I’m not ambivalent about having abdominal muscles – I’m much obliged to mine to for holding me upright lo these 30 years – but rather I’m ambivalent about doing ab work. I rediscovered my ab issues today during Sharing Time – not just for Kindergartners anymore! – at the gym. Gym Buddy Lisseth brought in an ab workout that she got from her brother who got it from some “DVD” (street speak, I’m sure, for a rogue Jamie Kennedy experiment on people’s pain thresholds) called 16 Minutes of Hell. Okay, that’s not the exact name but it’s close enough. Lisseth promised us that the first time she did it, she was so sore she couldn’t even laugh the next day (which we made up for by laughing an extra amount today, especially when a woman walked by in ultra-short “cheekies” and Lisseth proclaimed “There was so much lady business on display, I think I might have just had sex with her.”)
But back to my abs. For years as a gymnast we did all kinds of wicked ab exercises but never did my coaches tell us we were doing them to “flatten our tummies” or “tighten and tone” or even “take off inches” which strangely are the selling points for all major commercial ab workouts. I find this strange because ab work alone will not do any of those things. It is one of the saddest and yet most overlooked fitness facts: doing situps will not get you a six pack.
There are two keys to washboard abs (or if you prefer current magazine speak – “long and lean abs”):
1. Genetics. Can’t be helped but it’s true. People’s bodies are programmed to distribute and store fat in locations specific to the individual. For instance, I can’t pay my body to store those extra jelly beans anywhere up top (tangentially, did you know they make padded sports bras?) but my thighs think they are the only thing between me and certain death during the next famine.
2. Low body fat. It’s the body builder maxim! Get your body fat percentage low enough and you can coax out the most recalcitrant of muscles, even those hard-to-find lower abs. Although I think that is somewhat related to #1 as well. I was told by several prominent fitness gurus that if I could get my bodyfat down to 16%, I’d see abs. Well, I never have despite getting considerably lower than that. But it is true that the lower your body fat, the more abs you will see.
2.5. I would add a third semi category for the women – childbirth. While I do have some mommy friends whose tummies went back to their pre-pregnancy flatness with in mere minutes of extruding their precious children, most of us retain some damage usually evident in the below-the-bellybutton bulge. You know, the “mummy tummy.” It’s real. And it has nothing to do with Brendan Fraser. Although he’s plenty scary too – for a whole host of other reasons.
You will notice that you can change none of the above points by doing extra ab work. In fact many body builders do no ab work at all, choosing instead to focus on muscles they have more control over. And yet, there are other reasons to work the abs besides just appearance. (Wait, what? “Getting Healthy” isn’t all about bikini season??)
Anybody else pee when they air jack? Have bad posture? Chronic back pain? Shoulder pain when running? All of these problems and more can be ameliorated by strengthening your core. Some practitioners of the core-centric Pilates method even claim it can make you taller (Holla shorties!). So there are plenty of good reasons for me to keep doing my ab work, even if it does nothing for me aesthetically. But I still have a hard time getting really excited about it (and I’m not talk about this issue, thank you very much).
How do you feel about ab work? Love it or hate it, do you do it? What’s your favorite killer ab move?