How to Make Small Abs Beastly

The Skinny on Abs

Written by Shane Duquette on March 24, 2016

Having abs shows that you’re even leaner than you need to be, that your posture is confident and athletic, that your muscles are strong, and even that your hormones are very masculine (study). Abs look so good because having all of these things at once shows that you’re not just healthy, but obnoxiously healthy.

Fortunately, we just so happen to be the body type that can rock a washboard stomach year round without suffering the negative side effects that other guys risk (perpetual hunger, reduced libido, etc). This gives us a real physique edge over the other body types.

However, as naturally skinny dudes with naturally smaller muscles, our walk across Abbey Road is a little atypical. There are usually two types of ab advice you’ll come across, and neither works very well for us:

  1. Science says that abs are built in the kitchen. Usually yes, since most guys are overweight, and most overweight guys already have large ab muscles. In the Beastly community we see guys all the time who are more than lean enough to have great abs—but their posture is a little loose and their ab muscles are a little small.
  2. No pain, no gain. The most popular ab routines are high rep circuits that make your abs burn with hellish fire. Abs are muscles though, and doing high rep crunches to build bigger abs is like running a marathon to build bigger legs. Endurance work improves blood flow but it’s awful at making muscles bigger. You’ll see some guys with crazy abs doing these high rep routines, but this is like thinking that taking topless Instagram selfies gives you abs because guys with abs do it. It’s not why they have great abs, it’s just something they do because they like their abs.

So what’s the best way for us naturally thin dudes to build Abercrombie abs?

Let’s start with an example. Here’s GK showing that abs aren’t built in the kitchen. He’s more than lean enough to have rad abs, he just don’t have the muscle size for them yet. Although I suppose you could say that these abs were built by eating everything in the kitchen, it’s probably more accurate to say that they were built in the gym (or home gym or wherever you want to lift).

GK's Bony to Beastly Ectomorph Transformation

So in this article we’re going to show you how to build a rock hard, chiseled 6-pack from the perspective of a skinny guy. These bigger abs will not only look badass, they’ll also make you far stronger, protect your spine and improve your posture.

Ab Anatomy

Before we can woo ourselves some washboard abs we must first understand them.

To begin, let’s cover the muscles that are underneath your visible abs—the transverse abdominis muscles. These work sort of like a lifting belt or a corset, keeping your core on lockdown. You don’t see these though, and so long as your lifting program is well balanced and you lift with good form you won’t need to give these guys special attention. They’ll grow plenty strong by doing squat and deadlift variations.

Ectomorph Ab Anatomy (How to Build Bigger Abs as a Skinny Guy)

When we say “abs” what we’re generally talking about are our rectus abdominis muscles. These muscles are made up of a series of bellies and tendons. The bits that bulge out are the bellies, the canyons between the bulges are the tendons. This gives them their unique washboard shape.

Ectomorph Ab Anatomy (How to Build Bigger Abs as a Skinny Guy)

These ab muscle bellies can flex, just like any muscle belly can, allowing us to move our core like an accordion. Our abs allow us to crunch forwards, our obliques allow us to twist around and crunch sideways. More importantly, these muscles help us resist movement, keeping our ribs and hips on lockdown when doing compound movements. This let’s us squat down and pick something up without looking like a jelly fish, keeping our spine safe and allowing us to transfer power from our lower body to our upper body. The transverse abdominis helps with this as well.

You could say that our abs are our most important muscles, as you can’t even do a bicep curl if your core has the consistency of an overcooked noodle.

This means that if you follow a good program made up of mostly compound lifts, your abs will become big and strong without you ever needing to directly train them… right? That works well sometimes, but more so for naturally stocky dudes. As someone with a longer slenderer torso you’ll probably want to directly target your abs to make your compound lifts even stronger, even safer, and, of course, to make your abs look way better.

As you build up bigger abs, you’ll soon notice that they have their own distinct shape. You can make your muscle bellies bigger with good training, but you can’t do anything to affect their symmetry or to alter the number of tendons that you have. So some guys have an 8-pack, other guys have a 6-pack. Some guys have a wide-pack, others guys have a thin-pack.

