90% of the clients that train with me have the goal of getting defined abs, and I get a lot of questions specifically about “V lines.” Or more specifically, the chiseled part of your lower abs that resembles the shape of a “V.” While admittedly, the questions about v-lines come primarily from my male clients, women can certainly achieve them too—and the steps I explain in this article will apply to both men and women. In this article, I am going to give you the run down on chiseling your core and getting the oh-so-desirable V lines that everyone asks about.
What are V Lines
V-lines (sometimes referred to as the “Adonis belt”) are the point in the abdominal musculature where the obliques meet the transverse abdominis. These muscles are visible from the top of the hip bone down to the pelvis. And as the name may imply, the visibility of said muscles together form the shape of a V. This is one of the more challenging parts of the abdominal area to define because it is in the lower core, which is where most we tend to store the most fat.
Why are V Lines So Hard To Get?
V lines are so hard to get because abs are hard to get! And V lines are among the more challenging parts of the abdominals to make visible. Regardless of how strong your abs are, they will not be visible unless you have an extremely low body fat percentage (it varies per person but generally this is around 15% for women and 10% for men). For perspective, in the United States, the average body fat percentage is 41% to 28%. Although, a healthy range is between 20 and 30% for women, and 10 to 20% for men. So in order to get any visible abs you must eliminate all but essential fat, which involves a large degree of discipline and a regimented training program (more on this later.)
Furthermore, the V lines are one of the last things to become visible due to the fact that most fat is carried in the lower abdomen, for most people. So while you may be effectively reducing body fat, your upper abs will be the first things you see and the lower, the last.
There is also a genetic component to how your abs look, some of it depends on your frame and the thickness of your skin so not everyone’s abs or v lines are going to look the same.
How to Achieve V Line Abs?
You can get V Line abs by reducing body fat and building core muscles. Most trainers will tell you it’s quite challenging to do both simultaneously and hypertrophy requires sufficient nutrients where cutting body fat requires a deficit.
However, by managing your nutrition strategically and leveraging resistance training in tandem with aerobic exercise, you can maximize progress toward both. While “body recomposition” programs may promise both body fat reduction and muscle mass growth, realistically, they must prioritize one objective over the other. So this typically means cutting body fat and doing our best to preserve muscle mass in the meantime and gradually transitioning to a hypertrophy plan once the targeted leanness is achieved.
If you are someone who is already lean and is just looking to build abdominal definition, than you are an easier case and have a shorter runway than someone who must also reduce body fat. Although, most clients will fall into the earlier category.
How to Eat for V Lines
Ahh you probably clicked on this article hoping for a workout. Well, don’t worry that’s coming. But if you think that some crunches are all you need to get sculpted abs…let me be the bearer of bad news…you are mistaken. That’s not to say there aren’t some people that are simply blessed with good genes and can make this strategy work for them, but unfortunately for most, those folks are the exception to the rule.
When it comes to any physique or fitness goal that you have in mind, be in building muscle, losing fat, toning, sports performance, etc. Nutrition is 80% of it (maybe even more). In clinical trials that test the pairing of physical activity and diet against diet alone, the results are strikingly similar for the first 6 months. Meaning that participants who only dieted achieved about the same amount of weight loss as those who dieted and exercise. After that period, the exercise group does have an advantage but exercise programs alone are far less effective than a combined nutrition and training plan.
**Note, my point here is that food is pivotal in any type of training program. However, that’s not to say you shouldn’t exercise, you definitely should. Especially, if your goal is muscle hypertrophy, diet alone will not achieve this, you must pair diet with resistance training. But diet alone can be sufficient in reducing body fat (although not as optimal as diet AND exercise).
So, all of that science is to say—you aren’t going to get the abs you want when you’re eating the way you want (unless the way you want is full of whole, protein and nutrient-rich foods). So what should you eat if you want to get the sculpted v line abs?
Calories for V Lines
How many calories you need if you can’t see your abs at all:
We’ve already established that in order to get v lines, you must have a low body fat percentage. So if you have an average or above average body fat, the first step is to reduce that.
If you are need to reduce body fat, you must be in a caloric deficit. Obviously, depending on how much you have to lose, it may take longer for one person to achieve the desired fat loss over another. Generally speaking, it is healthy and realistic to lose 1 to 2% of your body weight per week. So if you weigh 150 pounds, 1.5 to 3 pounds a week is realistic. However note that at the beginning you will typically lose more in the form of water weight and it will slow down as you continue to diet.
To determine how much you should be eating, you must determine your BMR and account for your activity (the resource I linked has a chart that will estimate this for you). Your BMR plus estimated activity-induced thermogenesis will be your total daily expenditure. Once you know how much you would like to lose per week, you will want to multiply that (in pounds) by 3500 and then divide by 7, this is the daily deficit you must achieve.
