How do I get a six pack if I'm skinny or skinny-fat?

How To Get Abs For Skinny Guys

Looking to get six-pack abs fast as a skinny guy? You’re in the right place.

The Formula For Six-Pack Abs As A Skinny Guy

3 Steps To Getting Abs

Getting abs comes down to three things:

  • Developing big and strong enough abs, particularly the lower abs, so that you can see them
  • Keeping a low body fat percentage, so there isn’t a layer of fat covering the abs
  • Being healthy enough and eating a proper diet to prevent stubborn-belly fat from building up around the lower abs

Being a skinny guy and trying to get six-pack abs requires a different gameplan than average guys.

For example, average and overweight guys often already have decently strong and large enough abs. So their main challenge will be “in the kitchen” to burn some fat off. Walking more also helps. (If you feel like that’s you, you can find our six-pack article for average guys here.)

But if you’re a skinny guy (sometimes called an ectomorph), your biggest challenge will be building up a good amount of muscle all over your body—including your abs—without getting fat. (If you’re skinny-fat, see our six-pack article for skinny-fat guys here as you’ll need to deal with small abs *and* stubborn belly fat.)

As a skinny guy, you’ve got your work cut out ahead of you to build a ton of muscle.

But there’s good news. In the end, it may be easier for skinny guys to maintain their six-pack once they have it compared to other guys since they might not struggle as much with staying lean.

So once you build up your six-pack, you’ll have an easier time keeping it, compared to others.

Gaining Muscle Fast As A Skinny Guy without getting fatter

More Than Just Training The Abs

Your biggest challenge to getting six-pack abs as a skinny guy? That’ll be building lots of new muscle all over the body while staying lean. If you’re a skinny guy, right now your body is primed to build muscle, but you’ll still need to put in the work at the gym and be consistent when it comes to eating enough calories and protein.

Skinny guys often fall into the trap of thinking they can do 100 crunches every day, get the abs fired up, and think they’ll get a remarkable six-pack. But all they’ll end up with is skinny-boy abs.

While targeted ab work might be able to bulk up the abs a bit, those guys will still be skinny everywhere else so it won’t have the visual look they were hoping for. The truth is that no one is impressed with skinny abs (There was a time when I was one of these skinny guys, I was so skinny you could see my ribs.)

People are impressed with an athletic, powerful, and robust looking body that is still lean enough to see abs.

They aren’t impressed with a weak man who has abs through a dangerously low level of bodyfat. (This used to be me…)

Goal-Setting: Finding Your Ideal BMI

So the goal will be to build lots of muscle, getting your BMI up to the higher range of “normal” for your height, while doing some extra ab/oblique accessory work at the end of your workouts to help make the abs “pop.” Ideally, you should aim to get to the 25 BMI for your height. So if you were 5’11, you’d want to be around 180 pounds. No easy feat for a skinny guy!


How Long Does It Take To Get Abs For A Skinny Guy?

Skinny guys will need to gain a lot more muscle than they might think, so being patient is key.

Some guys may need to gain 30, 40, and even 50 pounds to reach their BMI goal.

Here I am gaining 27 pounds over four months. As a skinny guy, it took me four months of consistent training and a solid diet to begin seeing my abs clearly. This photo was taken right after waking up, no pump.

Skinny guy getting six pack abs

Here’s another photo from the same day after a slight pump and getting oiled up for the photo.

Jared Polowick abs six pack ectomorph

We did 3 months of bulking at 3,200 calories a day, while lifting 3x a week. Then we did one month of cutting, eating at a minor calorie deficit, while still lifting 3x a week. We added in two weekly HIIT sessions, sun tanning, and a lot of coffee.

(See this article about how I got abs by gaining 27 pounds.)

Why Don’t I Have Abs If I’m Skinny?

Same here! When I was skinny, I was dangerously underweight and I still couldn’t see my abs (but I could see my ribs). There are two reasons for this:

  • Your ab muscles are too small to be seen
  • You have a thin layer of stubborn belly-fat over the abs, due to a poor diet and an indoor lifestyle. Stubborn belly fat is correlated to insulin resistance and developing heart disease.

It Gets Easier To See Abs When You’re More Muscular

If you can’t see your abs now and you’re very lean, that’s okay, because it’ll get easier to see your abs once you’re abs are bigger and stronger. The reason why is because when you’re muscular, you can store lots of fat on your body while looking way leaner since that same amount of fat would now be stretched out more over the larger muscles.

For example, let’s say there’s a guy who’s 6’1 tall, 160 pounds, and 15% bodyfat. That would mean he’s got around 24 pounds of fat on his body. He can’t see his abs because there is a layer of fat on top of them and his abs are small and untrained.