Bony to Beastly Genetics 6-pack or 8-pack abs

In a controversial new study, science has just recently proven what belly-dancers have known for thousands of years—with enough coordination these muscle bellies can be individually targeted (study). After learning this, most guys will think that they have smaller lower abs.

While it’s possible that your lower ab muscles are disproportionately small, keep in mind that men store more body fat on their lower stomach than their upper stomach. Lower abs tend to be murky unless you are very lean—under 10%.

Bony to Beastly small lower abs

Also keep in mind that if your ribs aren’t in their proper position, they might be shoving your upper abs out further than they should be, making your lower abs look smaller by comparison.

And there’s another thing that might prevent you from getting defined lower abs: you may not have lower abs. If you take a look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, you can see that he has just four ab bellies, and all of them are above his belly button. Even if Arnold were to train his lower abs he’d still never have any definition on his lower stomach. There are no muscle bellies there.

arnold schwarzenegger lower abs

We’ve included the best lower ab exercise at the end of this article, but don’t worry too much about targeting different ab muscles just yet. We’ll want to make sure that we train both your obliques and your abs, but we don’t need to worry about training upper abs or lower abs or anything like that. For now we want to fully work the entire accordion.

The cool thing about abs though is that they all look amazing so long as they are big enough and lean enough. Every set of abs will be different—and all will be badass.

How Lean?

Flex your abs as hard as you can and touch your stomach. If your stomach is firm and rubbery, skip this section. If there’s a shallow layer of dough there or if you’re unsure, read on.

Not all skinny guys have a low body fat percentage. Many do, but a lot of the guys who are the most interested in getting abs are the ones who have a naturally softer stomach. Building up bigger ab muscles when there’s a substantial amount of fat on top of them will just push the fat out further. Not the desired effect.

Ab Bulking at 15

So first things first, let’s make sure that you’re lean enough. For a flat stomach you’ll want to be around 15% body fat, but to have abs you’ll usually need to be under 12%.

There are lots of ways to calculate your body fat percentage, but when it comes to being healthy and getting abs, all you need is a mirror. It doesn’t matter if your skin callipers are telling you that you’re 10% if you can’t see your abs, and it doesn’t matter if your bathroom scale thinks that you’re 17% if you can see your abs. Moreover, anywhere in that 10–20% range is perfectly healthy.

So, because we’re trying to get a visual result here, the most logical approach is estimate your body fat percentage visually. Fortunately, the mirror method is often more accurate than the other at-home methods provided that you’re fairly lean (10–18%).

The tricky thing is that being lean enough for abs looks very different depending on how much muscle you have. At 12% a skinny guy can look soft and a strong guy can look ripped. Even so most of the body fat percentage charts use a bodybuilder on steroids to show you what 6% looks like and then an obese guy who’s never seen a weight to show you what 30% looks like. That’s not all that helpful. So we’ve got two charts—a skinny and a strong one—and we’ve used illustrations so that we can keep all the variables constant except for body fat.

Here’s how you use them:

1) Find a mirror

2) Turn on some flattering overhead lighting (bathrooms work well)

3) Flex your abs and your butt (to rotate your hips into a decent position)

4) Compare your abs to these charts, depending on how much muscle you have

Here’s what 9–20% looks like on a strong guy: 

How to Estimate Body Fat Percentage In the Mirror (Strong Guy)

Here’s what 9–20% looks like on a skinny guy:

How to Estimate Body Fat Percentage In the Mirror (Skinny Guy)

If you want to see how this might look in real life, here’s me at 11% as measured by DEXA scan (the gold standard in body fat percentage testing). As you can see, I have a fair bit less definition than the 9% image, but maybe slightly more definition than the 12% image.

Bony to Beastly Shane Duquette Body Fat Percentage DEXA Scan

If you’re under 15%, congratulations—you’re not only very healthy, but you also have a very attractive body fat percentage. To get abs you’ll need to lose just a few pounds of fat. If you’re under 12%, even more congratulations—you’re eligible for amazing abs without needing to lose any fat.

But let’s say you’re closer to 20%. That’s not the end of the world. Your body fat is still fairly healthy, and if you decide you want to be lean enough for abs, you’re not that far away. Here’s what you can realistically expect after three months of scientifically cutting—all muscle maintained, 20 pounds of fat lost:

Bony to Beastly Cutting Body Fat Percentage

To do this you’ll need to eat 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight while consuming few enough calories that you’re losing weight on the scale each week—probably around 500 fewer calories than you’re eating right now. (We’ve got an article on what to do if you’re skinny-fat here.)

