T Nation

Imbalanced Ab Muscles: Genetic or Years of Neglect and Bad Habits?

Hey guys,

I have competing for about 3 seasons now and have done about 5 shows. All natural shows, 4 regional where I placed 2ed in each one and my most recent crack at provincial where I places 6th.

I am 28 years old, I have been training none stop since I was 15 years old when I stopped playing high level hockey.

Being natural I totally understand how I need to keep growing year after year for slow and steady improvements and cant expect to walk around year round like open class athletes do.

being provincial level I decided to bring as much conditioning as I could, I dieted to hard and did way to much cardio this time around and when it came time to fill up, the muscles wouldn’t get full. IMO my last show I was 10lbs heavier on stage, was not as conditioned but was much fuller and bigger. I understand where I went wrong on this prep and will adjust accordingly for the next one.


Other then needed more size all over clearly, I find my abdominal area to be very imbalanced. I understand a lot of this area has to do with genetics but hear me out…

When I was playing hockey before I started lifting, I had a ripped 6 pack with full 6 popping right out at all times. As I gave up competitive hockey and switched to bodybuilding it seemed as if my composition has changed. I have 4 visible abs even around 10-14% BF and when I diet down as seen below, I still only have the 4 somewhat visible abs and my entire area below be 4 pack to navel region seems as though its very underdeveloped. I find my squats SUCK, and I am always hunched over as its most comfy, even when sitting my ass is slightly forward caving my lower lumber spine. When I diet down to sub 5% I find the small bit of skin around my belly button never disappears, I was never over weight and never understood why I have loose skin there.

If you rub your hands above and below my bellybutton you can clearly feel ridges and bulges for another 2-4 pack.

My question is, what happened to my 6 pack over the years? Is it my training over the years that has messed it up? posture? Genetic change?

Any professional advice would by appreciated,

just looking at ways I can improve my weak areas.

Looking good man tho…Hmm… Seems you’ve lost some abs lol.

Perhaps in your hockey days you were leaner? Abs more evenly developed or small throughout giving the appearance of an even six pack? Maybe your midsection was better then due to all the anti rotation work that would’ve been done with hockey. Maybe back then you were thinking like one of those skinny kids who take selfies in the mirror and thought you had a 6pack.

Seriously tho since you can feel your “missing” packs then they are there. So its likely either body fat or hypertrophy. In terms of hypertrophy: What kind of ab training do you do? Compounds only? Direct work? Exercise variety or lack thereof? PEDs?

Body fat wise you obviously get shredded come show time but maybe your fat like many other people’s is distributed extra there so it’d take that extra bit of fat loss to reveal them.

Posture wise I can see how various pelvic tilts could affect the appearance of your abs but at such a low body fat percentage they should show through anyways

Genetics… Unless you’ve mutated and your mutant power is losing muscle bellies than probably not.

What kind of competition is that? Natural bodybuilding? Do you have to take of the trunks at some point?

Here’s a fairly obvious one, what kind of direct ab training do you do? Exercises/sets/reps/frequency?

thanks for the reply!

I think its a little bit to do with hypertrophy, I have done very strict BB splits very many years neglecting compounds a lot, like I said my squat is pathetic for someone who has been training seriously for as long as I have. On top of that only direct ab training. Definitely can feel the lower ridges and packs, and for sure hold the last bit of fat/water on my stomach. For this show I even decided to come in flat and focus on condition to get every last bit of water out. I was dry as fuck and still nothing. In those pics though I seriously couldn’t loose any more fat as there was nothing left, I think its more of a serious imbalance and lack of proper training over the years.

I have finally switched to upper/lower split that chris has suggested in one of his articles for natural athletes. Focusing a lot on front squats, heavy abb training and heavy compounds from another one of chris articles for abb training. See if I can thicken them up. After reading his articles I can tell that I have been over training a shit load as a natural athlete for a very long time. Probably why I always feel run down.

No PED, for sure TRT when I am older. These are natural Tested physique comps.

Sounds like a plan.

If you are going to compete in Physique is a 1:1 ratio of lower body to upper body training what you want? Especially if you have limited training time/frequency in the week.

For Ab training maybe incorporate variations that you haven’t done much of to supplement the heavy compound work. e.g. if you’ve been doing sit ups and variations of sit ups exclusively for a while then maybe some excercses where you resist flexion of the trunk by contracting your abs isometrically (Ab Rollout, Planks, etc.) can be substituted in to balance out your abs.

I have to respectfully disagree. I would say it’s a conditioning issue. Judging by two pics is of course dicey, but you do not look “dry as f**k” in those pics. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying you look bad, much less fat. But you have very little by way of vascularity, and no discernible graininess anywhere. Whether this is a function of mis-timing your peak, or a fluid-electrolyte issue, I have no idea. But I can assure you of two things that aren’t the culprit: Your genetics, and your ability to develop lower abs (ie, the full six pack you say you had back in the day).

I don’t know if you work with an experienced prep coach, but I would say that is the way to go for your next contest. (And if you are working with a coach, maybe it’s time to try a different one.)


Just giving my .02 as a natural competitor as well.

You certainly look good on stage, no doubt. But, along the lines of what @EyeDentist wrote, you are definitely not below 5% in that picture. The skin around your belly button is fat. Not a lot of it, but at sub 5%, everywhere is tight and you should looked more carved than a thanksgiving turkey.

While hard dieting and cardio certainly take a toll, if the muscle tissue is there, it will most definitely fill up with the much needed glycogen. How did you handle your peak week? The more details the better.

