Why Do I Have Upper Abs But Lower Belly Fat? (The 5 Main Reasons)

Spread the love

It has to be one of the most annoying things about aesthetics – you have upper abs, but belly fat.

Here’s the various reasons why this occurs and what you need to do to fix it.

Your upper abs will typically “show” at a higher body fat percentage than your lower abs. Upper abs will show for a man at around 15-17% body fat, and 21-23% for a woman. However, you won’t generally see your lower abs until 10-12% body fat for a man, 17-19% for a woman.

Your Body Fat Percentage Isn’t Low Enough

Male and Female Body Fat Percentages

The main reason that you still have lower belly fat is simply because your body fat percentage is low enough.

I’ve actually heard some fairly ridiculous reasons for lower belly fat over the years.

Some of these include:

“Once you’re past age 30 you can no longer expect to have a full six-pack.”

“You need to be doing more leg kicks and leg raises to activate and tone the lower abs”.

“You should be eating at much more of a caloric deficit than you currently are”.

Now, at first glance these all seem like valid points.

Okay, the body does undergo certain changes the older we get.

So, in effect it’s harder to build muscle and burn body fat.

I will also agree that there are specific exercises that target the lower abs more prominently than the upper abs.

Plus, I’ll even agree that losing belly fat will require you to eat a caloric deficit.

However, there’s also a lot more to it than this.

And this is what I will cover in a moment.

Body Fat Perentages For Abs

Pure and simple, if you have lower belly fat, but your upper abs are showing, you’re still at a higher body fat percentage than you need to be.

Obviously, genetics plays a part, plus our bodies are typically very different to each other.

But, I can give you some “general” body fat figures to work towards.

For men, your upper abs will start to show at a body fat percentage of 15-17%.

You can expect the middle abs to pop out at approximately 12-14% body fat percentage.

Whereas, you’ll want to be at the lower end of the scale of 10-12% body fat to finally see your lower abs.

The percentage figures will be slightly higher for women.

So, you can clearly see that your body fat percentage doesn’t have to be extremely low in order to see some definition.

However, you’ll definitely have to work slightly harder to produce visible lower abs.

Your Body (& Hormones) Are Fighting Back

Once you get to the coveted 12% body fat your upper and middle abs should be showing.

It feels good.

However, this is also when your body, and especially your hormones, start to “fight back”.

Basically, the hormones which help you to lose body fat don’t work as efficiently.

Plus, the hormones that work against fat loss now start working against your body.

It really is a cruel twist of fate.

Leptin is a hormone that inhibits hunger.

Leptin helps to control certain metabolic processes that typically lead to fat loss.

Essentially, leptin tells the brain that the body is full and it’s time to stop eating.

Unfortunately, the less fat you have on the body, the less leptin you will produce.

Plus, once you’re at these lower levels of body fat if you eat at a caloric deficit for a few days your levels of leptin drop even further.

This is actually the reason why many people have “cheat days”.

It does help in the fat loss process.

The less body fat you have the less leptin you produce. Therefore, having the occasional cheat meal or cheat day can "reset" the fat-burning process.

Additionally, your levels of the hormone insulin may increase as you hit these lower percentages of body fat.

The increased insulin will slow down the rate at which you lose fat even more.

And just to compound the issue further, the “hunger hormone” ghrelin may also increase in the body.

Increased ghrelin levels will literally tell your brain that it’s time to eat.

This is actually why you may feel hungry all the time, even when you’re eating regularly.

It’s not so much the increased exercise workload, or even your raised metabolic rate.

Nope, it’s that horrible hormone ghrelin casting its wicked spell.

You may also find that the stress hormone, cortisol, is activated, which will automatically make the body hold onto fat.

There are many reasons why cortisol could be activated, and I’ll get to these now.

You’re Not Eating Enough

It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

You need to lose body fat, so it makes sense to eat at a caloric deficit.

However, there is such a thing as lowering your calories too much.

Now, while you may think that this is great for losing weight, not eating enough can also force the body to hold onto stores of fat.

Even worse, you may actually be slowing down your metabolism by not consuming enough food.

Okay, if you’re angling for that six-pack and looking to finally shed that lower belly fat, you will need to consume fewer calories than you’re burning.

Unfortunately, most people drop their calories by far too much and this will just have an adverse effect.

I spoke of cortisol above, and this is the hormone that is activated when the body goes through physical or emotional stress.

And if you’re lowering your calories excessively you will put the body under stress, and therefore produce increased levels of cortisol.

It’s important to remember that the food we eat not only helps us to lose fat, but it’s also there to fuel our workouts.

I would hazard a guess that if you have upper abs, then you’re training to a decent level at the moment anyway.

The body can literally think it’s gone into starvation mode when we’re not consuming enough calories.

Unfortunately, the result is that fat will become stored, and often around the lower belly.

I’ve often seen people talk of lowering your daily intake by about 500 calories.

When you already have pretty low body fat (under 14%) this is far too much in my opinion.

If you want to get rid of that lower belly fat, it will be a slow process, and you probably don’t want to be at a caloric deficit of more than 150-200 calories per day.

You’re Exercising Too Much

Once again, this doesn’t sound quite right.