While doing this you’ll want to be following a good lifting program. If you’re new to lifting and eating scientifically you should be able to build some muscle while you do it, and if you’re already somewhat muscular (as I was) you can expect to maintain your muscle mass and strength.

This means that whether you’re lean enough or not, you need to be lifting in order to get closer to your goal. So whether you’re under 15% or not, let’s move on to building badass abs in the gym.

How to Build Badass Abs

We’re going to teach you the best exercises for building up badass abs, but keep in mind that we need to get your hips positioned properly in order to get your ab muscles firing properly. With proper posture, literally everything you do in and out of the gym will be training your abs. Your abs won’t be hanging loose as you stroll around town, your gut won’t be jutting out even though you’re at 9% body fat, and eating a big meal won’t make you look quite as pregnant.

ecto-belly vs good posture with strong abs

If you want to see what this looks like in real life, check this out:

Europa's Bony to Beastly Ectomorph Transformation

This should also help fix the “lazy stomach” that some guys get when they aren’t intentionally flexing their ab muscles. Some degree of this is okay, but it’s best if your abs have the strength, positioning and endurance to always have a little bit of tension in them.

Here are two pictures that b2B member Jeremy took just seconds apart. On the left side, even with a very low body fat percentage, his ab positioning is preventing him from having abs. When your stomach is stretched like that it prevents the abdominal muscles from contracting properly, preventing them from naturally holding a little tension.

lazy stomach vs good posture with strong abs

Fortunately, stronger ab muscles are better at holding your hips and ribs together. This means that building up bigger abs will improve your posture, and improving your posture will help you build up bigger abs. These goals work additively with one another. By focusing on both simultaneously you’ll get the quickest (and best) results.

There are a few exercises that are particularly effective at getting your hips into a proper position and building up bigger, stronger abs. Here are six different lifts that will bulk up your abs in different ways, improve your posture, and build bonus muscles everywhere else on your body.

Here’s Marco with the how-to.

The plank. This will show you what proper pelvic positioning looks like and teach your core how to become comfortable maintaining that position under a light load.


The farmer carry. In this exercise we’re teaching you how to maintain that plank position while walking around with heavy things. Great for the obliques, great for developing a core that will look good even when you aren’t thinking about it.


Sit-Ups. Crunches involve repeatedly bending your spine under load. While there is little direct evidence that they are bad for you, the most respected spinal health expert in the world, Dr. Stuart McGill, advises against them. Instead, he recommends variations where the spine remains in a more neutral position. These spine-conscious variations will also ingrain better lifting habits, as you’ll learn how to keep your abs on lockdown during compound lifts. Here’s an ab isolation exercise that’s safe, healthy and effective:


Dumbbell Pullovers. In this exercise you’re moving in the shoulder joint while your abs fight to keep your ribs down. The bigger and stronger your back and chest get, the bigger and stronger your abs will become.


Goblet Squat. In this exercise you’re moving in the hips while your entire core is lit up. The bigger and stronger your entire body becomes, the bigger and stronger your core will become.


Reverse Crunches. This is the ultimate lower ab exercise, and it’s actually pretty great at teaching your abs to pull your hips up into a nice, strong position. Great all-around ab exercise.

Once you become good at these exercises pretty much everything you do will help you build incredible abs. At this point your abs will probably be looking good enough that you get bored of training your abs and switch your priorities to something else—getting a stronger bench press or deadlift, or maybe building yourself some beastlier biceps and pecs.

…But if you still feel like your abs are too tiny, this is a great time to introduce more difficult variations. There are many, many great compound and isolation lifts for your abs: dead bugs, front squats, weighted chin-ups, weighted push-ups, ab-wheel rollouts, hanging leg raises, Pallof presses, and many more.


When it comes to your abs, always remember the three things you need:

  1. Big enough abs, so that your belly is shaped by many little bellies
  2. A lean enough stomach, so that you can see your abs through the flabs
  3. Proper posture, so that your abs will activate and flex naturally

Also remember that you don’t need abs. You’re perfectly healthy at 18% body fat and perfectly attractive to women at 15% body fat. Abs are a bonus. No need to stress out if you lose sight of your lower abs when bulking, or if you’re a skinny-fat guy and want to focus on building up muscle before you worry about your stomach. Hell, once you’re muscular enough you may realize that you don’t even care about abs at all.

