Scroll through social media and flip through the fitness magazines...what does almost every fitness model have in common? Chances are that most American images of physical wellness are synonymous with a six pack of abs. While Chad and his chiseled abs might symbolize the glamorous image of fitness, it is important to note that a six-pack of abdominal muscles is not an obvious indicator of physical strength. A six-pack of abs might look good, but having strong abdominal muscles will make you feel good.
Did you know that everybody has a six-pack? Yes, it’s true! However, our abdominal muscles are sandwiched between layers of skin and fat. Laying on top of our abdominal muscles, visible to the human eye, is subcutaneous fat. Hidden below the abdominal muscles is visceral fat, which surprisingly contributes to 10% of the average adult’s body weight. Generally speaking, visceral fat is the link to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, as noted by Arthur Weltman, Ph.D. of the University of Virginia.
(Source: Precision Nutrition)
Transversus Abdominis: This deep-lying muscle runs across your torso from side to side, holding your ribs in place and stabilising your pelvic area.
Internal Obliques: Your internal obliques lie on top of the transversus abdominus. These run upwards from your hip, allowing you to bend and rotate to the sides.
External Obliques: The external obliques lie above the internal obliques, running in the opposite direction. They work alongside the others to bend and rotate your torso.
Rectus Abdominis: This sheet of muscle is separated into segments, giving you the classic six-pack look when you've burned off body fat.
(Source: Tone Pilates)
Contrary to popular belief, a six pack of abs is not the key to a happy life. Strong abdominal muscles have 5 primary responsibilities:
Enhancing Sports Performance: Strong abdominal muscles will allow your body to produce force for sports such as soccer, tennis, baseball, or football.
Preventing Bodily Injury: Strengthening the abdominal muscles will allow for increased mobility, stability, and strength in the spine, hips, thighs, and glutes.
Improving Body Posture: A strengthened core can allow the body to distribute weight evenly through the body. Neutral hip positions paired with a tall posture signal a strong abdominal wall.
Developing Stronger Breathing: To make it easier to breathe, the core should be strengthened to improve hip positioning to allow the organs and diaphragm to sit in the proper position. Better breathing practices will impact performance.
Building a Leaner Body: While the primary goal is to increase strength and not social media ‘likes,’ lean abdominal muscles are correlated to decreased health risks.
Overall, abdominal muscles should be a focus for athletes of all ranges, not just Chiseled Chad. Functional fitness translates to everyday movements. Picking up a toddler, folding the laundry, sitting on the toilet, and washing the car - these casual bodily functions will improve with strengthened core muscles. “Core muscles are the base of support for the entire body,” explains Meredith McHale, P.T., D.P.T., and regional clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy.
Exercises to Improve Core Strength
As noted by functional strength coach Kristina Jennings, a functional strength coach at Mike Boyle Strength and Condition in Boston, Massachusetts, a weak-core is the number one risk for potential injuries. It is critical that we strengthen our core muscles to enhance our lives.
Choose 5-10 abdominal exercises that work all muscles of the core.
Complete 1-3 sets of 8-15 reps of each abdominal exercise 3-5 days a week.
Exercises for the Rectus Abdominis (6-Pack)
Exercises for the Obliques:
Exercises for the Transverse Abdominis:
Altogether, it is important to remember that abdominal exercises should not be completed for ambitions of looking like Chiseled Chad. Everybody wants a six-pack, we need to remember that training our core muscles for the sake of functional fitness will greatly improve our lives.