How many of the men and women reading this post dream of having six-pack abs? If they don't already have them, I can pretty confidently say that 99% of us (myself included) spend a lot of our time staring in the mirror trying to see if we can finally notice those abs muscles standing out. A lot of our time and energy is spent working on our abs - not a bad thing, but not really the best use of your time!
The Common Misconceptions of Six-Pack Abs
So many of us equate six-pack abs with being "in shape" or "fit". We look at people that have the beautiful washboard abs and think, "Man, I wish I could have those abs and be as ripped as they are."
Good news fellow HIITers and six-pack daydreamers: Abs muscles don't really prove that you're fit. They may look great, but all they indicate is that you have less body fat than others.
The sad truth is that a lot of people will never be able to build those six-pack abs, as their genes just aren't right for it. However, they're pretty well-built, in shape, and physically fit - like the guy on the left in the below picture:
He's probably stronger and more physically fit than the other guy, but he lacked the genetic gift of a lean figure. That's a sad misconception that leads so many people to spend hours each week focusing on building their abs muscles.
There are quite a few myths about six-packs that can lead you to waste time:
Myth 1: Focus on your abs to build that six-pack
Truth: Just like you can't build massive chest muscles without working out your shoulders, you won't get that sleek six pack just by focusing on your abs. All you'll have is a strong stomach, but still extra body fat everywhere else. The only way you can really build a six pack is by dropping the body fat, and only then working on toning up the muscles.
Myth 2: Exercise is the secret to a six pack
Truth: Diet is 70% of your six pack, with exercise being the other 30%. To drop that body fat, you have to eat right. Cut the crap from your diet, and focus on dropping the extra body mass. Only once you've done that will your stomach be flat enough for the muscles of your abs to show through.
Myth 3: Guys can get a six-pack easier than girls
Truth: Women tend to accumulate fat around their arms, waist, hips, and buttocks, while men almost exclusively get chunky around their stomach. This means that guys have to drop their body fat % a lot lower in order to get those six pack abs than women do. You gals have it easier!
Basically, all that you're doing is falling prey to the popular "icon" that six-pack abs have become to be.
Let me make this very clear: YOU DON'T HAVE TO HAVE A SIX-PACK TO BE FIT!
How Much Attention Do Your Abs Deserve?
Do you know why your abs are an important muscle group? The only reason they matter is because they help to keep your back erect - preventing spinal injuries and helping you to maintain a proper posture. They help to support weight for your upper body, and they keep your legs working properly.
However, your abs really aren't as important as MOST of the other muscles in your body. Your legs carry you, your arms and shoulders do the heavy lifting, and your back keeps your entire body strong. Even your chest is more important than your abs, and you need to prioritize your workouts according to the most important muscles.
Most Important Muscles (need more attention):
Less Important Muscles (need some attention, but not too much):
Least Important Muscles (need very little attention):
As you can see, your abs rank among the least important muscles, so they need very little attention. With just 2 to 4 exercises per workout, your abs will make progress along with the rest of your body.
There's really no reason to place so much emphasis on your abs - both in terms of exercise and personal identity. If you're lucky enough to build those six-pack abs, count yourself among the fortunate few! If not, focus on strengthening your core - with extra attention paid to your back and abs - but don't sweat it if you never build that six-pack.
I'm going to repeat that: Don't worry about that six-pack, but focus on strengthening the core overall. With a strong core, your body will be able to keep up with the progress you're making in your training. With time, you can pay extra attention to those abs once you've lost the weight you want!
What You Need to Know About Six-Pack Abs
They're not for everyone
-- Genetics dictates that some people will never have pronounced abs muscles, no matter how hard they work.
They're not permanent --
Even a 1% increase in body fat can cover those abs with a thin enough layer of fat that you can no longer see that "perfect washboard". Not even supermodels can keep those abs visible all year long.
They're just not important --
Sure, they look great, and I know I wish I had some, but I need to realize that they're not as important in the long run. I may get around to toning up my abs enough in the future that I can see them, but for now I'm going to focus on losing weight - and you should too!
The Dangers of a Six-Pack
Did you know that having a six-pack isn't all peaches and cream? It can actually be dangerous to get that perfect six pack:
Low body fat is dangerous -- If your body fat drops too low, you can find yourself developing health issues like menstrual problems, fatigue, low bone density, and more. Just like too much body fat can cause health problems, too little can cause similar issues.
There's a risk of spinal problems -- If you pay too much attention to your abs and not enough to your lower back, the abs muscles can tilt your spine forward. You'll not only have poor posture, but you can end up creating a very rigid spinal column that is more likely to be injured.
You can develop breathing problems -- Tight abs can pull your body forward, and this can reduce the amount of space available for your internal organs - particularly your lungs.
The truth is that I want a six-pack just as much as any of you do, but I've had to realize that they're not the perfect indication of my fitness level or health. If I hung my personal identity and my ideal of fitness on my six-pack abs, I could very well develop both eating disorders and an unhealthy addiction to exercise.
It's time to re-think how we see our bodies. Six pack abs may look great, but are they really worth all the physical effort, the mental stress, and the emotional burden? In my opinion, I think six-pack abs really can ruin my life!