And as always, if you want more help building muscle, more help cutting fat, and more help getting rad abs… that’s what the Bony to Beastly Program is for. The main eBook covers absolutely everything you need to know about muscle-building training and nutrition, it comes with over 5 months of workout programming, tons of recipes to make eating enough easier, videos teaching all of the lifts (like the ones in this article), a yearlong membership in the community, and coaching from us along the way. We’ve love to have you, too.

Omar's Bony to Beastly Ectomorph Transformation

The Muscle-building Program for Skinny Guys

Bony to Beastly Full Mass Gainer Ectomorph Program Download

Ready to gain 20 Pounds (9kg) in 3 months with our muscle-building system for skinny dudes?

  • Build Muscle
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So, what'd you think? 42 responses below.


Yet another great post! Thank you guys you are very helpful to many of us.
The exercises looks great and easy to learn. How many reps would you suggest?

As a suggestion: could you write a post on pecs?

Keep it up!

Shane Duquette

Thanks so much, JJ! Really glad you liked it. 6–15 reps will work well 🙂

I think a post on pecs could be pretty cool. I dig it.


The first picture… it is not the same guy, check out the moles, why B2B? Why 🙁 i believed on you

Jared Polowick

Hey Tim,

It’s all G.K., but he flipped the shot so the pose matched. We had this question come up when we originally posted his transformation to Facebook in late 2014. You can check out that here.

If you’re a member, you can browse his transformation thread in the community as he had shared a handful of shots of himself there. All in the same bathroom, etc.

We tried to predict this question in our new updated eBook where we had shared his transformation again. So we flipped the image back to normal and added another progress shot, and it looks like this:
GK Transformation

I hope that helps to clear up everything!

Shane Duquette

Mm, yeah, I can flip that image back around. I always forget to anticipate that things can seem misleading when you don’t actually know us yet / aren’t seeing the changes happen week by week, month by month.


Great article 🙂

I am in the range: 12% strong guy. I trained my abs in the past a bit more. Not so much lately. The most difficult and time demanding (patience) will be the work on fixing my posture and getting pelvis in a proper position.I believe that in 3 months ar so first results can show.

Btw, Marco in all his video, funny and the t-shirts are great, I always chuckle even when I have a bad day 😉

Shane Duquette

Your abs are doing pretty well, Daniel! Your posture too. And in three months you’ll definitely get solid results. You’ve already done great 🙂


Dudes. This post is a God-send! Traditional ab exercises (crunches and the like) tend to kill my lower back. As a result, I resigned to just not having abs. These feel great, though, after a few tries. Hopefully I can see some results soon as I work on my diet. Question – can I do these exercises too often? Better question – does doing them everyday actually help more than say every other day? Thanks guys.

Shane Duquette

So glad you liked it, Jonathan 🙂

Yeah, you can definitely do them too often. Best to hit them solidly every couple of days rather than a little bit every day, just as with any other muscle group. In the b2B program we do three full body workouts per week, each ending with some quick ab isolation lifts.


Holy shit shane!! What happened to your shoulders? insane gains man
Great post as always.

Shane Duquette

Thanks for the kind words, man! Really glad you dug it 🙂


Hey and thanks for a great article once again!
Just have a question regarding the plank. How many minutes are ideal/normal to this exercise per set? Or in other words, should you do the plank until failure? And how many sets are ideal?


Shane Duquette

Glad you liked it, Gorm! For the plank we like thinking in terms of breaths. This let’s us focus more on breathing naturally, and we find this carries over into better performance elsewhere. So 5–7 breaths, rather than 20–30 seconds. That gets you right in that ideal muscle-building range. (More than that would become more of an endurance thing, so not really our goal with this.) When that becomes easy, move to a more difficult variation.

I wouldn’t go to failure, especially if you have weights on your back or anything like that. The renowned back researcher wound up hurting his back that way—doing planks with tons of weight on his back, he reached failure, his back caved in, and he ran into some issues. Not that this would happen when doing an unweighted plank, but it’s still best to avoid it.