As far as having symmetrical abs, that’s all genetics. From your pics, it looks like your chest and abs are just lacking the muscle tissue needed to look full.

This comes from two things:
-You’re not as lean as you think you are. If you were, you’d have a clear and visible 6 pack 24/7, without flexing, in any light.
-You need more muscle and thickness

-Again, to echo @EyeDentist, while it may have felt to you like you couldn’t have gotten any leaner, you are still holding fat (not water) and had more room to go. Not dry as f@ck.

This is a very contradictory sentence.
-A good bodybuilding split definitely has compound movements in it, like squats, dead lifts or rack pulls, benching, etc.
-Bodybuilders train for hypertrophy, so if you’ve been training like a bodybuilder, this should not be an issue.
-If you’ve been training for that long and have a seriously weak squat, then you’re either not training hard enough, haven’t structured your training plan as well as you think you have, and haven’t been eating to support your training. Probably combination of all of those.
-I’ve been training like a bodybuilder for years and can squat 315x10 at the end of a prep at 140lbs. Not tooting my horn here, just giving a comparison. There’s no reason you shouldn’t have a good squat after years of training.

Again, just giving an honest opinion here, your shoulders and arms have some good structure to them, but you do not have the look of someone who’s been training like a bodybuilder for many years.

Also I posted a question earlier I don’t think you answered, how have you been training your abs?

As a natural competitor myself I understand the dieting and cardio can bring you to the brink of death and you may feel like you can’t get any leaner. But, I think your issue is not having enough muscle, which seems to be a result of lack of intensity in your training program. If you’re been training like a bodybuilder for years, you should have more size, thickness, fullness, muscle maturity than displayed in those photos.

1 Like

Thanks for all the reply’s guys!

Definitely looking for tough love answers agree with a lot of what everyone is saying.

I have come to the conclusion here that I need to add more thickness to my frame and focus a lot more on my compound lifts that I have neglected a lot over the years. I think this is the reason for my lack of density, thickness and imbalances.

For ab training I do a lot of weighted rope crunches, leg raises, and ab rollouts. Doesn’t seem to help much TBH

Certainly a step in the right direction. Keep in mind it’s still possible to gain plenty of thickness and mass with enough free weights and machines. You can build quite a lot and never touch a barbell. Plenty of folks that do plenty of compound movements in my gym who look no different than they did 3 years ago. It will come down to intensity, programming, nutrition, and recovery.

Not saying you shouldn’t do more compound movements, they should be in your wheelhouse for sure, but it’s important to stress the most important factors in gaining significant amounts of LBM will be:
-The INTENSITY with which you train.
-The MMC (mind muscle connection) that you have, ensuring you are working the desired muscle and not just moving weight from A to B. If you want to look like a bodybuilder, you need to train like a bodybuilder. It comes down to how you execute the movements. Be sure to focus on getting a good pump, and initiating every movement with the desired muscle, controlled negatives, etc.
-YOUR NUTRITION, if you don’t eat to grow, you won’t grow. This doesn’t mean eating whatever you want, it means a calculated nutrition plan that supports your goals. Make sure you’re eating in a manner that will allow you to gain solid mass, without overdoing it and getting fat.
-Having a training program that supports your goals. I highly, highly recommend @Christian_Thibaudeau’s Indigo programs, hypertrophy phase. https://www.t-nation.com/workouts/indigo-project. Fantastic program, designed to build size and strength. Every session starts with compounds, like benching, squatting, and military pressing, and then moves into more isolated movements with intense finishers at the end. If you stick to the page, no way you won’t grow on this plan.
-Recovery - making sure your recovery is prioritized, you only grow when you recover.

If you have the funds, Micro-PA is awesome for adding mass, and was a game changer for me. I started using it years ago and still use it every training day.

Not bad exercises, all the same ones I do and many others I’m sure. It comes down to *how you execute them, in addition to building more overall mass.

Training, nutrition, and recovery, all must support your #1 goal. Be sure you have all aspects covered and practice consistency and patience. It will come if you work hard enough, no doubt.

1 Like

thanks for the advice!

in terms of recovery, I am guilty of training 6-7 days week every week and playing sports on top of it. Anytime I miss any sort of training I feel super guilty, even for general rest. As a natural athlete I no this is not ideal.

What would you suggest for I do for optimal rest for growth?

One or two total days off a week wouldn’t hurt, at least a 5 day split in the gym if you’re playing sports every day. You should make sure your new program has a frequency that you know you can commit to each week. 5 days will allow you to implement the Indigo plan or typical 5 day split, and you can play sports as much as you want.

For recovery food and sleep are key. You absolutely need to commit to sleeping enough every night, especially if you’re so active every day. Also, I’m willing to bet if you have been training for so long and don’t have the mass to show for it, you’re probably undereating. I might be off, but I’m guessing you’re a fast metabolism type who has trouble gaining weight? Most of the dudes in my gym who train hard and seem to know what they’re doing, but never look any different, are the guys who don’t eat enough. They think they do, but won’t put in the effort to eat enough to grow. If you’re training frequently and sporting every day, your TDEE is pretty high so definitely make sure your nutrition is planned just as detailed and executed as consistently as your training plan.

Sleep is something I am definitely working on. I am only eating around 2200 cals a day right now and slowly bringing it up since my show, Trying to control the rebound while I get the weekend binging under control. I have a very fast metabolism and am one of those people that turn into sticks the moment I start incorporating cardio.