It’s one of the main things you see all over social media these days,
“I want 6-pack abs, what exercises should I do?”
And a lot of people I see answering these questions go straight to nutrition, “abs are made in the kitchen”, and I’m so glad that people are starting to get this part. But I do argue that training and muscle growth shouldn’t be neglected either. Yes, having a low enough body percentage is vital to having visible abs, but this isn’t going to happen if you don’t have a muscle base to work with.
Social media can be one of the worst things for these as well. You’ve all seen those Pinterest links “6-pack Abs in 7 days! Just do 500 crunches per day!” I think it’s important for people to realize that building your “abs” is so much more than important than the appearance. A strong core is essential for good posture, good quality of life, and minimal stress on joints. I think a quick anatomy lesson is needed before I go on about how crunches are not your best friend when it comes to a stable and strong body…
Spinal flexion involves the rounding of your back forward (first 2 pictures). This is a movement we are all too familiar with, especially us students. Something as little as hunching your shoulders when looking over the computer or hovering over your notebook, all contribute to weakening your core muscles. Spinal extension (4th picture) is something that happens less in the everyday, but more in the gym or when we’re not focusing on the simple tasks that we’re doing. The “butt-wink” in the squat or over-exaggeration in the deadlift are all influenced by poor core stability. If you go to pick up something, even like your laundry basket off the floor, without thinking about how you should stabilize your body, you are already at risk of injury.
The primary function of the anterior core muscles (your abs) is to pull your spine from extension back to neutral, imagine the muscle fibres shortening. While the primary function of the posterior core muscles (your intrinsic back muscles) is to pull your spine from flexion back to neutral. So, technically even just sitting at your desk with good posture is helping to improve your stability. A lot of people feel that tension in their low back when doing crunches or spinal-flexion exercise, and in my opinion, this is because crunches, and the like, go against what your abs are meant to do.
Core stability is huge in injuries that occur all over your body. Your ability to decelerate, change direction, and perform powerful movements are all influenced by your core. Ever wonder why the majority of ACL injuries occur with no contact hit? Stabilizing your core allows for your hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, and every joint in your body to move more efficiently with the least risk of injury.
I’ve become a huge advocate of training for function because the physical changes come as a bonus to better range of motion. I squatted for almost 2 years with bad form and a weak core, and sure my legs and glutes were changing in ways I liked but it was at the expense of my bones and joints, ultimately weakening my low back that will take months for me to recover from.
So I guess in my opinion if you want 6-pack abs, functional training will reap the benefits far faster and more effectively than joint-stressing movements. A few of my favourites include plank, dead bugs, and bird dogs! And there are tons of resources to find what works for you!
If you want to learn more about any of this I recommend popping by Stop Chasing Pain‘s facebook page, as he has incredibly interesting and informative articles on stability and mobility!