Opinion: Visible Abs and 10% Bodyfat Don’t Matter

By on February 18, 2022

To get the most from your training, it’s important to know WHY you’re training.

That way, you can ensure you’re taking the most efficient route to completing your goals. You know what to prioritize, and what to cut out.

But this is something I feel is lacking for a lot of people. We start training because we want to look and feel better, but we don’t really define what that means. As such, we end up doing what we think we should be doing, rather than what we actually want to be doing.

And I would argue that a perfect example of this, is training for sub 10% bodyfat and visilbe abs. This is something that a LOT of people fall into, but that doesn’t necessarily offer any real benefits for them. In fact, it might be doing you a lot of harm.

You Don’t Need Sub 10% Bodyfat for Visible Abs

First: the obvious argument. You don’t need sub 10% bodyfat to have visible abs, assuming that’s your motivation. You can have very visible abs at a much higher percentage.

I don’t know precisely what my bodyfat percentage is, because I really do not care. But I know it’s higher than 10! It’s probably around the 15% mark, though that fluctuates.

Visible abs

And while I know I’m not going to be winning any bodybuilding competitions, I certainly have visible abs most of the time. And they’re visible enough for my purposes as someone who sells training programs online. If I need them to look more visible, I can always just pick the right freeze-frame from a video and then add a little structure on Instagram…

The reason my abs are pretty visible, is that I train them hard. Thus they are larger and more defined, and better able to push through that ample layer of fat on top. Some people believe that body fat is the ONLY factor that plays a role in getting visible abs. I can demonstrate this to be untrue very easily.

Here is me with relaxed abs:

Here is me with contracted abs:

Contracted Abs

The contracted abs are significantly more visible, because they are harder and because they are protruding more. Meanwhile, contracting the transverse abdominis is pulling my stomach in and making it look flatter.

So, if I trained even harder, I could probably make my abs look at least this good without losing any body fat.

Visible Abs and Individual Differences

There are, of course, individual differences. Some people have naturally more prominent or more defined abs. You may also vary in terms of where your body most likes to deposit fat. If it’s around your stomach, that’s going to be make this harder.

But for most people, 14% bodyfat is a much more realistic target that will yield similar results. And you’ll get a better result if you train the whole core, too. Great obliques make a ripped mid-section look WAY cooler.

Core Training

Does 5% bodyfat look awesome? Absolutely.

Would I love to look like that? Probably! And I have massive respect for anyone who achieves that.

But for those who aren’t making a career out of this stuff, I do have to ask why. I mean, really, why do you need visible abs at all?

Why You Don’t Need 10% Bodyfat

How often are you going to be seen with your top off? It’s pretty rare, right? You will be thrown out for taking your top off in the supermarket. Trust me.

See also: Beyond Training Part 2: The Batman Diet (+ Supplement Regime)

And what will you achieve during this time? People being quite impressed?

If it’s about attracting the opposite sex, you’ll get a lot further by focussing on your witty rapport. Or even just working on your arms and neck, which actually will be visible more of the time.

This is JUST a bragging right, at this point. Just like adding an extra 5kg to your already-impressive bench press is JUST a bragging right. It serves no purpose.

Bench Press

You won’t perform better at this bodyweight. In fact, you’ll likely perform worse. You’ll have low energy, fluctuating mood, and reduced strength reserves. You’ll also have less weight to put behind punches and throws.

Some calisthenics athletes like to drop their bodyfat so that they can perform cool moves. Of course you can do more pull ups when there is less weight to pull.

But you’re also decreasing the resistances, meaning you’re building less absolute strength. You’ll adapt to your bodyweight with time and especially if we’re talking about small amounts of excess fat.

See also: How to Get Six Pack Abs at 12%+ Body Fat (No Crazy Dieting)

On balance, there is no performance advantage to being that ripped.

The Downsides of Low Bodyfat

And guess what? Getting there is miserable and it’s going to take away from all your other goals.

A lot of self-improvement gurus tell us that every decision we make adds to a “decision fatigue” that wears us out over the day. This is why Steve Jobs famously wore the same clothes all the time.  

Even more draining is will power. Again, we have a finite amount of this stuff.

Protein for Abs

But then those same self-improvement gurus recommend tracking calories. That’s right: counting every single thing that you eat. And resisting anything that will put you above your target.

Think about how much will power and energy that’s taking away from other stuff you could be doing. Not to mention the time.

And you intend to do this every single day, for the rest of your life? To maintain 8% bodyfat? So that you look good in some photos?

Healthy Eating

If we’re aiming to be functional, healthy, and happy… is this a healthy and adaptive approach to eating?

Surely, a better approach would be to simply eat a little less without being anal about it. To try and get plenty of nutrients (harder to do when you’re in an extreme deficit), and to avoid eating too much processed food. Oh yeah, and to enjoy eating!

Ultimately, I feel that it is sometimes easy to get distracted from the true benefits of training. We can get so hung up on adding a few extra KG to a particular lift, or trying to get visible abs, that we lose sight of what fitness really means. Or what it should mean.

Nutrition for visible abs

To me, fitness means feeling and moving better. It means being stronger, faster, and free from pain. It means waking up with lots of energy to attack the day. It shouldn’t mean eating miserably just so that you can see an additional vein on your stomach.

See also: Intermittent Fasting – A Huge and Comprehensive Introduction for Weight Loss, Energy, Longevity, and More!

If this is an important goal to you, or if you get pleasure from restricting your diet… then by all means go for it. Getting to sub 10% is an amazing achievement.

But just make sure it’s really what you want. That visible abs are really worth the effort. Because it’s not a true measure of fitness, and it’s one hell of a commitment.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

2 Comments

  1. Muhammed says:

    Hey Adam, I know this is off topic, but can you make a video on how to create a basic workout plan for people who don’t want to go to the gym?

    using only the gravity, the body, and a dumbbell or a barbell.

    If you don’t want to, then it’s okay.

    P.S: I love the font that you chose for the comments, I feel like a hacker!

    Have a good day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.