Six-pack abs. They are kind of like the lost city of Atlantis, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or a winning lottery ticket. Awesome to find, but not exactly the most realistic thing to pursue. Talk of having beautiful abs is all over the place. There are books devoted to the midsection, magazine articles to help you get abs by Friday, infomercials for ways to achieve the perfect stomach, talk in the locker room about the wish for abs, and even a prevalence of posts in our beloved Bloggerville about getting great abs.
[Source 1, Source 2, Source 3]
Before I go further, I want to clarify one thing. When I say “abs”, I am discussing very defined abs. Like no pooches visible, very lean with obvious musculature, the six-pack (or even four-pack) look, if you will. Something along the lines of the picture on the left. A flat stomach with some definition (similar to the photo on the right), in my opinion, is very different and does not fully apply to the things I will be discussing.
I will admit the abs on the left are nice. Maggie Diubaldo has a fantastic set of abs and I wouldn’t mind having them. But when I consider the reality of abs like those, the questions start to rise. Is it even worth it and how realistic is it? There are quite a few points to consider.
1. It is very difficult to maintain. A lot of things have to happen in order to achieve abs like the ones above. There is no doubt an extreme amount of dedication goes into it. It is likely that some years of tough workouts and a very “clean” diet would be involved. It would have to be your lifestyle. It couldn’t be something where you eat a very healthy diet during the week and then are able to have some treats on the weekend. You would be eating those lean proteins, fruits, veggies, and whole grains day in and day out with extremely limited or no treats for a long time with a fair amount of time spent in consistent workouts as well. For some, a lifestyle like that works. But for many, we have other facets of our lives and have certain foods we enjoy and don’t want to give up for life. I had abs for awhile last year during my competition prep.
Even at 14% body fat, they didn’t look like what you see on a fitness model and I knew the way I was living during prep wasn’t something I could (or would even want) to maintain. Some things aren’t worth it and I realized it doesn’t make me any less worthy to not have that stomach.
2. Unhealthy low body fat levels. In order for abs to be visible on a woman she would have to reach a body fat level of around 12%. Athletes have an average body fat percentage of 14-20% and the average woman has a percentage of 22-26%, which is NOT bad. In fact, low levels, such as the approximate 12% for six-pack abs, can be detrimental to your health. Issues ranging from fatigue to menstrual issues to low bone density are common when living at such a low body fat level. Personally, I would rather be healthy on the inside with energy, the option to bear children, and the ability to walk when I’m 50. Not worth sacrificing those things to have abs.
3. Genetics. You could work you butt off in the gym, diet like crazy, achieve the required level of leanness and STILL not have abs like you see in fitness magazines. Some women have more predominant abdominal muscles that will stick out and show up more readily when they lean out. Others will end up with a flatter stomach and may not have the clear sections of the abdominal wall show through.
4. Even models don’t keep their abs year round. I’ve already talked about airbrushing before on the blog and you have to be wary that what you see in magazines could be “refinished” to help the look along. Also, when women work towards a photo shoot or fitness competition they have a specific date set and work hard for it. They lean down for the event and then go back to more real life living. That doesn’t mean they don’t look amazing other times of the year, but it is likely their midsections aren’t quite as defined 24/7/365 like you think they are. Think about it. How often do you see women at the pool, beach, gym locker room, etc with perfect abs? Pretty rarely. And the ones you do see, I would bet 90% of them have one of the first three things affecting them.
So where does that leave us now? That doesn’t mean you need to forget about working hard in the gym, eating a healthy diet, and training your abdominals. It does mean trying to achieve abs as a goal may not be the best thing to pursue. It means do workouts you enjoy, eat a balanced diet, and live well for your health and not your appearance. Go ahead and incorporate any plethora of tips out there on abs – such as a balanced eating style, adding planks to your ab moves, engaging your abs in all your movements, doing cardio, etc. because those things will help you achieve a flatter, more defined, fit and healthy looking stomach. Just don’t expect them to be a magic prescription to give you the perfect six pack for the rest of your life.
Thanks for this post! I never have even dreamed of coming close to having a 6 pack…ever.
But the pic on the right of the flat stomach is nice!
Either way, I have stretch marks (from before I lost 40 lbs) right in the center of my tummy in either side of my belly button that make me so self-conscious.
