The Dirty Truth About Six-Pack Abs

Stability Ball Plank

There’s no question we are well into summertime, because the questions about “abs of steel” keep coming. Here are 6 awesome core movements that will help strengthen your core and develop your abs. But first, let’s learn a little about ab function and detox from the pop-fitness “six-pack abs” ideals.

#1 We do NOT work out our core just to be seen.

Here is the truth: Six pack abs are not as easy to find as a six-pack of, well, something else. Genetics play a huge role in whether or not we will ever see a six-pack on ourselves. So we should not give up on working our core just because they may never be seen. We work out our core to increase functionality and decrease the risk of injury. By increasing our core strength, we can attain more stability and strength in every aspect of body movement. That’s a major win!

#2 [Visible] Abs are made in the kitchen.

Before telling ourselves that we will sport our abs on the beach, we need to consider the cost first. Doing planks and 1,000 sit-ups a day may never result in visible abs. It takes extremely careful nutrition in order to make that happen for most people. If this is worth the sacrifice for you, go for it! But don’t give up on ab exercises just because you can’t visibly see the results. When you are done with this post, you can learn more about the cost of getting lean with a great infographic.

#3 Let’s get scientific: It is no longer “crunch time.”

We need to be creative, yet careful, with core exercises. Lots of research states that flexion movements such as crunches and sit-ups can actually cause more harm than good. Dr. Stuart McGill, the leading genius behind this research, explains it well here:

If you were to do sit-ups over and over, repeatedly bending the spine, you will fatigue the weakest link or a particular disc and eventually lead to spinal injury.

The main point of working out our core is for it to carry and withstand loads, not for flexibility. This could get difficult to understand, so stay with me…

The spine is a stack of vertebrae that is called upon to bear loads, yet it is flexible. An engineer cannot design a structure to be good at both. A steel beam that is straight and stood on its end is stiff, and can bear loads that try to compress, shear and twist it. So the beam can bear load but it can’t move.

Your core works the same way. So we have to encourage stability, and not flexion. This is why the bulk of our core exercises should encourage core stability. We can do this by loading our workouts with tension, and strengthen our core by preventing movement. This is called “anti-extension” and “anti-rotation.” Here are 6 great exercises for just that.

Anti-Extension Movements

  • Planks – This can be done in many different variations, all of which strengthen your core.
  • Stir the Pot – Grab a stability ball for this exercise and rest your forearms on the ball, while holding a plank. If the stirring motion with your elbows is too difficult to maintain, simply hold the plank position and you’ll still work your core.
  • TRX Reverse Crunches – Get in plank position with your feet in the straps, off the ground. Then pull your knees into your chest, while maintaining stability. Increase or decrease difficulty by adjusting your distance from the wall or bands’ connection.

Anti-Rotation Movements

  • Anti-Rotation Vertical Press – Using a taut resistance band, hold it in the center of your chest and press the band up while keeping yourself stable.
  • Floor Horizontal Press – Using the resistance band again, lay down on your back, keep your core tight, and press the taut band up.
  • Single-Arm Farmer’s Carry – Grab a heavy kettlebell and walk around your gym while maintaining good posture and keeping the kettlebell from crashing into your leg.

 Resources: 1, 2, 3

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Luke Andrus is a certified personal trainer, ACE health coach, writer, folk music drummer, husband, and a father. Most of his writing experience is in poetry and fictional short stories, and he also proposed to his wife with a self-published children's book. He is a Narnia nerd with a degree in History, a minor in English, and a semi-obsession with the French language. He believes that fitness is not just about vanity, but about lifestyle, integrity, and the ability to take control of your life.