Ahhh, the elusive six pack. For many, it's the holy grail of fitness. But does your life really change after you've achieved one? Let's take a look at the ways that getting a six pack changes your life and when it's really just fool's gold.
First, let's briefly talk about how to obtain a six pack. Generally speaking, you have to reach a level of leanness where your midsection is lean enough to show the abdominal muscles underneath. This level varies, but a good rule of thumb is under 10% bodyfat for men and 20% for women.
This is much easier said than done and it's akin to saying "just eat less, move more". Depending on where you start from, this bodyfat could be far below your body's "set point", the amount of fat that your body naturally settles on. Dipping too far below your set point, especially through aggressive dieting, is like rollerblading up a slippery hill. You'll have to fight your body's physiology tooth and nail.
Still, obtaining a six pack is possible, even if it's difficult. I've seen many obsess over this quest, believing that it will ultimately change their life. I definitely thought this the first time I achieved one. But difficulty aside, will it?
No One Will Treat You Differently Because Of It
There's a perception that people with six packs are treated differently. This is why many people, guys in particular, begin their fitness journey — to attract the opposite sex.
It may help, but not as much as you think. No one actually knows that you're sporting abs under your clothing. In fact, unless you reach an advanced level of muscularity, the low levels of bodyfat that are required may leave you looking less athletic when wearing clothes.
When I first got lean enough for a six pack, I thought that everyone would view me differently. In reality, this wasn't the case: women didn't come flocking to me, guys didn't look at me with envy, and the only extra attention I received was for my neurotic dieting behaviours that were required to keep my abs.
From an attraction standpoint, you'll probably benefit from getting leaner, but there is probably little additional benefit between being "lean enough" and being in six pack territory.
It's not that no one notices; it's that no one cares.
You'll Realise Your Own Capabilities
Achieving a six pack is one of the most common fitness physique milestones. When you hit one of these milestones, something amazing happens: you realise that you have the capability to take all aspects of your life into your own hands. I've met a lot of people who reached their fitness goals, and then went on to master other things, such as their finances, their career, and so on.
There's a lot of self-doubt that runs through your mind throughout the process of getting lean. You'll start to doubt your genetic capabilities, your fortitude, and pretty much every single quality around your self-esteem.
When you finally achieve that goal, you develop a strong growth mentality around everything in life. You realise that self-doubt is in your head and changing yourself is completely within your control. It also becomes evident that fitness, just like everything else, is a skill. If there's anything about getting a six pack that attracts members of the opposite sex, it's the confidence from this new mindset.
The Biggest Benefit Of All
But here's the biggest benefit of all, especially for those who have been chasing this goal for ages. As explained by coach and nutritionist Martin Berkhan, the creator of Leangains:
The secret benefit of being lean is that it's an immense time saver.
Be honest with yourself: if you're on a diet, you spend a fair amount of time thinking about it. Being perfectly content saves up an astounding amount of mental energy. Gone are the worries, doubts and obsessions about diet, weight and all other issues pertaining to reaching your goal. The itch is gone. No need to scratch it anymore.
But that void needs to be filled with something. You will suddenly rediscover new interests and hobbies - I did. Don't fill the void with more training. Fill it with reading, family, friends or whatever you like. Learn to be content once your ultimate goal is reached. Set new goals, but learn to accept slower, gradual progress.
This doesn't necessarily apply to everyone. Many people are perfectly content with never achieving the required levels of leanness. But if this has been one of your lifelong goals, maintaining a six pack allows you to put the obsession to rest. Fitness becomes less of a priority and more something you just "do." And that, ironically, is the best way to incorporate fitness into your life.
This story has been updated since its original publication.