How to Get Toned Abs for Females: Body Fat Percentage for Women

Most men and women want flatter stomachs, but the abdominal section seems to be one of the hardest parts of the body to conquer.

For the average person, dieting and working out rarely appears to work.

So, how do you get killer abs? What’s the required body fat percentage for abs in females?

You need to blast away the body fat and tone the abdominal muscles.

As you peel away the fat, you reveal the definition of the abs and that six-pack you’ve always wanted.

For women, the ideal body fat percentage for abs is between 16% and 19%, although for most men, you need to achieve 6% to 9% body fat.

Of course, body fat isn’t the only issue.

If you want to know how women can get toned abs, we’ll need to take a closer look at all the factors. Here is what you should know about body fat for defined stomach muscles in females.

The Main Issues Preventing Washboard Abs: Why Are My Abs Not Showing?

Why Are My Abs Not Showing

What keeps most women from achieving toned, washboard abs? The biggest obstacles include:

  • Overall body fat
  • Muscle development
  • Genetics

Each of these factors influences your ability to reveal defined abdominal muscles. Unfortunately, we can only directly control the first two.

Overall Body Fat Percentage for Abs (Female)

Obviously, you need to remove the layer of fat in front of your belly to reveal the muscles underneath. 

For most women, the ideal body fat percentage for abs is 16% to 19%. When you maintain that range, your muscles, or lack of muscles, should show.

How do you get rid of the fat? The key is relatively simple. To burn fat, you need to eat at a calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit means to eat fewer calories than your body needs to maintain your current weight. When you cut calories, your body uses stored fat for energy.

One pound of fat equals about 3,500 calories and you can safely lose one or two pounds each week. You’d need to maintain a 500-calorie deficit to lose one pound per week.

The average woman needs to eat around 2,000 calories each day to maintain their weight and 1,500 calories per day to drop a pound each week.

Guys need to eat closer to 2,500 calories per day for weight maintenance and 2,000 calories per day to lose weight.

Luckily, cutting calories isn’t the only way to burn fat. You can increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which allows your body to burn more calories at rest.

So, how do you boost your BMR? You need to lift iron.

(For women that are ready to get started immediately, we recommend using this strength and nutrition program to quickly tone your midsection.)

Muscle Development

types of abs shapes female

Building more lean muscle mass helps you burn fat faster. Unfortunately, doing both at the same time isn’t easy.

To burn fat, you need to consume fewer calories. To build muscle, you need to eat more. 

If you want to balance muscle development and fat burning, focus on core strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Most of your cardio should come from HIIT exercises. The high-intensity exercises use more fat for fuel and help preserve muscle mass.

You’ll also need to work on your core. After peeling away the fat, you won’t see any definition if you don’t have defined muscles.

Core strength training exercises featuring compound movements work best. Use squats, deadlifts, and rows while using the most weight and fewer reps. 

How Much Does Genetics Affect Abs?

You can blame your mom if you struggle to lose fat around the midsection. 

Genetics is one of the biggest factors in determining where you store fat, along with affecting almost every aspect of your health and fitness.

Doctors know that men and women store fat differently. Men tend to store it around the midsection while women store it on the lower body, including the hips, thighs, and butt.

The difference between men and women is due to the presence of sex hormones, such as estrogen. However, doctors now know that genes also influence the distribution of fat.

If you’re born with the genetics that predisposes you to store fat around the midsection, you may find it harder to reveal your abs.

Genes also impact your risk of obesity. Through no fault of your own, you may naturally be more likely to gain weight, adding to the struggle.

How Can Women Get Toned Abs?

how can women get toned abs

As you already know, you won’t get firmer abs overnight or without hard work.

To achieve toned abs, you need to consider the obstacles discussed, starting with your genes. While you can’t change genetics, the way that you store fat should impact your gym routine.

If you mostly store fat in your lower body, you may not need to drastically alter your diet or exercise routine. With some core exercises and a few dietary changes, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

For those that store fat in the midsection, I’ve got some bad news. You’ll need to put in more effort to get visible abs, but the following steps should put you on the right track.

Focus on Getting Lean

If you want to see ab muscles, start by stripping away the fat.

The key to getting lean is to burn fat without losing any muscle mass. You do that with a moderate calorie deficit and moderate strength training.

You’ll also need to ensure that you get enough protein to maintain the muscle. 

According to nutrition experts, you should eat at least 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight for muscle maintenance. That’s about 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams for women.

That recommendation is the minimum amount you need and may not be enough for some individuals. The right amount for you depends on your age, activity level, and current muscle mass.

Instead of sticking with the bare minimum, consume 25% to 30% of your calories from protein.

Research shows that the extra protein boosts your metabolism, helping you with the goal of getting leaner.

Protein is also more satiating compared to carbs. When you fill-up on protein, you stay fuller longer.

When it comes to your workout, remember to include HIIT exercises instead of steady-state cardio. 

If you want to cycle, include HIIT sets. Pedal as fast as you can for a minute and then pedal at your regular speed for a minute.

By sticking to a moderate calorie deficit and performing moderate exercise, you should start to shed a few pounds. When your total body fat percentage gets low enough, you should start to see your abdominal muscles.

