As 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.