Let’s use the example above. If you are a female who is 35, 5’9″ and weighs 150 lbs, your estimated BMR is 1440 and if you are lightly active, your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is around 1980. When you consider that a pound of fat equates to roughly 3500 calories, if you want to lose 1.5 lbs a week, you must be in a weekly deficit of 5250. Then divide that by 7 to get the daily deficit you must achieve. In this case, she would need to be in a deficit of 750 calories per day in order to achieve her goal.
You can achieve this deficit through both reducing food intake and increasing physical activity. You can of course, achieve this by eating 750 calories less per day, but for many people, this is a bit extreme and is likely to result in adverse side effects. A better way to approach this is by using exercise and diet to work toward this goal. For example, try to burn 450 calories per day through additional activity and eat 300 calories less than your TDEE.
How many calories you need if you have abs but want more definition:
If you are not needing to lose fat and are simply looking to build muscle mass, you should aim to eat in a surplus of 350 to 500 calories per day. You can do this by taking your estimated TDEE and adding 350 to 500 calories to that. (more on the type of calories below). Muscle is much harder to develop than fat is to lose so realistically, you can expect to gain between 0.25 and 0.5 pounds of muscle per week.
Now comes the more technical component of eating for V lines—macronutrients. We all probably are familiar with the three primary macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fats. Below is a breakdown of how you should eat your macros to acheive chiseled abs.
For those eating to gain muscle mass:
If you have a low body fat and are looking for ab definition so you can see the V-lines, you will want to eat around 2.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight to maximize hypertrophy. This translates into a gram of protein per pound of body weight. It’s also important to time the protein intake appropriately, which I discuss more in my protein guide.
For optimal muscle protein synthesis, you also must eat a sufficient amount of carbohydrates to fuel the muscle protein synthesis and to get more out of your resistance training, discussed later in this article. The optimal carbohydrate intake for MPS is between 4 and 7 grams per kg of body weight per day, so around 1.8 to 3.2 grams per pound of body weight (the more active you are, the higher on this spectrum you should be)
For fat, just take your total calories (TDEE + surplus) and subtract your calories from protein (4 calories per gram) and your calories from carbohydrates (4 calories per gram) and that will be your remaining fat calories. Divide this number by 9 (because there are 9 calories per gram of fat) and that’s how many grams of fat you should eat. This should equate to less than 30% of your daily calories.
The equation should look like this:
grams of fat = ((TDEE + 350) – (grams of protein * 4) – (grams of carbs * 4)) / 9
So let’s take the same example above of the 35-year old female. Her TDEE is 1980 and she weights 150 lbs. So to gain muscle mass, she should eat 150 grams of protein, distributed evenly throughout the day. She also is going to eat 270 grams of carbs per day. So by using the equation below we can determine how much fat she needs:
grams of fat per day = ((1980+350) – (150 * 4) – (270 * 4)) / 9
Which gives us 72 grams of fat per day which is roughly 28% of total calories.
For those eating to lose fat:
If you are trying to reduce body fat and are eating in a deficit, you must eat even more protein to maintain lean body mass. Plus protein has a higher thermic effect of feeding which means you burn more calories digesting it than you do with other macros (again, something I go into more detail on in my protein guide) so it’s generally a good idea to up your protein intake if you are trying to lose fat.
Protein intake for fat loss should be between 2.3 and 3.1 grams per kg of body weight which translates into between 1 and 1.4 grams per pound of body weight and intake should be evenly distributed throughout the day. For the fat loss group, fat should be below 25% of your total calories. To determine carbs, take your total calories and subtract your protein calories and fat calories.
Other Nutritional Considerations:
It’s also essential that you are receiving adequate micronutrients to fuel metabolic processes and bodily functions. To achieve this, you should aim to eat primarily whole foods and lots of fruits and veggies. If you are on a restrictive diet (i.e: vegan, gluten free, etc.) be sure that you are supplementing for nutrients you may be lacking from food. This topic is an article (or novel, even) for another day.
When you are consuming a high protein diet, you also must ensure that your water intake is high to prevent kidney and liver stress. Aim to drink around a gallon of water per day.
V Line Workouts:
Before getting into the specific exercises, I must note that training your core alone is not ideal and should be paired with a well-rounded exercise program that includes high and low intensity aerobic exercises, along with a full-body resistance training plan.
Exercises for V Lines
Great, now that we got through the nutrition, we can proceed with the items that you probably came here for. The V line workouts! While there are hundreds of exercises that will help you develop chiseled abs and v lines, these are some of my favorite, most effective exercises.
I suggest performing 3 to 5 of these exercises in a circuit with 30 second rests between sets. Perform each for 12-20 repetitions
This is an excellent exercise for working your lower core. It also is fairly easy for all skill levels because it can be progressed or regressed if needed.
