The Real Truth behind Obtaining “Abs”
By: Silvia DiPaola, Contributing Writer
Many people desire to have “abs” at some point in their life, but how does one truly obtain them? In this article, I hope to clear all misconceptions/myths regarding “six-packs” and show that they are NOT everything regarding ideal fitness.
Facts about the Abs
First off, what exactly are “abs”?
To many, the image of six-packs on celebrities comes to mind. While these are considered abs, many other types also exist, including eight and even four-packs.
The type of abs that one can obtain is largely rooted in their genetics; Before we dive into the specifics of this, let us take a look at the anatomy of the ab muscles:
All four muscle groups in the abs, including the external obliques, internal obliques, rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis must be exercised in order to obtain true abs. The rectus abdominis in particular has a specific number of connective tissue bands that cross this muscle group horizontally.
The number of bands varies from person-to-person; those with a six-pack are born with 3 bands, eight-packs with 4 bands, and four-packs with 2 bands. Therefore, the type of abs that one can obtain is largely based on genetics in how many bands one is born with. No matter how hard one trains, if he/she has 2 bands crossing their rectus abdominis muscles, it will not be possible for them to obtain a six or eight-pack. Thus, one should never feel inadequate if their abs look drastically different than someone else’s— genetics are a key factor in determining ab configuration, and one’s DNA clearly cannot be controlled. Some of the fittest celebrities, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, don a four-pack, and this definitely does not reflect negatively on him as a fit individual. One’s ab configuration (whether it is a four, six, or eight-pack) does not determine their level of fitness.
Now, we are ready to dive into the specifics of how you can get abs: believe it or not, you have them right now! Everyone has a set of abs ready to pop, but they are covered underneath a layer of adipose (fat) tissue for some people. Thus, the only way to truly get abs is to rid oneself of this pesky fat layer and then performing ab exercises to really make the muscles there pop.
How do you erase this fat layer, exactly?
Cardio! More specifically, cardiovascular exercises. Cardio exercises are any exercises that raise your heart and breathing rates; they must also challenge your lungs and the cardiovascular system, including the heart. Such exercises include running, cycling, stair climbing, dancing, jump rope, swimming, kickboxing, etc. As long as the intensity is high enough to challenge you, it is a good quality cardio exercise. Aim to do cardio 20-40 minutes a day at least four times a week.
As cardio exercises burn through your fat layer surrounding your abs, you will notice less belly fat surrounding your navel. It is crucial to incorporate abdominal exercises as well in order to strengthen the muscles there when the fat layer is dissolved. However, solely performing ab exercises will NOT get you a toned stomach; this is a highly common misconception regarding abs. You can perform 1000 crunches in a row, and you will see little difference. This is because you cannot spot reduce fat. Many abdominal exercises burn minimal calories as it is; The effective way to reduce fat is through cardiovascular exercises and a caloric deficit, which means you burn more calories than you consume. However, it is important to note that when you first burn fat, it may not come off your stomach right away; where you lose fat first is rooted in your genetics. Fat may dissolve in other areas first, such as the thighs/arms/face, before they do in the stomach. This will vary from person-to-person. Moreover, results will most definitely NOT be seen overnight; the journey to optimal fitness takes time. Consistency is key!
Abs: Men vs. Women
All of the information I listed above applies to both genders, but there are some slight nuances within males and females that affect the road to gaining abs.
Women generally have higher body fat percentages than men for several reasons, including estrogen production, lower testosterone levels, healthy fertility purposes, and optimum energy levels. As such, it is harder for females than males to lose abdominal fat while remaining healthy. In contrast, men usually have higher muscle masses and require less body fat for optimal survival. Thus, it is usually easier for them to obtain abs, as they can more readily burn through their fat layers. This is yet another condition out of one’s control regarding getting abs, the other being someone’s genetics.
Although it is harder for females to obtain abs, it is most definitely not impossible. Through a caloric deficit, a healthy and balanced diet, and effective exercises that burn fat and promote muscle production, anyone can obtain abs.
Even so, the abdominal muscles are NOT the most important muscle group to focus on during your fitness journey; every muscle group is important, and you must not focus on only your stomach. Be sure to include exercises that work EVERY part of your body, including your arms and legs. It is crucial to keep your entire body in shape, not just one part of it. For some people, it may look nice to have abs, but make sure you do not neglect your other muscle groups! Optimal fitness is obtained throughout the whole body.
Lastly, please remember that you do NOT need abs to be considered “pretty” or “healthy.” There are many fit individuals without abs, as each person’s fitness journey is different (and largely determined by genetics!). Society’s beauty standards have no substantiated place in your fitness journey or here on Teen Health 101.
This is simply a guide if you wish to obtain abs; just make sure that you do this ONLY for yourself and not to please anyone else but you!