An equally important point: Genetics determines where fat is deposited on your body as well as where it disappears when you start working it off. On most men, deep abdominal fat—the stuff underneath your muscles, also called visceral fat—moves first. Subcutaneous fat, which lies between your muscles and skin and prevents your six-pack from showing, gets worked off in a genetically determined pattern. So you may lose the fat on your neck before you lose your love handles.
Fat burning, though, is only half the equation. The other half is muscle building. Your abdominals are made of skeletal muscle, just like your pecs, lats, quads, and biceps. If you want to make them bigger, you have to give them a growth stimulus—in other words, hard exercise against resistance—followed by time to repair themselves and grow bigger and stronger.
A confounding variable is the fact that your abs have a role in promoting proper posture and stabilizing your spine. So they need some endurance capabilities. "In that sense, they’re sort of like your legs: They need to be able to hold you upright and keep you moving," says Mejia. "At the same time, they need strength and power for those times when you’re trying to drive a softball over the fence at the company picnic, or protect your back as you carry that keg up the back stairwell to your dorm room.
"My suggestion is to cycle your ab training, just as you would training for any other muscle group," he says. You can start off by working your abs four or five times a week, focusing primarily on high-rep endurance work with exercises like bicycles, crunches, and vacuums. After 2 to 3 weeks of that, switch to more challenging exercises that don’t allow for as many reps, such as incline reverse crunches, barbell rollouts, and cable crunches. Finally, work your way up to the type of exercises that really help build strength and power, such as hanging leg raises, cable woodchoppers, and Swiss-ball weighted crunches.
Each segment of training should last 2 to 3 weeks, although the muscle- and strength-building workouts lend themselves more to 3 weeks of 3-days-a-week training.Then, after about a week’s respite from ab training, you can switch back to an endurance program and start over again. Soon, you’ll have a strong, powerful abdominal wall that will keep you protected from injury. And if you lay off the Budweiser, people will notice it.