Late last year, the internet was collectively shook by Instagram pics of Kumail Nanjiani — AKA one of those dorky guys from Silicon Valley — with the body of a musclebound god. As one thirsty commentator noted, even his forehead has abs.
Needless to say, Nanjiani's astonishing transformation was achieved with the help of multiple nutrition and fitness experts. So where does this leave the average Joe? If you want to get a six-pack that you can grate cheese on, here's what you need to know.
Getting, and keeping, movie-star abs requires a long-term commitment to nutrition. Unfortunately, this isn't sustainable — or even particularly healthy — for the average person.
Models, bodybuilders and movie stars are renowned for their impossibly pronounced abdominal muscles. It's a look that many men (and more than a few women) wish they could replicate on their own bodies. The fact that Kumail fricking Nanjiani pulled it off makes it seem like anyone can do it.
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I never thought I’d be one of those people who would post a thirsty shirtless, but I’ve worked way too hard for way too long so here we are. You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I found out a year ago I was going to be in Marvel’s Eternals and decided I wanted to transform how I looked. I would not have been able to do this if I didn’t have a full year with the best trainers and nutritionists paid for by the biggest studio in the world. I’m glad I look like this, but I also understand why I never did before. It would have been impossible without these resources and time. So big thanks to @grantrobertsfit who started working with me at the beginning of the year and made me understand true physical pain for months and months. Then, once we started shooting, a massive thanks to @davidhigginslondon and his team (@ellispartridge, @thebeardypt, @tomcheesemanfitness) for training me almost every day and making me strong, limber and injury free. I can almost touch my toes now. (And thank you for forcing me to do cheat meals David.) Matthews Street Catering for their delicious and healthy meals. And finally, the biggest thanks goes to @emilyvgordon for putting up with me complaining and talking about only working out and dieting for the last year. I promise I’ll be interesting again some day. #thirstyshirtless (Photo by @markupson.) (edit: I left off one very important person: @lancecallahan who trained me for 6 years and helped me build the foundation I could use to do this. Thank you!)
However, the reality is that many of the celebrity six-packs you've ogled were achieved through questionable methods — from extreme diets to enforced dehydration. Usually, this is done with the assistance of well-paid experts who are trained to get extreme results safely. As Nanjiani himself notes: "I would not have been able to do this if I didn’t have a full year with the best trainers and nutritionists paid for by the biggest studio in the world."
But that doesn't mean a shredded six pack is impossible for normal people — just head down to Bondi Beach or your local gym for proof. The key is to get results without putting your health and well-being on the line.
A thrusting young buck at work recently approached me to ask for some tips on toning up. He does a lot of exercise but lives pretty generously. That means, whatever his body asks him for, he generously provides. As a result he has cultivated something of a "Dadbod" and has now decided to take action to stem the tide.
If you're looking to boost muscle definition in your stomach, diet and exercise are obviously essential. However, it's equally important to avoid unsustainable exercise regimes that can actually damage your long-term health.
Our colleagues at Business Insider recently asked a range of fitness experts to share their tips on building an impressive six-pack. Crucially, their advice is healthy - and doesn't require a team of Hollywood-supplied nutritionists and personal trainers to achieve. Here are their chief tips:
Genetics play a role, but diet is key
A six pack isn't some special appendage that good looking people get at birth. We all have abs — and while genetics is important, pretty much anyone can make them visible through hard work and exercise. As you'd expect, the trick is to get your body fat down.
"It's like 90% diet," explains personal trainer Noam Tamir. "If you watch your nutrition very, very closely, you can get abs."
According to Tamir, a shredded six pack requires an incredible amount of dedication and foresight around meal planning. You'll need to calculate the protein, carbs and fat you put into your body to an almost obsessive degree.
Patience is important
You might think that developing a noticeable six pack takes a few weeks — multiply that by a lot. This can make all the hard work disheartening. However, instead of resorting to fad diets or extreme exercise, it's important to just persevere.
"Realistically, to get body fat that low, you're looking at four to six months of being really diligent with nutrition," bodybuilder Mike Lipowski said. Stick with it and you'll get results. One day.
Don't shed water weight
In the lead-up to filming a shirtless scene, a lot of actors will intentionally dehydrate their bodies for up to 36 hours to look more buff. As Business Insider notes, the technique involves overloading the body with water and sodium in the weeks leading up to a shoot or competition, and then severely cutting both.
While this does get great results, it's also bad for your body — especially in the long term.
"I would never, ever condone it or suggest it," celebrity trainer Justin Gelband cautioned. "It's dangerous and it just wears you down."
Side-effects can include heart stress, kidney damage, mental fatigue and even death. (Depriving the body of water is a surefire way to kill yourself.) In short, you should only consider this if you're a famous actor with a team of experts monitoring your health at all times.
Water, water, water
Contrary to the aforementioned dehydration technique, there is evidence that water retention can actually make your muscles look more defined.
“Muscles are made of 70 to 75 per cent water, so when you dehydrate, the first place water leaves from is muscles. That, in effect, deflates your muscle,” Lipowski said.
To get a six-pack that pops, Lipowski recommends drinking plenty of water. (This strategy has the added benefit of improving your fitness gains, according to several studies.)
Maybe reserve it for the summer?
A six pack is incredibly hard to achieve but notoriously easy to lose — just look at all the formerly ripped celebrity 'dad bods' out there. Ditching your dietary plans — even for just a few weeks — will cause the muscle definition in your stomach to disappear.
"It takes a lot to get it off, but it doesn't take a lot to get it back on," Lipowski said. It's human nature to want to indulge after a period of strict control — which is why most people find six packs unsustainable. Instead of constantly fretting, it might make more sense to turn it into a seasonal thing.
Now that you've got the basics covered, it's time to choose an exercise regime and meal plan. Click here for a tried-and-tested example.
Additional reporting by Gabby Landsverk.
[Via Business Insider]
This article has been updated since its original publication.