I feel like there is little hope that I would ever be 100% proud of my stomach. But who knows. Just because it has flaws doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve love.
Everytime I have abs I can only maintain them for about 3 months at the most. And you are right–it’s eating extremely clean with proteins, less carbs, veggies and no treats. I LOVED my abs so much, but what did having abs bring me? Nothing. Besides some disordered eating patterns. So not worth it.
I strive for the right picture now.
Ooooh LOVE THIS. I have done a similar post and it is so true – very non-maintable if you LOVE a variety of food + sweets. I love how people actually think that models look like that all the time!
I can have a really flat stomach and abs when I eat strictly…but, I don’t enjoy life as much when I do that!!
Great posts! I actually prefer the look of the less muscular girl…I’m not a fan of the whole 6-pack abs look.
I actually like the picture on the right waaaay more than the one on the left. My belly has always been rounded and poochie – even when I was at my skinniest. But I’ve learned to find beauty in it and though I’ll probably never feel 100% ok putting on a bikini and strutting my stuff, I know that there is more to me than my abs. I have so much more to offer the world. And plus, I can’t give up my treats!! 🙂
Another FABULOUS post!! 🙂
It’s such a sad dream to give up. As much as I want abs like that, I know that I don’t have that type of dedication. Hello red wine and pizza! I’m happy with what I have.
i’m glad you posted this…i don’t think people really understand what actually goes into prep for those kinds of abs, and it’s definitely not a fully attainable lifestyle for most people. i know i didn’t realize how much was put into it until i started training and then i made sure ti readjust my goals 🙂
Really enjoyed this post 🙂 Honestly, of the two pictures you posted I’d rather have the ones on the right (or yours!)
This post is great. I’m so glad you put this out there. A lot of people seem to think they can get a 6 pack by simply doing situps..not the case for sure!! Lots and lots of work!
Tina! I’m new around here (as in first visit was yesterday), and I just wanted to say THANK YOU for writing this post. Admittedly, six pack abs is what I’ve been striving for lately (and various other times in my life), and reading this will likely help me not be so hard on myself. Actually, now I feel pretty damn good about the abs I DO have already!
I LOVE THIS!!!! I think this just goes to the heart of women trying so hard to obtain the impossible!!
Always had abs and never thought a thing about it until they were gone. For my age they look great but to keep a six pack I do not want to be that restricting with my diet.
Even when I’m at my thinnest, I have a little “pooch.” And you know what? I love it!! I think that washboard abs on girls aren’t very attractive. I think that a little fluff in there is much more attractive, and I’m pretty sure that most guys agree 😉 With that being said, your stomach looks *amazing* in that photo! You can tell that it was super toned but was still smooth and feminine =) Haha – I don’t think I’ve ever talked about another woman’s body like that, but it’s true! 😛
Great informative post Tina! Every summer I’ve thought, this is the summer! I’ll finally get abs! :> I’m happy with my stomach though and while I’ve never achieved the chiseled look, I feel like cardio, resistance training, and a mostly healthy diet have given me a trim waistline. Of course, I’m expecting quite the opposite effect THIS summer! 😉
A strong, fit core is something I strive for. But a six pack? Why? No one ever sees my stomach anyway!
this is such a down-to-earth post and reminder of loving your body for what it does not what it looks like. I am always looking at images of skinny, ripped women and comparing myself to them. who cares; would I rather have a six pack or six friends? what have I been sacrificing to get a good body and what purpose would that body image serve?
I really think having nice abs has a lot to do with genetics. My sister has a constant 6 pack, and she’s naturally really really small. I have other friends who work out like crazy to achieve a stomach like my sister’s and never will…it’s just genetic
To be perfectly honest, I prefer the second pair of abs…the first one kind of looks…scary. Masculine. I just think that females are meant to be soft and pudgy, which explains why abs like that are so hard to maintain.
That said, I’m naturally pretty skinny with no muscles, so even if I worked out like crazy, I wouldn’t get abs close to that.
I SO need to send your post to one of my friends!! She always moans about having a little pot belly and not being able to achieve a sixpack! I’ve already told her that to get a sixpack you have to lower your body fat percentage to a really low level – and even then I am sure it would be harder for her as this is simply her “weak” (but gorgeously feminine) spot!
