After a hard-core ab workout, a lot people look in the mirror hoping to see an immediate difference. You’re core is feeling tight and exhausted from the workout, and people (naturally) assume that if it feels so much different, then it probably looks different too.. right? The problem is, it usually doesn’t (aside from some minor inflammation that subsides shortly after your workout is over.)

Here’s the deal: a six-pack takes time, and more importantly, it takes more than just crunching your core to exhaustion. All the soreness and swelling in the world isn’t going to give you the six-pack of your dreams. If you really want a six-pack, here’s what is actually takes.

1. Do more than just ab exercises.

Unfortunately, spot reduction is a myth. Tons of lunges aren’t going to give you a “thigh gap”, a million push ups aren’t to cure flabby triceps, and  endless crunches at the gym aren’t going to give you a cut stomach. All of these things will help to strengthen these muscle groups, but if you want to be able to see your results, the answer is simple: you need to reduce the amount of fat on top. And fat doesn’t come off in bits and pieces based on which groups of muscles you work the most. Fat reduces from all over; you can’t pick and choose where it comes from.

Make sure part of your workout for the week includes intense cardio. Your diet needs to be on point, and you need to keep it up week to week. Over time, your fat percentage will go down, and the definition in not just your abs, but your entire body, will start to show through.

2. Make sure you give your body time to recover.

A lot of people get over-ambitious when they first start working towards a six-pack, and they end up working their abs every single day. If you don’t give your muscles time to heal, you’re not giving your body the chance to build on all the work you’re putting in.

When you work out, you’re actually putting little micro-tears in your muscles. When you give your muscles a chance to rest, they begin to heal this tears which results in stronger, larger muscles. If they never rest, they never heal, and you’ll never see the fruits of all your labor.

3. Take care of your core even when you’re outside the gym.

It’s easy to think about our muscles and form when we’re in the gym. But when you’re not in the gym, you can’t revert to a couch potato. One of the most important things you can work on outside the weight room is your posture, both when you’re sitting at work and standing in the line at the super market. The better your posture gets, the more you’ll naturally start using your core for every day movement. This will help challenge your core throughout the day.

4. Quit doing the same workouts over and over.

Any exercise you perform repeatedly will result in a plateau. Your body gets more efficient as it practices a movement, so essentially it becomes less and less challenging every time you do it. What you want to do is challenge yourself as much as possible every time you hit the gym, so you get the most out of the time you put in.

Also, by limiting yourself to a few moves, you’re probably not working your entire core to begin with. There is no one exercise that will work every single muscle in your core to their fullest potential at once, so think about incorporating different moves each time that target different areas including your obliques, lower back, lower abs, and upper abs. Even better, mix them up by making some exercises a hold, some a twist, and some a plyometric movement.

5. Stop eating processed foods.

Most processed foods have way too much sodium and sugar and not enough real nutrients. When you cook food yourself, you get to see and control exactly how much sugar, sodium, and whatever else is going into your dish. It’s much easier to limit your intake, plus you’re getting way more nutrients from produce that is fresh vs pre-packaged. Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutrients the second you pick them, so the sooner they go from ground/tree/bush to table, instead of to a box or freezer, the better they are for your body.

6. Drink more water.

Drink at least half your body weight in ounces each day. Proper hydration is going to give you more energy, aid in your recovery, help your body process toxins, and it will help flush out sodium (which causes bloat.) Keep in mind that when you drink coffee or do a lot of cardio, the amount of water you need is going to increase.

7. Stop giving excuses.

People who can’t seem to figure out why they’re not getting a six-pack are also often the people who claim they don’t have enough time this week, they allow themselves to pick the unhealthy option on the menu because “it’s Friday,” and they always seem to have an excuse for why they aren’t giving their body what it needs every single day. People that have six-packs tend to not have excuses.

You have to make time for your workouts. You have to turn down dinner invitations when there are no healthy options. You have to say no to that extra drink at the end of the night because you know it’s one too many. You don’t need crazy good genetics or a magical exercise to get a six-pack; you need some old-fashioned self-discipline.

8. Mix up your cardio.

A lot of people’s first thought when they are told to do cardio is: I guess I’ll be spending a lot of time on the treadmill. But the fact is, steady distance running isn’t the most efficient way to lose fat or get a six-pack. Instead of spending an hour huffing and puffing at a mid-intensity pace on the treadmill, try a high-intensity cardio program. Next time you start your run, add in a minute long sprint for every 3 minutes your run at your usual pace. You’ll burn more fat and be able to wrap up your run a heck of a lot faster. If you like your long, focused runs, try switching out one day of running for a boxing sessions, so you get that high intensity training in too.

The bottom line is: if you want a six-pack, you need to have self-discipline. Your body needs to be consistently challenged physically as well as nourished and rested properly. If you do that, your body fat percentage will lower, and your beautiful six-pack can finally shine through.

For more about Holden Buckner, please visit his home website.