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What are Washboard Abs?

By Dale Marshall
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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“Washboard abs” is the term many people use to refer to the grouping of abdominal muscles when they're visible beneath the skin and appear flat, like a washboard. In most people, the abdominal muscles are hidden beneath a layer of fat; the thicker the layer, the less likely it is that the muscles will be visible. The abdominal muscles are most evident when they are tensed.

Many people want to achieve washboard abs, but the fact is that most people already have them. What they also have is that layer of fat over the top. Unfortunately, while it's possible to work a particular muscle group to bulk it up and increase its definition relative to surrounding muscles, this area of fat cannot be similarly targeted. When the body burns fat for energy, it doesn't follow a set routine in determining which areas to burn. In fact, the body usually stores new fat on the gut, so someone could conceivably go through strenuous ab workouts regularly, yet keep adding fat because of an improperly balanced diet.

To achieve washboard abs, then, the layer of fat covering the abdomen must be eliminated. Any good workout regimen will accomplish this over time, as will many common-sense routines, such as daily walking, running or swimming programs. While it does no harm to incorporate ab-targeted exercises into a balanced workout routine in order to enhance the definition of the muscles, it's important for individuals to keep in mind that these workouts, as well as the multitude of devices sold to enhance ab muscle development, will work the muscles but will have only a peripheral impact on the fat that covers them.

On the other hand, when the layer of fat is significant, concentrating on working the ab muscles while ignoring the others will lead to frustration and disillusionment, because the fat loss around the gut will be very gradual even while the ab muscles themselves are being developed and strengthened. Getting washboard abs is best accomplished as part of a balanced routine of exercise and a healthy diet.

Achieving and maintaining well defined ab muscles is dependent on maintaining both a healthy diet and a balanced exercise routine. It's a simple equation; of all the calories a person consumes during the day, whatever isn't burned for energy is stored as fat. Not all calories are the same, however; some are carried in foods that provide an appropriate amount of nutrients, fiber, proteins, and carbohydrates, and others are carried in foods that are primarily sugars and other carbohydrates. A healthy diet is composed primarily of fresh vegetables and meats, and should be designed with a person's own lifestyle in mind.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon994894 — On Mar 15, 2016

The eating part is a whole bunch of bull. I eat so many pop tarts it isn't even funny and I have washboard abs. Sports are the real factor. I play soccer, baseball, cross country, track, basketball, and I lift competitively, which all require a lot of practice. My parents were both rather fit, which may play a role in it, I guess, but other than that, playing sports eventually leads up to a six pack, guaranteed as long as you practice enough and play a good mix of sports.

By Oceana — On Feb 17, 2013

Men with flat washboard abs really love showing them off. I can't tell you how many guys I've seen walking around shirtless because they are proud of their abs. They think this attracts women, and they are right.

By healthy4life — On Feb 17, 2013

I see female washboard abs on models on TV and in magazines all the time. In reality, this look is very hard to get.

What many people don't consider is that celebrities often have the layer of fat liposuctioned off of their abs, leaving only the tight layer of muscles behind. You can work and work until you are blue in the face, but unless you get that fat removed, you are not going to have washboard abs.

By seag47 — On Feb 17, 2013

@Kristee – The best abs exercise hands-down is dancing. You have to do it a certain way to work your abs, but once you learn how, you can freestyle and create your own routines.

Hip-hop and pop dancers have washboard abs, and this is probably because they spend so much of their lives working them while they dance. You can crunch your abdominals without ever having to lie down and lift yourself up by them. It's all in the way you move.

There are several instructional videos you can get that show you how to work your abs through dancing. I did this workout for a few months, and I could actually see the definition in my abs in record time.

By Kristee — On Feb 16, 2013

I've been doing crunches for years, but I still haven't been able to get washboard abs. I'm sure I have more definition than people who don't exercise, but I just don't see a six-pack there.

Is there a workout that I could do that would define my abs in just a few months? I don't have much fat on my body at all, so I'm sure that the right exercise could help me achieve this.

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