. If you need to lose weight, you will need to burn more calories than you consume.

The key to 10% body fat is one word > CONSISTENCY! It will not happen with fad diets, 30-day starvation juicing plans, or anything else like that. It requires healthy actions over time, including diet, exercise, and a lifestyle pattern.

Building Lean Muscle

Healthy diet needs to be a part of your routine, and over time you can lose the weight necessary to get to 10% body fat.

Click to see our intake calculator for weight loss which is a good guide to determine your target daily calories to lose weight and get lean.

STEP #3: Focus on Building Lean Muscle

Getting to 10% body fat and losing your belly fat is really a simple process. 

But it is certainly not an easy process. The simple part is this…

  • Eat More Calories than You Burn  =  GAIN Weight
  • Eat Less Calories than You Burn   =  LOSE Weight

So, this is why building lean muscle is just as important as doing daily cardio.

Lean Muscle Workout Plan

Building lean muscle is a key to creating a fat-burning furnace within your body. The reason is simple…muscle burns more calories than fat. It is a scientific fact. 

There is a wide range of debate on how many more calories each additional pound of muscle will burn, but the important thing is that you will burn more fat, and be on your way to ripped abs. (2)

The general consensus is that each additional pound of muscle burns 10-15 calories per day. And building lean muscle is especially important as you age, as you’ll start to lose muscle mass each year after 40 if you don’t do resistance training. 

Learn more about muscle loss with age, and why it’s uber important to understand.

So if you consistently are building lean muscle through resistance training, than you will always be improving your furnace-like activity, and on the path to ripped abs.

STEP #4: Have a Great Ab Workout Routine

Ripped Abs WorkoutTo get ripped abs, it is true that you don’t need to spend hours doing crunches. However, you do want to have a well-rounded ab workout routine. 

Don’t believe the hype that it is all diet, and that you can completely ignore your workouts (see #3 above).

Overall, it makes sense to work your abs as part of an overall workout strategy. There are many benefits to doing this:

  • Build abdominal lean muscle to see more definition
  • Strengthen your core muscles
  • Reduce lower back pain and also reduce the chance of lower back injury – ab work does reduce lower back injury

Click for a very effective and simple ab workout at home to build your ripped abs.

STEP #5: Cheat Days are OK, but…

We all have cheat days on our way to 10% body fat. They’re unavoidable, and realistically, they are absolutely necessary for mental sanity. They are also a good way to “fool” your metabolism as you diet down.

When you are cutting weight you will need to be burning more calories than you consume, most of the time and on most days. Without the occasional cheat day, however, your body goes into starvation mode. 

So cheat days are a good thing, usually one day a week to keep your metabolism burning calories. Click to learn about the power of counting calories.

Here is the KEY – keep your cheat days somewhat in check. And it definitely helps to mitigate the damage on a cheat day by doing some solid cardio. Like running or other forms of great cardio.


It’s good to load up on a cheeseburger, pizza, ribeye steak, or some great cocktails. However, if your BMR is 2,500 calories, then shoot for 3,000 to 3,500 calories on your cheat day. That’s still a good eating day. 

But don’t go nuts and hit 6,000 calories. That is gluttony, and it takes an extra couple of days during the week to make it up when you go crazy with a whole box of Oreos in a late night binge.

You can have just as great an eating experience at 3,500 calories as you can at 6,000. And you’ll feel much better the next day. Have a great cheat day, just set some reasonable boundaries.

And most of the time, even if you go off the rails a bit on the weekend, you can recover so don’t allow that to sap your motivation. The damage is never as bad as you think, or you feel. Click to learn more about how unlikely it is to gain 10 pounds in a weekend.

Avoiding Weight Gain on Vacation

Body Fat CalculatorIf you’re like me, you have likely gone on vacation and gained 5 pounds. And yes, 5 pounds is not the end of the world, but it can certainly set you back a month trying to re-lose those 5 pounds when vacation is over.

Since I have been on a journey of counting calories for many years, I generally do not gain weight on vacation. And that’s not to say I eat healthy on vacation, because I don’t.

But one small change that I made about four years ago has really helped me to avoid a big weight gain while on a 7-day vacation.

My Blueprint to Avoid Big Weight Gain On Vacation

First, I do 45 or 60 minutes of cardio in the morning. I don’t usually take that much time to do cardio during normal work life, but on vacation my family sleeps in, so it’s a good time for me to do longer cardio. For me, that’s usually a treadmill, and alternating walking and jogging (80% walking).

And you’re also more active on vacation, so by doing an hour of cardio in the morning and then having an active day, I oftentimes burn close to 4,000 calories in a day on vacation (I track on my Fitbit). 

The next thing that works for me, is I don’t eat a huge breakfast. I’m not a big breakfast person anyways, so I go light on breakfast. Maybe a bagel or protein bar or something. In the range of 400 calories.

So if you go light on breakfast, you can pretty much eat what you want for the rest of the day and not have a huge calorie surplus for that day.

Then from lunch on I pretty much eat what I want, but I do try and keep it somewhat in check. And yes, I do track my calories on my phone. To some that may sound over the top, but once you do it for a few weeks it becomes very simple (and uber effective).

And your calorie count is not going to be exact, but if you’ve got a little experience with it, it becomes like breathing. I know things I like to eat, and I know the general calorie count (cheat and non-cheat example items below):

  • Hamburger (I don’t do cheese) – 750 cal
  • French Fries (med-large) – 400 cal
  • Ice Cream (med cup w/ syrup) – 600 cal
  • Cup of Fruit – 300 cal
  • Chocolate Cake (1 med-large slice) – 500 cal
  • Chicken Fajitas – 800 cal
  • Protein Bar – 400 cal
  • Cup of Oatmeal – 400 cal
  • Cereal with Low-fat Milk – 2 cups – 400 cal
  • Steak (Sirloin – 12 oz) – 500 cal
  • Bavarian Pretzel (large) – 800 cal
  • Buffalo Wings (10 – lightly breaded w/ Blue Cheese) – 1000 cal
  • Hot Dog with bun – 300 cal
  • Mozzarella Sticks (6 med size) – 900 cal
  • Grouper Sandwich (fried) – 800 cal

And I always bring with me on vacation a box of 10 Pure Protein protein bars – 200 calories each. So if I’m hungry in the afternoon between pigging out, I’ll eat a protein bar. 

I find this approach works for me very well. I went on a 7-day cruise this past summer and only gained 1 pound. I ate in the range of 3,500-4000 calories a day, and I burned about the same. So I stayed pretty even.

And if you’ve ever gone on vacation and absolutely splurged and gained a lot of weight, then you know how tough it is to come back and get back on track.

Summing It Up

Getting back to ripped abs, if you follow the 5 proven steps above on a consistent basis, before you know it you will be at 10% body fat and have those ripped abs to show the world! The key is to stay consistent, and adhere to your plan most of the time. And remember the adage below about where abs are made!

Click to return to other tips on ripped abs, and also ab workout videos

Remember the age-old adage…

“Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym!”

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, January 20). Thermogenics. Wikipedia.
  2. Waehner, P. (2021, November 17). How many calories does muscle really burn? Verywell Fit.

Click to see our medical disclosure.