It’s a momentous occasion when your abdominal muscles finally spring into view! It means ”before” is long gone and ”after” is in sight! Learn how stay six-packed year-round.

Flat abs are the prize of the fitness world, but some people believe that defined abs are simply not in the cards for them. I believe the opposite: They’re possible, and they’re worth the work and time to achieve.

After all, they’re the focal point of the upper body, and for better or worse, many of us use them to measure our fitness.

The path to defined abs is different for every person, but the fundamentals are the same: hard work, clean eating, and real focus.

Eliminate as Much Stress as Possible

It’s well known in the fitness community that stress stimulates the release of cortisol in your bloodstream, and that chronically elevated cortisol stimulates the storage of fat around your abdominal area.

But did you know that even small stressors can signal cortisol release?

Several years ago, a weight-loss study found that even the simple act of counting calories stimulated cortisol release in dieters!

That same study showed that irregular or insufficient sleep accounted for a significant increase in cortisol levels.

Follow the “Help-Hurt Rule”

This strategy is nothing more than a question that you keep on the tip of your tongue all the time.

When in doubt, always ask, “Will this decision move me closer to my goal or farther away?”

This may sound like a passive step, but the important decisions you make about your body aren’t always big decisions.

Often, they are small choices we make daily—things like if you should do a workout or skip it, what to eat for breakfast, or whether to drink just one beer or a few.

Other decisions may be bigger, like whether to get a coach, or if you should train for a physique competition or another competitive event.

Regardless of whether the decision is big or small, you need to always ask yourself if it will help you or hurt you. Does it fall in line with your goals or does it veer off the path?

These decisions all add up, and the bad ones add up on your stomach.

Split Your Workouts for Increased Intensity

There’s nothing wrong with splitting your workout into two 30-minute routines instead of a standard 1-hour program. In fact, it can help you.

Two half-hour workouts allow you to pump more intensity and density into your workout because you can recover somewhat in between.

Also, an intense 60-minute workout can stimulate cortisol release and run you into a catabolic state.

Notice that I’m not even talking about direct ab training. This is no coincidence.

In my opinion, abs are ultimately the result of a solid overall approach to fitness and nutrition.