The Truth about Abs and How to Work Them: Part 1

fit couple with strong absIf you’re like most people, you don’t particularly love a grueling ab workout. Trainers are used to it: we’ll moan and groan, and we would rather skip that part if we could.

There are plenty of smart reasons to work your core, though, so don’t be quick to pass on it. The truth is, you might be a lot closer to a fantastic set of abs than you know!

The Hard Core Truth

Gone are the days when you could do your sit-ups and think you’ve put in your quota of waist-whittlers for the day. We’ve known for a long time that there is no such thing as exercises that will “whittle” one certain spot on your body.

This is as true of the abdominal muscles as any others. If you’re going to work them, there’s a good chance they’ll get bigger and stronger, not shrink. But stronger abdominal muscles are a good thing, so no worries there.

And bigger isn’t bad either, because if we can see yours on the surface, then they might look like that ladder, or “6-pack” everyone dreams of. (An 8-pack might even be possible, but we’ll talk anatomy details next time in Part 2.)

However, here’s where the confusion comes in. How can you go from a flabby, round gut to slim, sculpted abs, if working them is just going to make them “bigger”? The answer is two-fold:

1. Lose the fat in your abdominal region that prevents us from seeing your muscles.

2. Build the abdominal muscles so you can create that sculpted shape you want there.

80% of Abs Are Made in the Kitchen

The idea about eating, not exercising, to get the abs you want is mostly about looks. There’s more to it than the breakdown of what and how much you consume, but in a nutshell, if you’re overweight and it settles in your abs, look to your eating habits to change your body weight and body composition.

fresh food and vegetables

In order to make headway with the look of your gut, you need to address what’s going into your gut. Drinking alcohol, eating sweets, loading up on refined white carbs and junk foods—for some body types, these are habits that lead to packing it on in the middle. So does overeating in general: with age or a more sedentary lifestyle comes the time to make adjustments to eating habits.

But whether or not you’re in the physique you want yet, there are other reasons to consider your core workouts as a benefit to your general fitness and health, versus just a vanity endeavor. After all, not every abdominal muscle “shows” – there are important physical functions served by your abs and related muscles known as part of your “core.”

Absolute Workhorses

Abs get a bum rap because they aren’t so obviously relied on as other muscles. Take your biceps for example – you do a bunch of curls, they get bigger, you pick up heavier things, and everybody is impressed.

With abs, it’s not quite that action-packed, is it? What you need to keep in mind are the subtle things. How your abdominal muscles are always working in the background, and on the inside. Like, when you’re breathing. Because supporting respiration is one of the main jobs of your abs.

And if they’re not working, you need to know what can go wrong. Like… your back. Supporting the movements of your spine is the other main job of your abs.

woman doing kettlebell swings

Core Performance

Even though we’ve made a case for taking good care of your abs, it probably still doesn’t want to make you hit the floor for a bunch of crunches. We get it. Those hurt! Seems everyone needs extra motivation for their ab workouts.

Well, how’s pain relief and improved healing for motivation? Studies have shown core strength plays a positive role in physical function and rehabilitation. And what about total body strength? Core strength has also been shown to play a direct role in physical achievement. So you can be less injury-prone, and more fit, when you’re stronger in the middle.

And that improves quality of life. Carry a child, drive a truck, swing a softball bat, run a 5K. All of these simple tasks work better when you work your abs. Best of all, you can start right now, and make progress on every trip to the gym and in your everyday life.

  • First, hold those abs in, like you’re zipping up tight pants. Do this, along with focusing on keeping your posture tall, through all your workouts and during your daily tasks like driving in the car, sitting at your desk, cooking a meal, or taking a walk.
  • Also, add some planks to your routine. 60 seconds of the forearm plank will rock your deep core muscles (the ones that wrap around your waist from the inside and hold you in tight like a girdle).
  • If you know how to swing a kettle bell you know a workout that will naturally strengthen your abs. You can get some of the same effect at home by pushing and pulling heavy things… like shoveling snow. Just be sure your back and abs are up for it!

We’ll have a full list of exercises, and a run down on all abdominal muscles in your body, in Part 2 of this series in our next Edition of The XSport Life

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