Now imagine that he’s been working out diligently for 3–5 years, and he’s now 190 pounds at 12% bodyfat. That would mean he’d now have 23 pounds of body fat, and even though his total amount of fat is pretty much the same as before, his bodyfat percentage has dropped quite a lot.

All of a sudden his bodyweight became more shaped by muscle and less by fat, so he’s radically overhauled the look and function of his body.

Plus, because he’s bigger and stronger, his abs and obliques have had to bulk up in size and strength too to support his strength, meaning those muscles will push out more from his bones and look more three dimensional.

Improving Your Health To See Your Abs

If your last row of abs is covered with stubborn belly fat, you can try to clean up your diet, get more sunshine, and walk more.

Stubborn belly fat is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance (diabetes) and chronic inflammation. Improving your heart health through daily walks, sunshine exposure, and improving your diet by will help reverse these problems. We cover all these problems and how to fix them in our Skinny-Fat Fix program.

How To Get Abs Fast As A Skinny Guy

Building Enough Muscle Without Getting Fat

Building muscle as a skinny guy isn’t exactly easy, there are whole programs designed to help solve it, like our programs, but some good foundational steps for getting abs are:

  • Eat 0.8–1g of protein per ideal body weight pound every single day. If you’re 150 pounds (91kg), you’d eat 160g–150g of protein—your target bodyweight. (This is our “boosted” protein recommendation based on research that shows we tend to overestimate how much protein we eat.)
  • Eat more food than your body needs to gain weight if you’re a skinny guy. When you eat more calories than you burn every day, it’s called getting into a calorie surplus. A calorie surplus will help put your body into a favourable position to build muscle. It’s key not to overdo it though, it’s best to do a small surplus and gain weight slowly to minimize fat gain while optimizing muscle gain.
    • Eating more food is notoriously difficult for skinny guys. Some good tricks include eating more often, eating foods with less water in them like dried fruits and eating baked potatoes, eating foods with less chewing like ground beef over a chewy steak, and drinking calories like milk and smoothies. See our article on good bulking snacks.
    • It’s best to stack your surplus around lifting weights such as before and after you work out. This is so your extra energy isn’t stored as fat, but is used for a good workout and recovery. So if you aren’t working out today, you likely don’t need to eat that big of a surplus.
  • Lift weights 3x a week. You don’t want to just get fatter from eating more. Lifting weights will direct that extra energy to building muscle. Make sure to find a program that meets you where you are as a skinny guy and also where you want to build muscle. Many programs are lower-body heavy in terms of work, making your legs bigger than your upper body, so be sure to find a solid workout program that will make that muscle go where you want it. Aside from building muscle everywhere, it will help to do some ab isolation work for a bit more ab size gains.
  • Get enough quality sleep—around 7–9 hours. Getting enough good sleep is crucial when trying to build muscle. Remember, you don’t build muscle in the gym, but after you’ve challenged your body and it begins to recover.

Building muscle can be really difficult to do, especially for skinny guys. There are nuances to understand, and environmental and social pressures to fight against that will stand in your way. And each guy has to deal with his own unique situation (age, stress, experience, past injuries, etc.) Even though there are lots of things to learn, even by putting that short list into practice, you’ll already be in a great position.

If you want my advice on bulking rapidly as a skinny guy, I’d highly recommend joining Bony to Beastly. I co-founded it in 2012 with two other former skinny guys, and we’ve since helped over 10,000 skinny guys rapidly build muscle. We can also help you gear into a mini-cut after so you can see your six pack.

Bony to Beastly Program

Should Skinny Guys Do Ab Workouts?

If you’re skinny and you want abs, you should be doing an ab exercises. Our workouts usually start with compound exercises and then finish with some ab work at the end.

If you only work the abs, then you might get okay looking abs but you’ll still be underweight and weak looking. It will be better if you improve your BMI through gaining muscle mass everywhere by working out your whole body like your back, shoulders, chest, arms, and then, of course, the abs.

Do Skinny Guys Naturally Have Abs?

Everyone already has abs. But the question is if they’re big enough and with a low enough level of bodyfat to be seen.

So some skinny guys have very low body fat and very low levels of stubborn fat, and you can see their abs even if the abs are small.

But some skinny guys are skinny because they don’t eat a lot of nutritious foods like meat and eat too much junk food like cookies, chips, and soda pop. I used to be like this. Those skinny guys will likely have a layer of stubborn belly-fat covering their abs—despite being so skinny from have low levels of muscle.