But, unfortunately this is down to that sneaky stress hormone cortisol again.

I think most of us come to realise that producing great abs is typically a 3-pronged attack.

Firstly, you’ll perform full-body workouts to add lean muscle and raise your metabolic rate.

Then you’ll focus on ab-specific training.

Finally, it’s all about conditioning to whittle down your body fat percentage.

However, more-often-than-not, you’ll end up training at extremely high intensities, while taking on a huge work volume.

You add this to the fact that you’re living on a daily caloric deficit, and guess who’s going to show up again?

Yes, it’s the hormone we all love to hate, cortisol.

Basically, we often end up putting the body under extreme physical stress in search of the holy grail of abs.

Cortisol provides the body with a boost in energy. However, it also increases appetite. In fact, high cortisol levels often lead to a craving for fatty, salty, and sweet foods.

Once we see those upper and middle abs, we generally think that we’re almost there.

So, there is a tendency to throw everything into your training in the hope of finally producing those lower abs.

Unfortunately, lower abs are stubborn, and there’s no way we can “force” the issue.

This takes proper training, proper nutrition, and patience.

You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

There have been countless studies on the link between sleep deprivation and higher levels of ghrelin in the body.

Have you ever noticed that whenever you get a poor night’s sleep that you’re more prone to snacking the next day?

In fact, it’s almost as though you’re being constantly tempted with food throughout the day, but you do your best to avoid it.

Then you cave in, snack, stuff your face, and immediately regret it 30 seconds later.

Unfortunately, there’s no two ways about it, a lack of sleep typically leads to increased ghrelin levels.

So, like it or not, you’re going to feel more hungry.

And I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this increased hunger and snacking is not going to help you get rid of lower belly fat.

And just to make matters worse, guess who rears their ugly head once more when you’re sleep deprived?

You got it, cortisol.

We know that increased levels of cortisol leads to increased fat storage, especially around the belly area.

Look, I don’t want to get into the ins-and-outs of a good night’s sleep, but it does play a huge role in how your body looks.

Your muscles will repair while you sleep, plus the Human Growth Hormone is also released during one of the stages of deep sleep.

Basically, if you want to look great physically, and finally rid yourself of lower belly fat, make sure you’re getting a minimum of 7-8 hours sleep a night.

Key Learning Points

  • Lower belly fat is a sign that your body far percentage isn’t low enough yet.
  • Most men would require 10-12% body fat for defined lower abs.
  • So, hopefully you now understand why you have uppers abs and lower belly fat.
  • Your body and hormones “fights back” when you have lower body fat levels.
  • Leptin is a hormone that inhibits hunger and tells the brain when the body is full. However, the lower your body fat levels the less leptin you produce.
  • Excess exercise and extreme dieting can produce the hormone cortisol. Your body will store fat and high cortisol levels lead to cravings for salty, fatty, and sweet foods.
  • Poor sleeping habits increases production of the hormone ghrelin, which automatically makes you feel hungry.

While I’m on the subject of upper abs, discover why some people have upper abs that stick that.

2 thoughts on “Why Do I Have Upper Abs But Lower Belly Fat? (The 5 Main Reasons)”

  1. Hey Partha, thanks for sharing this post, mate. As always, I learned a lot from you.

    I have this “issue” at the moment. My upper abs are showing nicely, but my lower abs are covered with some body fat that needs to be gone soon.

    I was in this situation before though so I have some personal experience.

    In a nutshell, I was eating ok, I was getting a lot of sleep, and was working out a lot but my belly fat just didn’t want to go away no matter how many situps and related exercises I was performing.

    However, once I stepped up my routine, I started sweating a lot more, which resulted in a significant loss of lower belly fat. My abs were looking good and the belly fat was almost entirely gone!

    It took me about three months to lose all the belly fat I stored.

    So in my case, the problem was, and is again, in high body fat percentage. It’s funny how belly fat appears without you even noticing it. It’s like an almost overnight effect LOL.

    But when you need to lose it, then it seems to be taking forever to get rid of it haha! At least that’s the case with me.

    Thanks for sharing this post, mate. I was looking for more information about this topic and your site came to the rescue as always.

    Keep doing a great job!

    • Hey Ivan,

      Always great to hear from you.

      Yes, as I’ve alluded to above, it does seem that going from what many would consider a very good and healthy body fat percentage to something a little lower is far harder.

      As I say, once you’re in the realms of about 15% and under body fat percentage, you can consider yourself fit and athletic, but unfortunately the body does start to “fight back”.

      You’ve known the struggle yourself for sure Ivan.

      It’s almost as though you have to work twice as hard, if not harder, to lose that final 1-2% of body fat to reveal your lower abs.

      I think pretty much everyone at one time or another has had a struggle with their lower abs.

      And yet you can still be in fantastic shape, very fit, strong, lean, and athetic, and yet the lower abs fail to budge.

      Very frustrating.

      And what most people will find is that even though it took them months and month to finally get there, it could only take a week or two of poor eating habits, to get you back to square one.

      Life is so unfair, LOL.

      Anyway, well done to you Ivan for getting there.

      I’ve come to realise that you are obviously in great shape, and you work hard to stay there. Sounds good to me.



Leave a Comment