T Nation

Are Abs Purely Genetics?

We all have our strong and weak points, and it feels like the abs are one of these bodyparts some people have amazing despite not working them at all, or the opposite.

For instance, I never do direct abs yet I have deep cuts and they are really visible even when at 18%. I do them like 1 month per year.
My brother on the other hand do them a lot, is leaner than me, yet he has way less abs. They are a bit blurry.

Or maybe it’s another variable to consider: the type of training. I do tons of indirect abs work: deadlifts, squats, carries… whereas my brother barely.

I’ve always had troubles activating my core even on squats etcetera. I got very lean, and still didn’t have abs to show for it,

I imagine there are a lot of parameters at play. Your insides pushing out, the size of your abdominal muscles, and how the fascia is laid out over those muscles. I imagine stomach vacuums were in vogue for a reason, and I’ve heard something about how the transversus abdominis and linea alba having a relationship with one another.

And obviously, genetics impact fat distribution and insulin sensitivity so.

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You look great! But I only see your back ahah

Well when I do front squats, or good mornings, or to an extent deadlift variations it’s always my core that is burning like crazy, and the strength leak

Thank you, I’m not that lean now though! It was the first post I found from my leanest. It was meant to relay lean, but alas no abs.

A lot of factors are involved with ab genetics. Some the actual muscles, but what I feel is most important is body fat distribution. Some people put on fat all over their bodies fairly evenly, some it seems to go in the most part to the gut. For the former group, they might have visible abs about 15%, for someone on the far end of the latter group, they are going to have to get much leaner to have good abs.

I’d say that all of the factors that contribute are in some way a manifestation, but they don’t account for the effort, exercise selection, quality of execution, food choices, and on and on.

So, no. Not purely genetic.

One of my brothers may have great genes for all of this, but you’d never know it because he’s not interested in lifting/conditioning at all.

I’m just too lazy to train them :joy::joy::joy:

Are you defining good abs here as meaning a visible muscle group? If so, the answer will always be genetics given the amount of fat cells you have is decided for you.

Someone like Eddie Hall or former heavyweight champ Andy Ruiz might have the thickest layers of abdominal muscles we have ever seen. The former would be doing an incredible amount of volume/ load in things like carries, deadlifts, pressing, etc. The latter would do tons of direct ab work. But the truth is we will never find out unless they are prepared to shed the fat.

The ab muscles of those strongmen are probably thicker than my quads :rofl:

His obliques are probably bigger than mine. :joy:

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To piggyback on this idea, visceral vs. subcutaneous fat distribution also plays a big role (no pun intended) in how the gut/abs end up looking.

If fat is primarily around the organs, it’s more damaging to health (sometimes called “heart attack fat”) but it allows the abs to appear somewhat defined on top of a large gut because the fat is “behind” the ab muscle.

Plenty of superheavyweight strongmen and powerlifters are classic examples of this.

Then there’s the whole concept that the ab muscles themselves are genetic in terms of how they end up looking when developed. It’s why some guys end up with 8-packs and others can be ripped and jacked with muscle but never have more than a 4-pack.

That’s not really something influenced by training or fat loss, that’s purely genetic. Arnold and Ronnie, in their primes, never had better than a 4-pack but it’s not because they were slacking in the gym or kitchen.


In terms of genetics, the visual look can be affected due to genetics. Look at Ronnie Coleman’s abdominal development. Not in terms of size, or conditioning, but the visual structure of each box of his six pack. Compare with flex wheeler, and how his are perfectly symmetrical compared to Ronnie‘s. In this regard, I doubt training technique would have any effect.




Very informative post.

Would a dexa scan be a good tool to determine one’s visceral vs. subcutaneous fat?

The former was most likely ALSO doing lots of direct ab work. It’s pretty valuable in strongman.

That is some gnarly bruising.

Yes exactly, for instance I have only a 7 pack. But in terms of size, it feels like actually heavy lifting and genetics are more efficient than direct work

I think he tore his pec trying to break a record

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Yeah Scott Mendelson Bench attempt

Although as mentioned, you cant change the layout or number of abs, but you can build them very well.

If you get to a level of lean and are not happy with how your abs pop then building them like any other muscle will help. Here is my before and after…

Direct ab work, isolation, progression in reps and weight, failure.


I barely had visible abs when I was 130-150 in college
Around the same weight, when I was a commercial gym trainer, I had abs only because I prioritized them and just stayed lean.

Lately, I been doing stomach vacuums and crunches because I want visible abs as I leave this quarantine. Prolly gotta do more direct work.