How many sets? That depends on what lifts come before it, how many times you’re doing it per week. For a general recommendation though, 2–4 sets per workout done 2–3 times per week should be pretty great 🙂


I was trying to Goblet Squad but that really hurted my knee :/ had to stop going to the gym for a while

Shane Duquette

I hope your knee feels better soon, Rafael! No lift is perfectly safe, but this is one of the ones that’s more safe than many others. (And lifting in general is safer than even most casual sports, like soccer.) Sometimes if you’ve got knees that are especially susceptible to injury (or it had previously been injured) then squatting can cause pain. Oftentimes this can be fixed by focusing more on moving your butt down/back, and less on bending your knees. If you get your weight resting further back—in your hips—it will put less stress on your knees. You may need some knee wraps or something though.

I hope that helps, and feel better soon, man! I know this stuff can be frustrating, but it will all come together if you stick with it.


Like all your other articles Shane, an excellent read. Trying to trim up and get my abs back currently. Love those Farmer Carries tho.

Shane Duquette

Thanks, Sean! Ahaha I love farmer carries too. Well, love to hate them, I suppose. Best of luck carving out those abs!


Hey guys I liked the article
I would really like to use your program but I’m a little light on cash… so I was wondering if there is maybe a type of payment plan… ’cause that would be awesome.

Shane Duquette

There is! I’ll shoot you an email with the details 🙂


Dudes, I can’t believe how good this website is. Finally there is one website helps us to get to shape. Extremely helpful, motivates more than any others.
So, as a skinny guy with the beer belly, should I do those exercises every day like a squat challenge apart from my gym schedule?
Also, I can’t complete situps for some reason, I can’t stop using my neck going forward. Is this a sign of I am super weak or is it normal at first? Can you recommend something else other than situps or crunches? Thank you.

Shane Duquette

Thanks, Adam! Glad you dig it. As a skinny guy with an actual beer belly (high body fat percentage) keep in mind that all ab exercises will do is make your ab muscles bigger, i.e., make your core bigger. So if anything it will grow your beer belly. To get rid of it you’d want to cut, and that’s more about lifting overall, eating in a calorie deficit, eating enough protein. However, you can certainly do these ab exercises while cutting to make sure that you come out of your cut with nice abs. (If you’ve got the skinny-guy beer belly that’s caused just by poor posture or a food baby then feel free to gain a little weight while building up your ab muscles.)

As far as scheduling goes, treat your abs like any other muscle, training them every second day, and work them hard enough that you need that second day. (Squatting every day can work under the right circumstances but that’s a whole other story.)

For your sit-ups, try weighting down your feet. If that still doesn’t work, just skip them for a month and then reevaluate. You can do extra sets of the other ab exercises in the meantime.


Excellent article again guys! One question, how long should one ‘rep’ of farmer carry be? 10/15/30secs, etc? Thanks.


Sorry I mean one ‘set’ instead of one ‘rep’.

Shane Duquette

Thanks, Alex! We go for around 40 steps. Easy to count out your set that way 🙂


This is a great website! If I’m 17 years old and playing basketball at least 2 times a week can I still get good results because I’m constantly running up and down the floor like I’m doing endurance training. Thanks


Also by the way is there any other way I can get this program without having to pay 197? I would ask my parents but they would say “we’re not buying that” or “you have to pay for that” and I don’t have any money or a job. I’m 6’6 190 trying to close in my basketball scholarship. Thanks

Jared Polowick

Hey Tyler,

You can definitely get good results. You would just need to account for that extra energy you’re burning off with some more calories coming in, and ensuring you’re getting lots of good rest at night.

We do have a student discount, and we have a payment plan to split up the program into 4 payments. I’ll shoot you an email with more details on both 🙂



Thanks for the reply Jared. I’ll plan on getting some extra calories in and taking some Zma for good rest at night. And mostly likely I would do the payment plan. Thanks again

Jared Polowick

Sounds good Tyler 🙂 We’d love to have you with us!



I am confused. I have flat stomach but no abs or six pack, but if I work the abs would I get the abs/six pack at the expense of a bigger stomach?

