When Brad Pitt’s lean and mean body hit our screens for his role as Tyler Durden in the 1999 film Fight Club, his chiselled physique and sculpted six-pack became body goals for men across the world.  

More than 20 years later, and now aged 56, Brad Pitt’s abs are still one of the most commonly cited goals for men embarking on a transformation at Ultimate Performance. 

The sought after six-pack is the hallmark of dedicated fitness professionals and models and will take a serious level of commitment to your training and nutrition.  

Aside from the obvious aesthetic appeal of having defined abs, a strong core will also hugely benefit your movement in both daily life and sporting performance, Brad certainly moved pretty well during those fight scenes.

The first rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club. However, we can talk about what rules to follow if you want to get yourself a set of Fight Club-worthy abs.

Why This Workout Works

Abs

The muscles usually referred to as ‘abs’ are the rectus abdominis (which is closest to the surface and runs down the centre of the stomach) and the obliques (the two muscles that run either side of the rectus abdominis). These are the most visible and are supported by a number of other muscles underneath. Training all the muscles of the core is key to strong, washboard abs.

Body Fat Percentage

Everyone has abs, it’s just that for the majority of people there is a layer of fat covering them up so they are not visible.  Abs start to become visible once this layer of fat has been removed which only happens at very low body fat percentages. What percentage you need to get to will ultimately depend on your individual genetics and where you store body fat, but is generally around 15% for men and 20% for women. Unfortunately, you can’t spot reduce when it comes to fat loss (doing tons of ab exercises won’t shift the fat over your abs) so to lose belly fat you’ll need to reduce your overall body fat percentage by creating a calorie deficit through nutrition (reducing your calories), training (increasing your output) or a combination of the two.

Ab Exercises

Doing hundreds of ab exercises is not going to get you a six-pack. Abs are relatively small muscles, so working your abs alone won’t burn as much energy as working larger muscle groups, meaning it will take you much longer to create a calorie deficit.

The most efficient way to create a calorie deficit is to perform big ‘compound’ movements, like squats, deadlifts and pull-ups, with heavy weights (and remember – ‘heavy’ is a relative term to each individual).

These exercises have a larger metabolic effect on your body whilst also requiring a huge amount of core strength (you should be bracing your core hard during compound exercises to support the rest of your body).

If you want sculpted abs (visible in a variety of lighting) the main priority should be burning fat through a combination of large compound movements and isolation exercises.

Progressive Overload 

As is the case with any muscle building process, if you want to grow your abs, you need to follow the principles of progressive overload whereby you are adding more weight or volume each time you train to ensure the muscles are getting progressively stronger.

Performing bodyweight exercises is great as a starting point but will only get you so far. To get strong, sculpted abs, you need to be progressively adding resistance or reps over time.

Cardio 

To create the calorie deficit you need for fat loss, you should be moving your body as much as possible, so adding regular cardio sessions into your training schedule will get you there quicker – the more you do, the bigger the deficit.

Nutrition 

Nutrition plays a key role in reducing your body fat percentage. Tracking your calorie intake, eating a high protein diet with lots of vegetables and reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates (sweets, cakes, biscuits), are some of the best ways to create and maintain a calorie deficit.

Stress 

High levels of stress also contributes to fat storage in the abdominal area so taking steps to decrease this where possible may help to combat the effects of this.

Try taking time out for relaxation, meditation, deep breathing and sleep to help relieve stress.

Workout

In summary, for Fight Club-worthy abs you need a low body fat percentage so your main focus should be decent nutrition, full-body strength training and lots of movement to burn those extra calories. Once this is in place, some additional ab specific work will help fine tune and sculpt those core muscles.

We have designed a workout to help you get six-pack abs like Brad Pitt, which can be performed either as a circuit or in straight sets:

The Workout

How to Perform the Exercises

This guide is aimed at trainees with a good knowledge of the exercises and how to train safely and effectively. 

If you are unsure and want access to training programmes, nutrition information and over 250+ demonstration videos, sign up for LiveUP online coaching, today or consult a qualified PT.

The Set-Up

  • Add the appropriate attachment to the cable, (a rope attachment works best if available) and hold either end of the rope.
  • Pull the rope towards you so that the ends of the rope are in line with your forehead.
  • Look at the floor and engage your abs. 
  • This is the start and end position for each rep.

 

The Movement 

  • Engage your abs and hinge at the hips, pulling your elbows down towards your knees and letting your spine flex.
  • Contract your abs hard, hold at the bottom of the rep then slowly return to the start position. 
  • Keep your hips above your knees and stable throughout the movement.