- Lie in a supine (upward facing position) with your arms next to your side and your palms planted on the ground. You can also do this on a flat bench and brace the sides for stability
- Before you begin, draw your navel into your spine with an deep exhale and brace your core
- Raise your legs, maintaining a slight bend in your knee until your quads are parallel with or over your torso.
- To progress the exercise, you can also briefly raise your hips off the ground once you’ve reached this position, extending your feet toward the ceiling
- Using slow controlled movement, lower your legs back down and repeat
Hanging Leg Lifts
This is a more challenging one because you have both bodyweight and the force of gravity as resistance, but that’s what makes it such a great exercise.
- Find a pull up bar or a captains chair. The pull up bar will also require some grip and shoulder strength so this is going to be a more challenging exercise
- Hang onto the pull up bar with a firm grip or brace the bottom of your forearms on the captain’s chair, holding the handles
- Brace your core and slowly drive your knees upward until your quads are parallel with your torso. You should be using your core to facilitate this movement, do not swing your legs. You can keep your legs bent or straighten them for a progression
- Slowly lower and repeat
Single Leg Jackknifes
This is another great move that you can do with no equipment that targets your lower abs.
Start by lying in an upward-facing position on the ground with your arms at your side and palms on the ground
Exhale to draw your navel toward your spine
Keeping your legs as straight as possible, raise one leg upward, touching it with the opposite hand
Inhale while brining your leg back down to starting position
Repeat on the opposite side
V hold to medicine ball toss
This one requires engagement from your whole core and also forces recruitment of stabilizers, plus it’s hind of like you’re playing “catch” with yourself, which is somewhat…dare I say…fun?
- Lie face up on the ground with a light medicine ball in hand
- Draw your shoulders and back off the ground while raising your legs until you are balancing on your sit bones. Your position at this point, should resemble a “V” (v shapes for v lines….no?)
- Hold the medicine ball with both hands just above your sternum or lower chest
- While holding your v position, toss the medicine ball up and catch it
This exercise is much like the typical “ab bikes” we all know and love but with a bit more pizazz.
- Lie on your back with your hands supporting your neck
- Keep your legs extended and slightly elevated off the ground, while keeping your sit bones planted
- Raise your head and neck off the ground while using your hands for support. Try to lift your shoulder blades up as well to make it more challenging
- Draw one leg in to the opposite elbow and then slowly extend. You should use a 3:1:3:1 tempo for this. In other words, slowly count to three as you extend your leg and when you bring it back in. This is how long it should take you to complete each motion.
- Once your leg is fully extended, rotate to the other side and repeat
Another “V” position for you. This is another one that most of us are probably familiar with, and another excellent way to work the entire core, but it also involves balance mechanisms that recruit stabilizers and helps strengthen your lower back.
- Lie on your back with your arms extended above your head
- Keeping your legs straight, raise your legs and arms at the same time until you come to your sit bones, reaching for your toes with your hands
- Slowly lower both your legs and torso back down and repeat
Plank Dumbbell Pull Throughs
This one also engages the whole core but also requires a bit of shoulder strength to maintain the exercise.
- Position yourself in a plank position with a dumbbell (or any object for that matter) behind one of your hands
- Using the hand opposite the dumbbell, reach under your torso (without rotating your spine), grab the dumbbell and pull it across to the other side so it is behind the hand that just grabbed it
- Re-plant your hand and repeat on the other side
This one is another great exercise for getting v lines because it taxes the lower abs but requires stabilization from the entire core.
- If you have sliders, you can do this with them on a gym floor, otherwise find a dish towel or do it in your socks on a slick surface like a hard wood floor
- Place the sliders or towel under your feet and position yourself in a plank position.
- By using your core, slide your feet toward your chest while keeping your legs as straight as possible until you reach a pike position
- Slide your feet back out and repeat
Flutter kicks are another simple exercise that don’t require any equipment.
- Lie on your back with your arms at your side and palms planted on the ground with legs extended
- Raise your legs off the ground while keeping them as straight as possible
- Exhale and draw your navel to your spine while kicking feet in small vertical movements
This one is a great exercise for developing v lines because it leverages the transverse and rectus abdominis, along with your obliques.
- Sit on the ground with a medicine ball or dumbbell in your hands
- Balance on your sit bones with legs and torso elevated off the ground
- While keeping your legs in position, slowly rotate the weight or medicine ball from your midline to the side of your oblique
- Bring it back to center and repeat on the other side
Boat Heel Taps
Our last v line exercise had to involve another “v” position because…well it just did. This is another great exercise for developing the entire core and the heel taps really help to engage the lower abs.
- Sit on the ground with your torso and legs raised, again balancing on your tailbone
- Keep your hands at your side to stabilize your torso and prevent spinal rotation
- Keep your knees bent, close to your torso.
- While keeping your torso in the same position, using your core, slowly lower one heel to the ground and then bring it back up
- Alternate to the other side and repeat