Abs. What are they good for?

Just about everyone would like to have six pack abs. I think they imagine going to the beach, taking off their shirt, and letting everyone else feast on the glory that is their visible abdominal muscles.

Maybe not everyone dreams of that specific scenario but probably something similar. Admitting that we'd like visible abs only leads to the question of "how do I get them?" There are a lot of myths out there on getting six pack abs and I want to clear some of them up.

Diet for Abs

The reason you don't see the hard chiseled or even the faint outline of your ab muscles is that you have body fat covering them. It's probably not too much fat to be healthy but it's just too much to see your abs.

This means that the number one key to getting a six pack abs is to dial in your nutrition and lose the fat. No exercise can address fat loss in a particular area. Fat loss is most greatly influenced by diet and you can't control where you lose the fat the soonest.

Exercise for Abs

Everyone already has abdominal muscles. If you didn't you would not be able to stand or sit or move. If you've ever done a heavy ab workout and felt the soreness a couple days later you know that almost every movement hurts because you use your ab muscles all the time.

You use your abs for everything. This is because the abs are part of your core musculature and the primary function of your core is to stabilize your torso.

While you do use your abs to sit-up from lying down, doing a sit-up like motion is not the primary function of your abs. This means that training the muscles through 100's of sit-ups and crunches may not be the most effective way to get them stronger.

By challenging your core's ability to stabilize we can increase the strength of those muscles and their functionality. We've written about great ab exercises before and if used in conjunction with proper nutrition you're ab muscles will reveal themselves.

Genetics for Abs

Like most of life we are ruled partially by our genetic predisposition. The structure of your ab muscles is no different. Some people have perfectly symmetrical abdominals and others do not. Others stick out a little further. I am sorry but you can't change your genetics. As I tell my daughter “You get what you get and you don't through a fit.”

A bigger lesson

Maybe there is something more foundational and important we can learn from this discussion. Who says that having visible abs is healthy? For some people it takes getting to an extremely low body fat percentage that isn't sustainable, healthy or best for performance.

For most of us the desire for visible abs comes from making comparisons to other people. Probably models in magazines or on Instagram. Constantly living in a place where you don't measure up to a arbitrarily imposed standard isn't very healthy emotionally or mentally.

At CrossFit 43 North we pursue health and performance. If we somehow develop an aesthetic look that is pleasing to the social norms then... cool... that's an added bonus. But we don't want to sacrifice our health and happiness for something that doesn't really matter and that we don't have that much control over.

Now go move better.