A few years ago, a study surveyed which body parts people most wanted to improve.

Sixty per cent of men and women voted for their abdominals.

The findings opened the floodgates for every imaginable home abdominal device to be flogged via infomercials, all promising flat, sexy stomachs or six packs in just a few weeks.

But people who possess abs like Mark Wahlberg's are born, not made. Your genetics play a significant role in you developing prizewinning abs. These individuals have the capacity to get their body fat down to less than 5 per cent. An average bodybuilder enters contests at around 12 per cent.

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Weight loss expert Ellington Darden reminds us that the leanest man or woman you see on a fitness equipment infomercial "will probably have at least 10 billion fat cells, but someone who's morbidly obese might have 250 billion".

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Okay, so life's not fair when it comes to the most desirable gene pool.

"People with average genetics - about 80 per cent of the population," Darden says, "have to work very hard to get into reasonably good shape." You may not win contests, but you can achieve a stronger, leaner-looking stomach.

Think body composition, not fat reduction.

• If you're overly fat, chances are that's at the expense of your muscles. Too many calories coupled with too little exertion, a reduced musculature and a declining metabolic rate add up to more fat. What's needed is more muscle through proper strength training that involves all your muscles, not just those at your waistline. You want to regain lost muscle at the expense of fat. Muscle is metabolically active tissue that requires nourishment. And it's your fat stores that ultimately supply the extra energy needed during your muscle rebuilding process. More muscle and less fat is the two-part solution to rid your body of excess fat.

• Eat a small meal, but every 2 hours. Cut calories, but eat more often. Remember, you have to eliminate fat from your entire body to get to the bottom of your abdominal fat stores. That's because when you are fat around your stomach, you're also fat throughout the rest of your body. Such small meals keep the hormone responsible for fat storage in check, as well as helping you to achieve a negative energy balance at the end of the day.

• Drink more water. The traditional recommendation of eight glasses a day is not nearly enough for fat shrinkage. To accelerate the process, gradually increase your intake to 1.5 litres during the day.

Peter Rana is the founder of BodyTechGym, bodytech.co.nz