Listen up beautiful, smart and highly excellent people. If you want abs, you gotta read this.
No, I’m just kidding. You probably won’t get abs just after reading this, but I believe it’ll make you smarter and more knowledgable to make informed decisions sculpting that six-pack.
I believe too that, for most of us, the abs is the holy grail of fitness. Ask anyone in your gym why they’re working out and I guarantee 70-80% of them have ‘killer abdominals’ as one of their primary or secondary goal. It’s not impossible, but, I’m pretty sure too that 70-80% of them are doing the wrong thing. And I don’t want YOU to be one of them.
Back when I was starting to lose weight, the first thing I look at every morning is my stomach. It’s easy and too convenient to just lift up our pjs and look into the mirror to see if the muscles in front of our tummy is showing up. Fast forward to today, I feel sorry for the other areas of my body, particularly my butt and thighs which were, at that time, shaping pretty well (and usually better than my abdominal counterpart).
If you’re like me three years ago who was obsessed to see if you’ve got abs every morning, stop it. Really. Unless you have Iron Man bionic eyes, you have no idea what’s going on underneath your skin. And here’s another thing. If you’re lifting weights, you probably have really nice defined muscles down there but it’s covered by this thing that starts with F and rhymes with at. (Yep, our FAT.)
So today, we’re going to delve deep and thorough into the world of abdominals and it’s lesser known cousin, the core. Let’s figure out what they are, why you’re still not getting that six pack abs like you’ve always dreamed off and what you can do on your part to change that.
Ab Circle Pro, Belly Burner and so much more!
If you’ve ever seen infomercials like – Ab Circle Pro, Flex Pro, Ab Rocket, Belly Burner, and listen to this… Sauna Pants – you’ve probably asked yourself, “Sh*t, are those things real?” (Seriously, does sauna pants even sound legit?!)
Now let me break it down for you. They’re not. And I reckon you’re better off saving your money and your time because these fitness marketers are full of crap. There’s probably a hundred different varieties of these ab machines but they’re all promising the same thing – “Work on it for 3 minutes a day and you’ll get beautiful ripped abs in 2 weeks.” Or this – “It shapes your obliques, target your upper and lower abs and give you the sexy abs YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED!”
The saddest thing is? These machines keep popping up exponentially and unfortunately people keep buying them.
In all honesty, I’m sure it makes you feel good about yourself for a while, especially if you follow the videos step by step and religiously, but it does nothing to you in the long run. And we’re in for a long term relationship with fitness here.
So why don’t these machines work?
You cannot spot reduce fat
Easy. You cannot, at all, spot reduce fat. In fact our body is designed to burn fat from a certain place at a certain timing and all of us are unique like that. Ever wondered why your gym buddy loses more fats on her thighs compared to you who loses more fats on your hips? That’s because the two of you are genetically different! Just like Waldo. And we simply don’t know what ‘goes off first’ when it comes to losing fat.
I lost the most off my face FIRST and had my chest and butt last to go, after 9 months of training.
You can’t bet on this things. Similarly, you can’t just target your abdominal muscles in hope that you’ll get ripped washboard abs like those machines promises you. It’s so much more than that. It’s not hard but I’ll drop the bomb out at you right now.
Getting abs is 95% diet, and 5% working on the right type of muscles using the right type of exercises.
So, Aqilah, you’re saying doing crunches and sit ups won’t help?
You’re right and wrong, awesome person. Here’s why.
Our abdominal muscles is in fact, a name for a group of muscles. In fact, we have four different type of muscles that make up our abdominal muscles and they are:
– Transverse abdominis
– Internal obliques
– External obliques
– Rectus abdominis
Our transverse abdominis is the deepest, followed by our internal and external obliques, also known as our side abdominal muscles and the rectus abdominis which is the one closest to our skin.
Knowing a little bit more about how these muscle works can help you get the abs that you want. It’s good to know that our abdominal group of muscles is responsible for spinal flexion, which simply means that when you bend forward, your abs are activated. But because our abs are made up of multiple muscles, it’s important to target all 4 types of muscles in order to get the six-pack abs that you want.
The problem is, we don’t do that. Crunches and sit ups work primarily on your rectus abdominis. And you wonder why you haven’t got a flat tummy, yet.
So what do we do now, Aqilah? Just sit here and have more Tostitos and cheese dip?
No. No. And no.
