Kayla Itsines has one, model Emily Ratajkowski often flaunts hers on the Victoria’s Secret catwalk and even Jourdan Dunn has posted hers on social. But what does it really take to lose enough belly fat to sculpt an ab crack – the so-called marker of being uber lean. According to James Tilley, PT and founder of Sui Generis Gym (), planks, crunches and a bit of cardio are not enough – it takes serious meal planning to hit these abdominal feats. “To achieve the initial onset of the gap, you’d need to drop below 20% body fat, but closer to 15% is when more prominent muscle striation will start to show,” he says.
But, with recommended body fat percentages for women ranging between 20-30% – “19 and below, and we start to worry,” says Dr Helen Webberley, dedicated GP at– what does this fitness craze really mean for female health?
“Although having too much excess body fat can be harmful, having too little is equally as bad,” Webberley continues. “Body fat is where the body creates a store of energy and spare glucose to use in between meals and during sleep. Moreover, fat cells produce oestrogen. Having insufficient quantities of this hormone could lead to thinning of the bones, osteoporosis, decline in fertility, no periods and premature ageing. Basically, you’re body thinks it’s going through an early menopause.”
And it gets worse, according to Bryn Ray, PT at Train Fitness (train.fitness) for many women, regardless of how hard they work out or how much they diet, the ab crack is an impossible target. “Abdominal formation is predominantly down to genetics,” he says. “Many could train their whole life and never achieved this desired look.”
Instead, Tilley recommends aiming for overall core condition via a balance of strength, toning and cardiovascular workouts that exercise the whole body. “Incorporate compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts into your routine and combine with HIIT or LISS sessions. If you were to isolate an ab workout, do circuits made up of 6-10 different exercises covering overall abs and obliques. Just doing 100 crunches solely focusing on one area won’t be effective.”
In terms of diet, nutritionist Sarah West advocates focusing on a balanced diet and making good quality food choices to create a leaner appearance. “Rather than consuming empty calories, choose natural nutritious foods that your body can really benefit from. Ensure that each meal contains at least one form of fruit or vegetable, a small portion of whole grains, and a lean protein source such as chicken, tuna or eggs. Consuming high-quality protein particularly helps provide your body with all the necessary amino acids needed to repair muscle fibres damaged during exercise, plus it promotes growth of new muscle as an adaptation response to your training.”
In short, instead of jumping on the latest trend wagon, focus your fitness on long-term gains #abodyisforlifenotjustforsocial.