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.
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.