Enter core muscles. You’ve probably heard it. If you’ve ever gone to see a Physiotherapist for lower back pain therapy, you’ve probably heard of the core. If you’ve got a trainer, you’ve probably heard them say tighten/activate/stabilise/brace your core. I say that all the time. And when I say core, I mean everything from under your head to your upper thighs and this includes, as simply as possible:
– Upper back
– Lower back
– Abdominal group of muscles
– Thighs (Quads, Hip flexors)
– Butt (Glutes)
Now because the bulk of our core muscles are deep, we typically don’t train them in conventional workouts. Our core muscles primarily act as a stabiliser, not as a movement type of muscle. If that’s too hard to understand, think of your biceps which primary function is to bend your elbow. The core muscles instead is not made to move, but to keep you in balance and is the centre of force transfer from your upper body to your lower body, which is tremendously important in daily simple things like standing up, walking and sitting up straight. Our core is so important and yet poorly regarded.
We can measure our core strength by measuring our core stability. The more stable we are, the stronger our core is. In fact, a study done by Louisiana State University states that out of the five functions of core stability – strength, endurance, flexibility, motor control and function, the latter two is the most important there is to the core.
What this means is that without motor control (stabilisation) and function, your flexibility, strength and endurance is useless.
It’s like training for a marathon for hours on end on the road and track and forgetting about strengthening your core
That said, a stronger core means stronger everything else.
Improving core strength and stability can optimise performance not only for our daily living but for elite athletes as well. Adding to that, improving core stability has the power to reduce lower back pain, in a study done by Sports Medicine.
Going back to how a strong core can help you get a strong abdominal area, you’re better off training your core first before you even start doing any crunches. Doing 10,000 crunches or abdominal specific exercises a day does nothing to target your deep transverse abdominis muscle we were talking about. Doing exercises targeting your core will.
That’s cool Aqilah, so what are some example of core exercises?
As I’ve mentioned earlier, core strengthening involves core stabilising. You need to work on stabilising your core to strengthen it. If this is your first time even hearing the word core, it might take some time for you to learn how to consciously activate them but it is achievable. Like everything else in fitness and nutrition, taking things slow is the way to go. Build habits and your willpower will strengthen along the way.
Here are some awesome exercises that can help strengthen and stabilise your core:
1. Fun sports like rock climbing, ultimate frisbee, soccer, baseball. Really anything that is competitive (so that you’re actually trying instead of just throwing a ball around) works on your core big time. The best thing is, you don’t have to count reps because working on your core is so integrated, you hardly even need to think about it.
2. Anything functional like twisting, picking up groceries, or your baby. This works on your core, if you’re doing it the right way by bending your knees, as opposed to bending your back.
3. Big movements like push ups, squats and dead lifts. Anything that works on multiple joints which forces you to stabilise your body. They work wonders to your core. I don’t work on my abs these days because of these exercises. If you don’t like doing them, try doing planks, or exercises in this short 15 sec video I uploaded on Instagram yesterday. They’re just examples but you get it. The more joint movement, the better.
Need another reason why you should stop doing abdominal specific exercises and focus on functional exercises that work on multiple joint?
In a very recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a group of researchers reviewed literature on electromyographic (EMG) activity on three core muscles, namely the lumbar multifidus, transverse abdominus and quadratus lumborum during physical fitness exercises from 17 different studies over 252 healthy adults. 5 major types of exercises were studied: traditional abdominal exercises, core stability, ball/device, core free weight and noncore free weight.
The study concluded that EMG activity on the lumbar multifidus and transverse abdominis is greater in core free weight exercises followed by ball/device exercises and core stability exercises.
In simpler terms, this means that focusing on multi-joint free weight exercises is so much more beneficial than core specific exercises in strengthening our core. Which is what I’ve just said, hello!
Abs and body fat percentage
So I’ve heard that having visible abs is linked to how much body fat you have. Is that true?
Partially. Although there is no perfect body fat percentage that can assure you that you’ll see your abs. It is however known that for men, a body fat percentage of below 10% and for women anything below 15% can make your abs visible.
Like everything else, measuring body fat is susceptible to major human errors, especially with skinfolds, so instead of worrying too much about body fat percentages or any other numbers, focus on the things that you can control, like your diet, and the types of exercises you do.
Why you’re not getting the six pack abs
Now that we know so much more about our abdominal and core group of muscles, let me give you some tough love on why you’re not getting the abs.