Shane Duquette

Exactly. Training your ab muscles will give you bigger ab muscles if you do it right. That means a bigger stomach, yes, but it will still be flat and likely look pretty rad.


Thanks, just two more doubts:

1) When you say flex abs, do u mean suck it in?

2) My stomach is flat but soft/jiggly. Does this mean I have a flat stomach despite having fat, or does the softness/jiggliness hint at loose or weak stomach muscles? If it is the former, i should lose fat, but if the latter then i should work my abs, right? But how do I know which it is – the stomach is flat, so I assume i have little fat. But since it jiggles I assume the opposite also (meaning I have more fat to lose). It is so confusing.

Hope you can clarify, Shane. Thanks again.

Shane Duquette

Sucking in your abs is indeed flexing some core muscles, but when we talk about flexing abs we’re talking about flexing your rectus abdominis muscles—the abs that make up your 6-pack. It can take a little patience and practice to learn how to flex specific muscles, and your abs are no different. One way to start learning what it feels like to flex your abs is to forcefully breathe out. Try breathing out through a nearly closed fist, for example.

If it’s soft and jiggly that sounds to me like there’s some fat there. If your stomach is flat though then there isn’t much fat there. May be a case where you need to lose just a little fat and then build some muscle.

I hope that helps 🙂


thanks, shane. when i breathe out i can flex but it is hard to maintain position when u breathe in. hopefuly u can post a video on this someday.

Shane Duquette

That’s a great idea, to post a video. You’ll get better at this stuff with practice too 🙂


Hey guys,

I have the older version of the B2B program. What is different and new in the updated program and can I still have access to it even if I’m no longer a member?

Shane Duquette

Hey Kai,

A lot is different! The workout program has been tweaked and improved, all the videos have been updated, new illustrations, new stories, new information, new programming in the community, new bonus member content, new challenges, etc.

The fundamentals of lifting and nutrition are still the same, of course, but we’ve organized them in far clearer way that makes it easier to understand which aspects are the most important. Because we have a clearer hierarchy now, that also means we can go more in-depth at the end of the eBook without it being overwhelming for the newer guys. I think you’d really like it 🙂

A membership includes a year of updates, so you should have had access to the most recent version of the program right up until the end of your membership (and then you get to keep it forever). If you want this new update, you can sign back up as a returning member for 9/month at So if you wanted the new stuff you could get it for that $9 then cancel your subscription, although hopefully you’d decide to stick around! The community is pretty amazing these days 🙂


Hi Shane, sorry for bothering u again. When i flex my abs, i am sort of pushing out the stomach. Do u also do that, or is that wrong? I want to practice but dont know if i am doing it right way.

Shane Duquette

There are different ways to do it. I think most fitness models flex in a way that feels more like laughing.


Great article guys!! Hey i’m new here and i’m really keen to this program. But i have the same issue as Tyler ^ , so can i know more about the student discount & payment plan (4 payment) as well? really hope to hear from you guys soon!!

Shane Duquette

Absolutely, Blake. I’ll shoot you an email with the details now 🙂


Hello there 🙂 I just happened upon this site and read through it a tad. I’m 5’5” and currently around 64.5 kilograms as of my latest weight measurement, and am trying to put on more weight after losing around 2-3 kilos over the last few months. Unfortunately I noticed serious drops in muscle size too and well, to be fair I’ve had a bizarre sort of journey…(#longstorycomingup) ahem…

I started working out last year and first went on a schedule to bulk myself up, right up to 68 kilograms after starting at around 60 (somewhat skinny-fat) and well I gained size and strength and also a great deal of stomach fat. Afterwards I fell ill due to a flu at the end of the year and had dropped 3 kilos, dropping my stomach too. I went on a slightly more intense schedule after, and have been doing that for, unfortunately, six months. I lost again recently, getting to around 62-63 kilos, so I saw the abs but also lost a good deal of size. Recently I got back to bulking up once more, and noticed today that a lot of ab definition has been lost, especially on the lower stomach.

My chest, shoulders, back, legs and arms all look better, and I’ve regained a good deal of size and power and really I want to see some ab definition without losing all that size and weight again. Heck, I would like to go back to 68, maybe with less belly fat involved. It’s mostly strength and size I’m looking for.

Is cardio an option? I’ve been skipping cardio for a long, long time…

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