 

Trainer Tips

  • Keep your shoulders rounded throughout and allow your entire torso to roll forward. 
  • Your back should remain rounded throughout the movement so do not allow your back to arch.
  • Your hands should remain near your head, holding the rope throughout.
  • Focus on contracting your abs throughout the set and getting them into their most shortened position at the bottom of the rep.
  • Keep the movement slow and controlled and avoid using momentum, which will take the emphasis away from your abs.

The Set-Up

  • Hang from the pull-up bar using a pronated (palms facing away), shoulder-width grip. 
  • Bend your knees and bring your heels close to your butt. 

 

The Movement

  • Get the pelvis into posterior tilt position (‘tuck the tailbone under’). 
  • Fluidly follow this with lifting the knees up with intention of bringing them as close to chest as possible. 
  • Finish at the top when you can’t get any higher and pause for a second with the abs fully contracted. 
  • Slowly lower the legs down until you reach the bottom position, then repeat.  

 

Trainer Tips

  • Keep the concentric phase controlled and avoid any swinging. 
  • The eccentric phase should be kept slow too, especially towards the bottom when temptation to let go will be the strongest. 
  • When going up, focus on the tucking movement rather than just lifting the legs.

The Set-Up

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent towards you and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lean back so that your upper body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor.

 

The Movement

  • Keeping your back straight and core engaged, link your hands together in front of your chest and raise your legs up off the ground, keeping the knees bent.
  • Slowly and with control rotate your arms and twist your torso over to one side, then return to centre and repeat on the other side.

 

Trainer Tips

  • Perform this exercise very slowly and carefully as exercises which involve twisting the spine can be dangerous if performed incorrectly.
  • Do not let the lower back to flex and keep the abs engaged and chest pushed out throughout the movement.
  • To regress this exercise, keep the feet on the floor.
  •  Do not progress this exercise until you are fully confident that your form is correct at each level of the exercise.  When performed correctly you should not feel this in your lower back.
  • To progress the exercise, try increasing the resistance by holding a weight in front of your chest or straightening out the legs.

The Set-Up 

  • Start by kneeling on the ground on all fours.
  • Hold an ab wheel (or barbell) directly underneath your shoulders and engage your core. 
  • This is the start and end position for each rep.

 

The Movement 

  • Keeping your abs engaged and arms straight, slowly roll the ab wheel out in front of you. 
  • Keep your upper body tight and don’t let your lower back sag into the floor.
  • When you have reached the end of your range, pause, then slowly roll the ab wheel back towards you. 

 

Trainer Tips

  • Your range is determined by the furthest point at which you can roll the ab roller away from you while still keep your abs engaged and lower back straight. 
  • Aim to get your torso as close to the floor as possible, while maintaining a tight brace and as straight a line as possible from your knees to your wrists.
  • Perform the exercise in a slow, controlled manner and avoid using any momentum. Control is key here to ensure you are using your abs throughout the exercise.
  • This exercise can be progressed by starting from a standing position rather than with your knees bent.
  • This is a challenging exercise to execute correctly, so you may want to build up your core strength first by regressing to holding the plank.

The Set-Up

  • Lie on a bench on your back, then reach your arms overhead and hold onto the bench behind you.
  • With your legs together, bend your knees and raise them up so that your knees are directly above your hips, focus on pressing your lower back into the bench and engage your abs.
  • This is the start and end position for each rep.

 

The Movement

  • Keeping your abs engaged, slowly bring your knees towards you as if you are trying to curl up into a little ball.
  • Your knees should be pressed against your chest and the aim is to lift your hips up slightly from the bench.
  • Keeping your abs engaged, slowly return to the start position and repeat.

 

Trainer Tips 

  • Concentrate on pressing your lower back into the bench and do not allow your lower back to arch between reps.
  • Try and curl up into as small a ball as possible to get your abs into their fully shortened position.
  • This exercise can be progressed by extending your legs so that they are stretched out in front of you, by adding resistance to the ankles, or by increasing the incline of the bench.
  • Perform the exercise in a slow, controlled manner and avoid using any momentum. Control is key here to ensure you are using your abs throughout the exercise.

The Set-Up

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent up and your lower back pressed against the floor.
  • Softly place one hand either side of your ears.
  • This is the start and end position for each rep.

 

The Movement

  • Engaging your abs slowly, lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Pause at the top and contract the abs hard then slowly return to the start position under control.

 

Trainer Tips 

  • Keep the movement slow and controlled and avoid using momentum, which will take the emphasis away from your abs.  
  • Relax your neck throughout and avoid yanking your head up with your hands.
  • Your range of motion should be fairly short and you do not need to come all the way up to a seated position. Just lift the head and shoulders off the floor.

By Rebecca Scott

 

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