One frequently sought after physical goal of many a novice and gym rat alike is the coveted "six pack". No, we're not talking about your favorite beer on a Sunday watching the NFL.
We're talking about that little group of muscles that traverse your abdomen, extending from the lower point of the sternum or breastbone to the middle point of the pelvis, also known as the pubic bone. These muscles are shaped as two long bands running parallel with a line of fibrous tissue separating them. Each band also has two to as much as three horizontal lines of fibrous tissue running in step ladder fashion perpendicular to the direction of the long muscular bands.
This array of muscles and fibrous tissue combine to form about six to eight small muscular ripples on ones abdomen - hence the term "six pack." The problem is that this group of muscles is then covered by a layer of fat, therefore making the ripples difficult to see or be defined.
The question is: How can you get these muscles more visible?
Many people think they will be able to do this with exercises that increase the size of the abdominal muscles. This is only partially true. Certainly, the bigger the muscles are, the more likely they are to be visible.
There are a variety of exercises that are useful in building the size and toning the abdominal muscles. The most commonly used and cited is the sit-up. Simply, stabilize your feet or ankles under a piece of furniture, such as a couch, or, if you belong to a gym or have home equipment, you can use sit-up boards that allow your feet to be snuggly fastened. Lay on the floor or on the board facing upward with your knees slightly bent and hands behind or on the sides of your head.
Keep your head about one to two inches off the floor and slowly contract your abdominal muscles, "sitting up" to the point at which your elbows touch your knees. Be mindful not to jerk your head forward or try to push your head forward so that your chin touches your chest. That will lead to neck injury.
Once your elbows have touched your knees, slowly relax your abdominal muscles and lay back down so that your head, neck and shoulders are about an inch or two off the ground. That's one repetition. Depending on your experience and strength level, you can attempt a minimum of ten repetitions and do three sets of ten.
There are many other abdominal muscle strengthening exercises including crunches, which are basically modified sit-ups, bicycle sit-ups, sit-ups on an exercise ball, leg lifts and a host of others. A well written weight training or fitness book or website should have a great deal of options to choose from with regard to ab-strengthening exercises in addition to instructions on how to perform them correctly.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, that's only part of the story. No amount of sit-ups, crunches or leg lifts will matter if the layer of fat that is on top of those muscles is too thick to allow clear definition of the underlying anatomy.
Translation: you have to lose some of the fat in that layer. That is best accomplished by diet and endurance exercise. One personal trainer once professed that "abs start in the kitchen." A healthy and balanced diet that is low in calories along with aerobic exercise (running, brisk walking, biking etc.) three to four times weekly should burn and shrink enough of that fatty layer to reveal your growing "six pack."
As always, remember to discuss what level of exercise is appropriate for you with your physician.
Published On: October 30, 2007