Keep in mind you may only lose one or two pounds per week.

Avoid Going to Low: Body Fat Percentage for Abs (Female)

While you need to shred the fat to reveal your abs, you want to avoid going too low with your body fat percentage.

Unfortunately, some of us don’t have clearly defined abdominal muscles. No matter how much fat you strip away, you still don’t see a six-pack or even a four-pack.

No amount of exercise or dieting will force the abs to appear, leading some people to continue burning fat. 

It’s possible to lose too much fat in your pursuit of killer abs. Unhealthy numbers are below 6% for men and 16% for women.

Your body needs fat to protect internal organs from injury and to fuel your body. It’s an essential part of your metabolism.

So, in your quest for a flatter stomach, avoid losing too much fat.

Build-up Your Core Strength

abs time lapse woman

When you achieve lower body fat percentage, you can see what you’ve got to work with. You’ll either see defined muscles or no muscles at all.

To begin sculpting the six-pack, build up your core strength. You need to work the pair of muscles that run along the abdomen.

The rectus abdominis is the ab muscle that stretches between the ribs and the pubic bone. When you contract the muscle, you’ll notice the bulges that create the “six-pack” effect.

Build a workout routine around these core exercises to target the rectus abdominis:

  • Lying dumbbell leg raise
  • Lying dumbbell crunch
  • Reverse crunch
  • Reach and tuck
  • Overhead ball floor tap

Perform two to three sets of 20 repetitions for each exercise. 

While performing these exercises, don’t neglect the rest of your body. Work on your entire body to gain muscle everywhere.

Adding to your total body mass boosts your metabolism, helping you reach your fitness goals faster and making it easier to keep the extra weight off.

Fine Tune Your Midsection

By the time that you blast the fat and build up some muscle, you should have noticeably flat, toned abs. 

If you’re still not happy with the results, you can work on sculpting.

One of the most common problems is gaining fat while building muscle. After lowering your body fat percentage, you start building muscle to define the ab muscles, which requires more calories.

It’s difficult to find the right calorie count for building muscle while also minimizing fat gain. For most people, I’d recommend using a 250-calorie deficit for optimal muscle development without gaining fat.

If you’ve experienced fat gain after building muscle, switch to the first stage of the journey – getting lean. Cut 500 calories from your diet each day and include HIIT exercises in your workout routine.

Besides weight gain, you may need to fine-tune your midsection to achieve specific results. 

For example, after getting toned abs, you may want to work on other areas of the midsection, such as the obliques. 

Include a variety of core exercises to target these other ab muscles. Some of the best exercises for targeting the oblique muscles include:

  • Plate twist
  • Decline oblique crunches
  • Medicine ball rotational throw
  • Dumbbell side bend
  • Side plank
  • Seated barbell twist
  • Side jackknife

Targeting the oblique muscles helps show off the sculpted rectus abdominis, adding to the overall aesthetics of your washboard stomach. 

How Do You Measure Body Fat?

To monitor your progress, you’ll want to measure your body fat percentage at regular intervals, such as during a weekly weigh-in.

You have three at-home options for measuring body fat percentage:

  • Tape measure
  • Bodyweight scale
  • Calipers

The tape measure is the least accurate, but you may not need to buy anything. You simply measure the circumference of a few body parts and enter the information into an online body fat estimate calculator.

Although, a body weight scale is a little easier to use. You just get on the scale and the device estimates your body weight. We recommend this smart scale that’s available on Amazon.

The scale sends a current up one leg and down the other. As fat conducts less electricity compared to water or muscle, it can estimate your body fat.

Unfortunately, this option isn’t 100% accurate, although it’s the one we recommend most frequently because it’s very easy and directionally accurate.

Body fat calipers are more accurate. You can usually get an inexpensive caliper online for less than $15. You measure a few areas and then convert the measurements into your body fat percentage.

If you don’t want to buy anything, use the tape measure method to estimate your body fat. If you want the easiest option (that’s me), purchase a smart scale. For the most accurate results, purchase a caliper

How Long Does It Take to Get Flat Abs?

The amount of time needed to flatten your tummy depends on the amount of fat on top of it.

If you’ve got more fat, it will take longer to shed the fat and reveal the muscles underneath. 

You can safely lose one to two pounds of fat per week, but not all of it is going to come from your stomach. To estimate how long it’ll take, use your body fat percentage.

Let’s say that you need to lose 20 pounds to reach your ideal body fat percentage. At 1 or 2 pounds per week, this would take 10 to 20 weeks.

Basically, you’re not going to suddenly wake up with washboard abs. 

Don’t give up when the results take longer than expected. You may need to stick to your routine for several months (or longer) to achieve flatter abs.

Some Final Considerations

If you want to get toned abs, you need to burn fat and then build muscle. 

16% to 19% is the recommended body fat percentage for abs for women, although guys should aim for 6% to 9%.

Cut your calories and focus on core exercises to start getting leaner without losing muscle. When you peel off the fat, use total body workouts and ab exercises to start sculpting the muscle.

It sounds easy, but it’s going to require hard work. Just remember to keep your body fat from getting too low.

If you’re ready to get started today, check the workout regimen that we recommend for women.

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