Tag Archives: abdominals

The Best Way to a Six Pack

6-pack-shortcutsAs a personal trainer for many years, I get asked many questions ranging anywhere from “What’s the best exercise for this” and “How can I lose weight and still eat this.” But the one that I get asked the most, makes me laugh the most, and the one I love explaining the most is “How can I get a flat stomach”, or “How can I get six pack abs.”  Mind you, I’m not laughing at the sincereness of the question being asked.  I’m laughing at the fact that even in 2011 the great ab dilemma still exists.  What’s the great ab dilemma you say? The idea that ab exercises are the most important thing to trimming the tummy (wrong); that ab exercises burn away abdominal fat (wrong again); that if you want a six pack you have to focus on nothing but ab exercises (dead wrong).  Hey look, if it’s a six pack you want, there are plenty of distributors and bottle shops that will be happy to fulfill your wish.

Shed the Fat

The abdominal wall, or more specifically the rectus abdominus, is a large muscle that runs from the base of the rib cage to the top of the hips.  Its function is to stabilize and flex the spine.  What most people don’t realize is that we all have “six-packs”, the appearance of the abdominals from the separation of the rectus abdominus by connective tissue into six, sometimes eight, sections.  What separates the ability to see this six pack vs. not seeing it is the layer or blanket of bodyfat that lies over top of it.  Genetics determine a large part of how and where we store bodyfat. However, that does not say that bodyfat levels could drop enough to see these muscles in anyone.  It takes clean, near flawless nutrition and discipline to adhering to a consistent exercise program that incorporates total body conditioning (not just cardio).  No ab program in the world can not and will not ever deliver the six pack result without the previous two mentioned methods.  Want a six pack?  Pass on the six pack and learn to push away from the table and you’ve already performed the two best exercises towards success.

Most Ab Exercises are a Waste of Time

Yes, you read that right.  That’s usually the reaction I’ve come accustomed to. So what about all these ab devices, hard core ab exercises, super star endorsed, university double blind study programs? Marketing, junk science, and propaganda – which is why the ab dilemma still exists in 2011. The rectus abdominus is but one muscle of the midsection, or core, and one of its functions is to flex.  Most sit-up, crunch type exercises do more to extend (opposite of flex) the spinal exercises than properly strengthen the flexion muscles.  Ever perform an abdominal exercise that hurts your back.  Bingo! The primary and most important role of the core muscles as a group is spinal stabilization.  You want a sleeker, leaner midsection?  Focus on stabilization exercises like planks, side planks, etc.; don’t just focus on flexion (crunching) exercises.

So Now What?

The idea of working the abs to get abs is one of the oldest misconceptions in exercise. This goes back to the old idea of spot reduction. Spot reduction has never and will never work. The research has been done over and over and the answer is always the same. You can’t decrease the fat layer on a particular area by working that area. That means that doing sit-ups to lose abdominal fat and sitting on the inner thigh machine are both a waste of time. You want greater abdominal strength? Perform all the crazy spinal loaded exercises your back can handle at your own risk.  Abdominal strength is still important, but strength does not equal definition. You want a lean, trim waistline? Make total body conditioning and interval cardio work the focus of your workouts.

As for the six pack or flat stomach, ask yourself if you really enjoy your current lifestyle.  Chances are, that’s the first place that would have to change if that was your goal. I’m not undermining the importance of abdominal training – just do it properly and for the right reasons.  You’ll be much happier and pleased that you did.

12 Days of Fitness Truth 2010: Abdominal Crunches are a Complete Waste of Time – Day 2

download (2)For some, that may come as a complete shock.  For others, they’ve always kind of known, yet insist on spending countless hours performing abdominal burning crunches. So if abdominal crunches are a complete waste of time, then why do group exercise classes, workout videos, and fitness gurus (I use that term loosely) always, always, always demonstrate or boast about the benefits of doing crunches?  Because they want you to hear what you want to hear – the only way to a flat stomach is by performing endless amounts of abdominal crunches in every possible way known to man.  That is of course except what is completely effective.  Here are six reasons why your body and physique would be better off never doing crunches again.

