Having “6 pack abs” is like the gold star of fitness training. Movies, fitness magazines, and clothing advertisements put pressure on us to reach for this seemingly unattainable goal. This used to be more so for men, but it blows my mind how many women are looking for the washboard look now. So many people walk into our studio wanting to do focus on “core” exercises so that they can look cut. We’ve become ab addicts.
First of all, it seems unattainable because it nearly is. The amount of work it takes to reduce your body fat low enough to have clearly defined abs is a serious undertaking. Even celebrities and fitness models who have plenty of time to focus on fitness, have trainers who train them twice a day and personal chefs to organize their ultra regulated, incredibly boring meals don’t have this body type all year round. Kudos to those of you out there who strive for and achieve it, it is a true feat perseverance. But many of us don’t understand just how hard it is. For myself and the majority of the clients we deal with here at B-Fit, 6 pack abs are of no concern. We focus on longevity purposed training, strengthening muscles in full range of motion, and preventing injuries so that you can stay limber, strong and healthy for as long as possible. Don’t get me wrong, we do plenty of body recomposition training but unless it is a specific goal, the 6 pack can remain on the cover of magazines. Here is a great article that goes into detail about the compromises you are facing when looking for defined abs.
The second thing is that highly developed abs may come at the expense of other parts of the body. This may be an under trained back, in which case posture can become a problem as can lower back pain, flexibility and ability to walk, swim, run and cycle.
It can also lead to even more serious disruptions to the diaphragm, internal organs or lymphatic system.
When we focus too much on activating the muscles of the abdominal wall, we may restrict the ability of the diaphragm to move. This in turn can effect our breathing capacity. You may have attractive abs but in the long run your ability to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide will be hampered and this will definitely have a negative training effect down the line.
The constant tension from excessive training can also disrupt pelvic floor and organ function. The persistent pressure on the pelvic floor can contribute to the many conditions that produce pelvic floor dysfunction (here is a wordy but informative article on the causes and symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction). Some symptoms of which include; pain, incontinence and gross organ protrusion. Sounds fun, right?
Digestive problems may occur as well. Compulsive tightening of the abdominal wall can mess with intestinal placement. When this happens, inflammation may occur which can lead to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome; gut pain, bloating, absorption issues and yes, pooping difficulties.
An additional problem may arise for women who become pregnant. As the baby grows, pressure on the pelvic floor increases. If you already have a tendency to maintain overly tight abs, then the pressure on the pelvic floor will be exacerbated and the probability of a vaginal prolapse may increase.
An outwards pressure also increases as the baby grows, putting stress on the tissues and muscles of the abdominal wall. Even without overly tight abdominals, diastasis recti, or the thinning of the tissue between your main abdominal muscle can occur. If you have become prone to hold tension in your abdomen, the thinning may occur and/or occur more drastically than it would have.
So what can we do to avoid all of this?
Not to worry for all you ab addicts that want to still get ripped. All you need to do is make sure your training is well balanced, including back strengthening, postural exercises as well as some flexibility work. I prefer to call it elasticity training. But any kind of lengthening of the muscles in the abdomen, be it from doing bridges, laying back on a stability wall or deep diaphragmatic breathing, will do the trick.
Much of the work I do with prenatal and postnatal clients as well as clients recovering from back injuries is connective work to deep core muscles. It is more difficult to make a mind body connection to the muscles of our bodies that we can not see. When you flex your bicep you immediately see your bodies response and it is easier to understand what you are doing in a movement. The only muscles we tend to connect with when it comes to our abdomen are the rectus abdominus muscles, the outer wall of our stomachs. But any kind of stability, twisting or crunching movements are much more complex than what we can see or normally connect to.
On top of your postural work, back strengthening and flexibility training, I really do suggest you find a trainer who can help you connect to your deep core muscles. It will do wonders for back injury prevention as improve core stability, strength and elasticity. For any mothers-to-be or new moms out there, their is nothing more important than this kind of training to help ease with delivery and shorten postpartum recovery!
Enjoy the journey
Want us to help you get 6 pack abs? Or do you need coaching on how to safely recover your abdominal shape post pregnancy or post surgery? Check out our personal training services or our on-line training programs.