The Best Ab Exercises

A muscle researcher wrote an article on T-Nation detailing his experiment trying to figure out the best exercises for the lower abs, internal obliques, external obliques, and the lumbar area of the back. Ab exercises were ranked based on their EMG score:

Top EMG Ab Exercises

  1. Bodyweight Chin-Up: 249
  2. Ab Wheel Rollout: 143
  3. RKC Plank: 115
  4. Hanging Leg Raise: 300
  5. Weighted Swiss Ball Crunch: 231

It’s important to realize that EMG isn’t perfect. This is because muscle has been found to grow quite well when being stretched, which the EMG tests don’t capture. So there’s a bit of art when it comes to picking the best exercises.

Best Upper Ab Exercises

The best upper ab exercises are when you bring your head down. These include:

  • Myotatic Crunch (great because you can weight it)
  • Abdominal Crunches
  • Cable Crunches

Best Lower Ab Exercises

The best lower ab exercises are when you bring your knees up to your chest or you are moving your legs. Most people really need to work on their lower abs more as they’ve done too many crunches. Lower ab exercises include:

  • Leg Raises Lying On A Bench
  • Flutter Kicks
  • Hanging Knee Raises
  • Hanging Leg Raises
  • Dragon Flags
  • Reverse Crunches
  • Mountain Climbers

Best Oblique Exercises

While working the abs, it’s common to work the obliques too. These muscles run down the sides of your abs.

  • Seated Barbell Twists (Frank Zane favourite)
  • Weighted Russian Twist
  • Side Bends

Starting Ab Exercises As A Total Beginner

However, depending on how skinny and how much of a beginner you are, you may find some of these exercises like the hanging leg raises and ab rollout too difficult (I know I did.) A good program will work you through the right progression. Many skinny guys might do well with a progression like this, moving onto the next exercise after a few sessions when they’re feeling confident:

  1. Dead bug
  2. Front plank
  3. Large Swiss ball rollout
  4. Small Or Deflated Swiss ball rollout
  5. Ab rollout from knees

Ab Workout For Skinny Men

Frank Zane, a three time Mr Olympia winner, started training like Zabo Koszewski because he had the best abs on the beach.

Zabo Six Pack Abs

What was Zabo doing? Five hundred reps of abs in the morning and 500 reps in the afternoon. Frank Zane said his most extreme ab routine was getting into a trance and doing reps for 2.5 hours. That might be what it takes to get into shape for a Mr Olympia winner on a concoction of drugs.

For you, as a skinny guy, you don’t need to jump to 2.5 hours of ab workouts to challenge your abs to grow.

What you need to do is progressive overload. That means that you continually get stronger. Now, normally with weights, you can just add a tiny bit more weight. So if you’re dumbbell bench pressing 50 pounds in each hand, then you start pressing 52.5 pounds in each hand and rebuild your reps up again.

With ab work, which is harder to add weight to, you’ll want to increase the reps, and then once your reps get too high (beyond 30), then add sets.

Skinny Guy Ab Workout Addon

Add this to the end of your workout:

  • Upper Abs—Abdominal Crunch: 20-25 reps
  • Lower Abs—Lying Leg Raise: 20-25 reps

When you first do the lying leg raise, you may only be able to do a few reps. Keep fighting. Do perfect form, and rest, and eat well, and you’ll get stronger.

When you can do 25 reps in a row, then add one more set and do two sets. Then rebuild. When you can do two sets of 25 reps of both, add one more set to do three sets of 25 reps. When you can do three sets of 25 reps, that’s pretty sweet. You should then switch to harder variations like the weighted myotatic crunch and the hanging knee raise.

Dedicated Ab Workout For Skinny Men

Get a free ab workout where we hit the abs first and with multiple exercises. Then we move onto a solid full-body routine for skinny men to gain size.

Skinny Fat Workout

AB Workout For Men

  • Free 14-day full-body lifting workout that emphasizes the upper abs, lower abs, and the obliques (and cardio if needed for belly-fat)
  • Do it at the gym or with dumbbells at home
  • Workout spreadsheet
  • Exercise demonstration video links

The Final Word On How To Get Abs Fast If You’re Skinny

As as a skinny guy looking to get abs, you’ll need to be diligent with eating enough protein, calories from real food, and lifting weights to get bigger everywhere.

Generally, we’d recommend doing a properly designed and balanced lifting program for skinny guys to get bigger while staying lean.

If you liked this article, you’ll want to check out our programs to help you get bigger, stronger, and leaner.

Burn Stubborn Fat, Gain Muscle