That depends on how skinny you are (amount of muscle) and how lean you are (amount of fat.) But I can show you my journey of going from extremely skinny (dangerously underweight) to “lean and fit” with abs in 120 days.
The formula to getting abs
To get visible abs, you’ll need a combination of being:
- muscular enough to have large abdominals in terms of size
- lean enough to have low levels of subcutaneous fat (typical fat storage under the skin)
- fit and active enough to have low levels of stubborn belly-fat (non-typical fat storage pattern around the belly.)
Getting to this final state will be different depending on your starting point. For example, for skinny guys, if you’re cautious with bulking and do it leanly, and add in a variety of ab exercises, it’s possible to build up your ab size incredibly quickly.
For those who are more average, chubby but strong, they normally already have well-developed abs (in terms of size), so their main goal will be revealing the abs through burning off fat and increasing their fitness.
For those who are skinny-fat, they’re in a tricky situation of needing to simultaneously build up their ab size and strength while also burning off ab fat. Many skinny-fat people are also quite sedentary (under 7,500 steps daily) and so they may also need to burn off some stubborn belly fat.
If you’re lean and skinny, the good news is you could have abs quite quickly. Here’s how I did it in just four months when I was 23 years old:
Getting abs in 120 days: my “before” and “after” photos
My business partner (Shane) and I decided to do an experiment after work where we’d do whatever we could to gain weight to stop being skinny. So we began lifting weights 3x a week and eating 3,200 calories a day.
Here are my measurement changes:
- Body Weight: 130lbs to 157lbs (+27 pounds)
- Neck: 13.75″ to 14.25″ (+0.5 inches)
- Shoulders: 38.75″ to 41″ (+2.25 inches)
- Bicep: 11″ to 12.5″ (+1.5 inches)
- Chest: 33.75″ to 35.25″ (+1.5 inches)
- Waist: 27.5″ to 29.25″ (+1.5 inches)
- Hips: 35.5″ to 37″ (+1.5 inches)
- Thigh: 18.75″ to 22″ (+1.25 inches)
- Calf: 13.75″ to 15″ (+1.25 inches)
As you can see, my waist size actually went up while developing my six-pack abs. This is because my ab, obliques, and spinal erectors all increased in muscular size even though my fat levels went down.
Part of the reason I was able to develop abs so quickly is because I was already lean, but I also was aggressively bulking. This means I was maximizing my muscular adaptations, but it also came with some fat gain.
For the first 90 days, I bulked aggressively, gaining 21 pounds in the first 30 days. Then I peaked at 163 pounds (+33) after 90 days. In the final 30 days, we did a cut, and I burnt off around 6 pounds—revealing my abs.
For the 30 days of cutting, it was August, and we kept up our lifting 3x a week and added in some HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sprinting outside in the local parks. Although we were doing graphic design to pay the bills and it came with a lot of sitting, the gym was a 30-minute walk away. So in total, my weekly exercise regimen looked like:
- 3x lifting weights (around an hour each)
- 2x short HIIT sessions
- 180-minutes of walking to and from the gym
I must have racked up some other steps buying groceries, and exploring the city with my then-girlfriend (now wife.)
The first photo I posted was right in the morning after waking up, no pump-up, no Photoshopping. After we documented our results as clear as possible, we decided to try and make our shots as impressive as possible (still without any photoshopping.) This next photo was taken after doing a mini-workout for a pump and we added some oil.
If you want to learn more about our “Lean to Mean” experiment, you can check out this article on Bony to Beastly.
- To have visible abs, you must:
- Have big enough abs. Skinny people can’t just make abs in the kitchen. They need to build them up. Look at including dedicated ab training that works your abs in a variety of ways. Stretched, contracted, ISO holds, etc. and hitting both the upper and lower abs. Some good ideas to start with are the dead bug, reverse crunches, front plank, v-sit Russian twists (hits the obliques hard at the same time), and flutter kicks. Work towards being able to do L-sits on a counter with knees bent, then knees out, then hanging leg raises.
- Have a low enough body-fat percentage. Since you’re skinny, this shouldn’t be too difficult. While you bulk up, make sure to keep your gains as lean as possible. Otherwise, you may need to do a “cut,” which is when you focus on fat-burning while maintaining your new muscle size.
- Have good enough fitness and are active. Being too sedentary (under 7,500 daily steps) can lead towards building up of stubborn belly-fat. This can make stubborn fat that sticks around on your abs and can create love handles, etc. It doesn’t respond as well to a calorie deficit and responds better to aerobic work and better fitness. The good news is dealing with the stubborn belly-fat also deals with visceral fat, which is related to stubborn belly-fat. (Going for a daily walk outdoors, breaking up long periods of sitting, etc.)
- In my journey, I went from 130 pounds with a BMI of 17, which is dangerously skinny to 157 pounds with a BMI of 21, which is on the lower end of a healthy body weight for my height. Skinny people may see their waist measurement go up even while getting leaner if they’re also building up muscle size.