Why I do not Care About my Six-Pack Abs

Whenever someone brings up ab training I always become a little agitated. This is fairly rare for me as I am normally of a calm disposition, but ab training is something that can very easily wind me up.  I have been quite fortunate in that department as I have always been skinny enough to have visible abs- and for many years I left it at that. I did not know what they did or how best to train them. It took me years to realise that often times the athletes with the strongest abs do not have them on display. Heres why…

Just for reference when I say abs in this article,and I will a lot, I am referencing the following muscles…


A diagram of the abdominal muscles

Firstly, what do they do? What is there function in the body? Well they cover the chest cavity over your diaphragm, this will become important later, and protect it. The muscle group facilitates spinal flexion. But most importantly it provides stability. Stability in this sense means the ability to limit movement. This may sound counter intuitive since to play sport or lift weight you need to produce large amounts of movement, but movement without control is nothing. In order to play sport or lift big weight in a gym you need to have sufficient control. This is the main function of the abs. But what is it they control? Their main action is to stabilise the upper body and particularly the spine. However, having said that you will find that they will help stabilise your lower body as well and they also facilitate the transfer of power from different muscles in the body. So now we know what their function is, how does it perform that function?

As mentioned previously, the abdominal muscles cover the diaphragm and chest cavity. When lungs fill with air the diaphragm moves down, reducing the total volume in the chest cavity and increasing total pressure. This pressure is exerted outwards against your abdominal muscles. This creates the exact same effect as a lifting belt and forms a rigid block of muscle. It is this block that provides the stability and the power transfer. With this in mind we can begin to understand how we, as athletes, can utilise this.  The way I activate this is by doing three steps. First I ready myself for the lift in question- making sure my feet are in position etc. Then I take two deep breaths in and out. On the third and final breath I hold it in- pushing out with my diaphragm and abs. This creates the wall of pressure and allows for stability and an effective power transfer from the muscles used in the lift.

Knowing the function and understanding how the function is accomplished, we can now begin to explore the ideas around training the abs. The goal with ab training is not for them to be of significant size- we can deduce this because size does not mean stability. So we need to adapt the hypertrophy training that many use to build “strong” abs. Because this “wall of pressure” is often used in long periods of time we need to use eccentric training to maximise the functional application of the abs. For example a timed plank would be a good example. Use of an ab roller is another great example. A side plank is another one. All of these exercises closely imitate the action of the abdominals when creating stability. If you want to truly train your abs, and not just to look good at the beach, you need at train for stability. This will give you the best chance of increasing your athletic performance and perfecting your specific discipline.

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