1. The primary function of the rectus abdominus (the most superficial abdominal muscle that includes the coveted six pack) is spinal stability.  Spinal or torso flexion is a combination of not only the abdominal wall, but hip and spinal flexors, of which the rectus abdominal still acts to stabilize as you bend your torso forward.  So while you feel the “burn” in the abs when performing crunches, you’re feeling the resulting accumulation of lactic acid from a muscle that’s working very hard to stabilize the spine and keep your inners…..well..inside.

2. Excessive spinal flexion, especially that which is caused by performing copious amounts of crunches, is degenerative overtime to the vertebral discs (the pillows that cushion the spaces of your back bone).  It would be a pretty safe bet you’re going to need them for many more years.

3. Abdominal crunches when combined with weak and atrophied low back muscles is a recipe for guaranteed low back pain.  I always used to laugh at how an individual would seek my advice on why their back hurt so much after participating in a 30 min ab class.  But they were going back because their abs were so sore so it must have been effective. Years of research by Dr. Stuart McGill tells us that during a traditional crunch the spine is loaded with 340kg of compressive force. Imagine what happens after 3 sets of 50

4. The entire abdominal region’s main job is to stabilize and help produce force and power. You don’t get either of those things while lying on your back performing a weight-less crunch.  Your best bet is to perform closed chain exercises, safely and with resistance that stimulates change.

5. All of this needs to be taken into account even if abdominal crunches are to be performed correctly.  In my experience, what I’ve seen as an abdominal crunch or what at least is supposed to be an abdominal crunch looks like such a good time they should have a complete gym dedicated to it. Can you sense my sarcasm? Strained necks, hands yanking on heads, shoulders that never come off the floor, etc. Forget about any real abdominal muscle getting activated.  “But I feel the burn!”

6. My favorite.  Abdominal crunches lead to sexy, flat, six pack abs. I’ll keep this brief.  Want six pack abs? Better learn how to eat well 99% of the time.  Unless you’re one of the few who were born with the ability to eat whatever they want and do little to work it off, no amount of abdominal exercise is going to make those bumps visible.

See you tomorrow for Day 3 of the 12 Days of Fitness Truth.

The 12 Days of Fitness – Day 4 – The Mystery of Abs

abdominalsThe quest for six pack abs has eluded exercisers and pretenders alike for decades.  Any magazine rack at the grocery check out line is guaranteed to have a publication with some kind of abdominal exercise secret on its cover.  And why?  Because that’s what people want to read and they believe this time they’re going to read THE secret to attaining ripped rock hard abs that has escaped them for many painful hours at the gym. That is, after the ice cream and soda is placed on the conveyer.

The Good News

Everyone is born with a six pack.  It is correctly known as the rectus abdominus – the thick band of muscle that connects the base of the ribs to the top of the hips.  The six pack is merely the separation of the muscle into six, sometimes 8 segments, by bands of connective tissue.  But that’s where the good news ends.

The Bad News

Abdominal exercises are not the answer to six pack abs.  No exercise, piece of equipment, or special sequence of training the abs are going to give you the result you’re looking for.  And on any given day, hundreds can be seen painfully working their abs (and neck and backs) to exhaustion and to no avail.  The problem is two fold.

One, most traditional abdominal exercises don’t even address the primary function of abdominals, which is stabilization, not flexion.  Two, six packs are covered by layers of body fat; the more you have, obviously the more you can’t see.  Unfortunately, that body fat does not go away by simply working those muscles, a concept known as spot reduction.  Body fat reduction is a systemic process – your body burns and sheds fat systemically, not always where you specifically want it to.

My Advice

Ignore all of the infomercials.  Ignore the magazine articles. Understand the truth and don’t waste another day putting yourself in potentially more danger and disgust. Six pack abs are attainable.  Question is, are you willing to do what is truly necessary?  See me and find out.

See you tomorrow for Day 5 of my 12 Days of Fitness.