Maybe this will help her to appreciate her killer legs that I always kind of envy 😉
I have a naturally low body fat percentage of around 11% and so does everyone in my family. But guess what, I have an A cup and if I put on weight it goes straight to my bum and thighs … everyone’s different but everyone’s awesome! 🙂
Thanks Tina for posting this – and congratulations on your happy news!!
Great post. You’re absolutely right. Whether is 6-pack abs or a perfect butt, sometimes it just isn’t worth the sacrifices you’d need to make. My belly (when not pregnant) is naturally pretty flat. No pooch. But I have always fought to have thin legs. You can’t fight your body shape…otherwise, you’re just miserable trying.
i think the softer, more feminine belly photo is more attractive, too, and i don’t think a lot of women GET that rock-hard six-pack abs aren’t really maintainable in a healthy way.
Plus i think my hubby would much rather touch a softer tummy and it makes for a much nicer lap when reading to my babies!
Awesome post Tina! I prefer the abs on the right and I totally agree that though Maggie’s abs look awesome, it wouldn’t be worth what I’d have to do to achieve that look. I don’t think I could! 🙂
I remember when I lived with a guy friend in college, and he had a RIPPED body. He definitely had a 6-pack, if not an 8-pack! When I asked him what his secret was, he said he had to be VERY meticulous about what he ate. No treats, no sweets, LOTS of protein (his protein powder canisters were insanely large!) and little carbs. He said it was incredibly difficult to maintain – and that he honestly did have the will power to maintain that 365 days a year.
Honestly, I think the picture on the right looks better! More feminine, yet still fit and toned. It makes me sad that there is SUCH an emphasis on abs. One of my good friends has 3 kids (just had her 3rd last summer), works out often, looks GREAT, and is struggling so much with her abs and how they look. She beats herself up over it so much, it makes me sad to see her go through that. I wish people could look past that and realize they have SO many great features – and really, how often do people see our abs, anyway? 😉
I want to have a “toned” stomach and not that tiny bit of pudge that if anything, I notice and it bothers me. I have some faint lines on each side of my abs but they definitely are not CUT… and that’s fine with me. I just want to look healthy, strong, and in shape, instead of everyone wondering if I eat or if I am a man when they look at me. 🙂
sooooo true! thank you for shedding light yet again on how being healthy is sooo much more important than ‘looking’ a certain way! 🙂
such a great post tina!! abs like that are NOT maintainable!! those fitness models usually JUST had a show or have a show that is a few days away so theyre bodies are in tip top shape!
ohh jennifer nicole lee’s ab circle pro! yeah right she uses that!!
very interesting! I have always had a flat stomach but I have never had defined abs. It seems impossible, an dlike you said, you have to have such low body fat to “see” them
I agree with you – having a flat stomach is good enough for me – I am not going to deprive or kill myself so that I can have a true 6-pack.
It is funny though how all the magazines say “a 6-pack in 6 weeks” and all that, when it really is not achievable that quickly!
Thanks for another great post on abs! I hate how the fitness magazines make it seem like its “easy” to get a six pack! I definitely think there are people out there that can get them and still be at a healthy body weight due to their genetics, but that’s definitely not the norm! I think its healthy for women to know that some goals can be unobtainable… knowing this going in will lead to much less frustration down the road, b/c you wont be blaming yourself. I would be perfectly happy with the abs on the right! =)
Such an awesome post. I really just like the idea of having a flat stomach. But honestly ever since I can remember, I’m the type of person that can wake up in the morning and have a very flat stomach, and then I can eat something as a little as crackers and water and my stomach tends to bloat. I guess I’m a bloater haha. It’s bizarre to me because I can go out to eat with friends and watch someone next to me eat twice as much as me and their stomach does not stick out because of it. And I’m even smaller than them to begin with. I don’t know, maybe it’s genetics? Or maybe my stomach can’t handle certain foods. But i love how you addressed how it is a lifestyle in order to maintain abs and that lifestyle limits a lot of things. I love reading your posts for such informative workout info. Oh and your abs looked awesome in that picture!
To be honest, I don’t think ripped abs look good on anyone but fitness models, so I don’t strive. That, and I just could never be that disciplined. Ever. It’s just not in me!
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