1. You’re doing the wrong exercises. Like sit-ups and crunches. I won’t argue. They’re great for you. And as much as you will feel the burn after doing hundreds of them, it does nothing to your body except for a strained back and bruised tailbone. Focus on working on your deep muscles first by focusing on your core, using one of the core exercises I’ve mentioned above.
2. You’re not eating right. Like I said before and I will say it again, your abs is 95% diet and 5% working on the right type of muscles by doing the right type of exercises – in that exact same order. If your primary goal is to get a flat and toned tummy area, you’ve got to watch what you eat. I know you’ve probably heard this a million times over but it is that important, that’s why. And when I say 95% diet, it’s not just about eating 1200 calories a day. It’s about eating real, wholesome, natural food devoid of processed starch and sugar.
That is why most people don’t have abs.
Nutrition for abs
Alright Aqilah, I get it. It all comes down to the food I eat. But how do I do that?
A lot can be said about nutrition. And going deep into it will probably require another separate post on it’s own. But here’s some of the things you can start working on if you really still want to have six-pack abs.
1. Cut off your processed foods and sugar. And I mean white bread, white pasta, lollies, candies, cupcakes and what not. That doesn’t mean you need to stop eating carbs. In fact you should never stop eating carbs because carbs provide you with the energy to burn calories and fats. Just reduce your intake of sugar and processed carbohydrates and you’re halfway there.
2. Have more veggies and greens. They’re carbs too but the super mighty good ones. Have at least 2 cups of green leafy vegetables or 1 cup of veggies like green beans, cauliflower and broccoli at every meal. Yep, it’ll go to all the right places to start shaping those abs.
3. Eat more lean protein. Protein does wonders to our metabolism and hunger status. If you want to feel fuller for longer, lean protein is the way to go. Things like grilled chicken, lean beef, tuna, fish, salmon and such are great.
Note that I did not mention anything about calories. I don’t calorie count and I don’t advise anyone to calorie count. I just want you to eat real food. Food that nourish and makes you feel good.
That said, nutrition should not be a cold turkey event. If this is your first time even doing any sort of physical activity, your primary goal should not even be getting washboard abs. Work on your foundation, build simple habits one step at a time, focus on your willpower and change will come.
Fitness is more than washboard abs
I’m going to end this post by saying this – fitness is so much more than having washboard abs. In fact, I don’t have a six-pack abs, and at this moment, I don’t even think I want them. That was me three years ago. I worked for it and I got it and that’s done. Today I am more focused in increasing my fitness levels and strengthening my core so I can grow older healthier and less fragile. I am working on my functional fitness.
That should be the same for you. Being aesthetically fit does not necessarily mean you’re fit in other aspects of life. In fact, I know people who has got killer-to-die-for-Ryan-Reynolds abs but can’t do complex functional movements like balancing on a Bosu, as much as I know people who have abs, does yoga and is holistically fit in all levels.
Being fit does not necessarily means having six pack abs or huge muscles. It’s about how you feel inside. I’ll say this again, it’s about how YOU feel inside, not your partner, not your trainer and not the general public. You.
If you’re training regularly, doing wonders for your fitness levels, constantly setting goals, making killer personal bests and you’re happy – seriously, you’re awesome.
Here’s to you…
This post is long, and yes I do pump out long posts while listening to Yeah Yeah Yeahs because I provide reasons, studies, research and actionable things that YOU can do. The good thing about this is that you get everything you need in one post. The bad thing, all this words can soon just turn into – words, if you don’t take actionable steps after this.
And I don’t want you to be like that.
So here’s what you can do.
– Know your abdominals and core anatomy. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more you can make a positive change.
– Stop spending another dime on those Ab Circle Pro. Seriously save your money and buy me coffee.
– Cut the crap off your diet.
– Cut the crap off your diet.
– Cut the crap off your diet.
– Work on strengthening your core! Don’t worry about the sit ups and crunches. Worry about squats, push-ups and dead lifts and focus on them like a hawk. Strengthening your core develops your abs naturally.
Finally and most importantly. Change takes time. It takes a hell lot of willpower, you probably will screw things up and stuffs might not go your way but like every single thing in the world, life goes on. Stick to your goal and keep going. You will get there.
Share with me…
Now here’s your turn.
Tell me, have you ever tried getting abs, or do you even want to have abs? What exercises have you done before? What other ways have you tried that you’re successful in or otherwise? Is there anything else you need to know?
I will be happy to help you. I may not have all the answers but I will definitely try my best to help. :)
Have a good Boxing Day now! Go rob some awesome deals squeezing around in shopping malls. That will surely work on your core.