Take my client Jen for example. Jen is fit and athletic, and determined enough to schedule regular gym workouts into her busy week. I meet with Jen every few months to re-evaluate her targets and adjust her fitness routine accordingly. Like so many of us, Jen would love to have a ripped stomach. But although she is noticing an increase in her muscular strength and visible tone, the six-pack remains elusive.
So what’s the best way for us to achieve that toned, trim tummy?
The Rectus Abdominis
While the abdomen is comprised of many muscles, the rippled effect we call a six-pack is mainly due to the appearance of one muscle, the Rectus Abdominis. This paired muscle runs vertically from your ribcage to your pelvis like a small surfboard, and is necessary for lumbar flexion, such as bringing the ribs to the hips (an ab “crunch”). It’s also used in respiration, particularly exhalation, and can tense without flexing (pulling in your belly). Bands of tendons are what give this muscle its lumpy appearance when tensed.
Body Fat and the Spot-reduction Myth
Who among us (myself included) hasn’t craved that magazine-cover beach body?
For men, some ab definition can be seen when body fat levels are at 10-15% (the average level for men is 18-24%) although a definite six-pack may require even lower levels. Women might start to see some abs at 22% but they would need to drop below 18% or even 16% to achieve that lean, ripped dream body. Considering the average level for women is 25-31%, and a level below 13% may result in hormonal disruption such as amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation), this is no easy task. And even if you do lose enough body fat to get that washboard look, maintaining it is another story altogether.
The Genetic Link
Unfortunately, doing crunches won’t burn off our belly fat.