Six Pack Abs: Separating Fact From Fiction
Ahh, the elusive six pack abs - the pinnacle of the fitness world! But what makes a nice set of "washboard" abs so impressive? Well, most people who have tried to attain them will admit it is certainly not easy. At the very least, the vast majority of individuals are highly impressed whenever they see a well-developed, muscular core because it seems to be something so unattainable and yet so sought after in American culture (and likely many others). Sadly, a lot of stuff gets in the way of this fitness target, including bad fast food habits and poor nutrition, lack of exercise and inadequate rest, and (what's this?) . . . a whole bunch of misinformation! Below, I'm going to explore some common myths about six pack abs and how you can separate the fact from the fiction.
1.) Fact: "Anyone who says a six pack is easy to attain is flat-out lying!" Now, there are many factors to consider, including nutrition, exercise, rest, and good genetics. As far as genetics goes, some people just have it too easy. Many of the pros you'll see on the front of the magazine covers have been gifted with superior genetics, allowing them a bit of a head start on us mere mortals. They have also, most likely, been blessed with personal trainers, a knowledge of good nutrition and exercise, and have worked hard for YEARS (not weeks, not even months) to attain their current physical condition. It is also quite possible (sadly) that many of these bodybuilders are using unhealthy and potentially hazardous supplements (both legal and illegal). I am a firm believer that the best body is a natural body and that you can achieve good results through good diet, exercise, and hard work. More on that later. The main point is: "If it was easy to have a six pack, everyone would have one."
2.) Fact: "Bulking and Cutting is not the best way to a well-defined six pack!" Anyone who has read up about bodybuilding for long enough will recognize this phrase. For anyone out there unfamiliar with the term, bulking and cutting refers to a practice that bodybuilders go through as they are preparing for competition. "Bulking" refers to eating massive amounts of food, rich in protein (and just about everything else, good and bad) whilst simultaneously lifting weights in a rigorous training program. The idea is to gain a lot of weight rapidly (including fat and muscle). As a bodybuilder nears competition, he will then begin the process of "cutting;" that is, decreasing the percentage of body fat while maintaining lean muscle for that "defined" look you'll hear people talking about. But here's the deal: such a process is not only potentially harmful to your body, but it is totally unnecessary! Instead of subjecting your body to such an unhealthy and piggish diet and then putting it through the strainer, why not just eat healthy, moderate portions year round? Bulking and cutting is often used by the pros because the supplements they use give them an obscene appetite, so they pig out on all the junk. Yes, eating a hamburger will give you 20 grams of protein, but it will also give you 20 grams of saturated fat! And this brings me to my next point...
3.) Fiction: "The More Protein the Better!" This isn't necessarily total fiction, but it is certainly only a partial truth. As stated above, downing 3 hamburgers at 9:00 o'clock at night is not going to give you a six pack. But what about the protein? Yes, you'll get plenty of protein, but you'll also get all the other crap that goes with it, including saturated and even trans fats, thousands of calories, and empty carbohydrates. This is useless and even counterproductive to your six pack goals for a number of reasons: It increases your body's fat levels as well as protein; it is supplying your body with more protein than it can handle in one sitting (not to mention calories); it is ultimately unhealthy and lacks the nutrients we all need (not to mention increases your likelihood of that triple by-pass surgery you've always been wanting - not). Protein is good, but everything in moderation (same with fat, only not all fats are created equal, such as trans fat which is potentially one of the worst substances ever placed in our food). Your body needs a continuous supply of protein throughout the day for best results, not one big pig out session just before you go to sleep. Which brings me to my next topic . . .
4.) Fiction: "Three balanced meals a day are the way to go!" Again, this is a partial falsehood. There is nothing wrong with 3 balanced meals. However, if you are committed to that six pack, 5-6 balanced meals a day are preferable. Why? As stated above, your body cannot handle all that food in one sitting. The longer you leave between meals, the more likely your body will go into "starvation mode" which is not a healthy way to lose weight. Another problem is that protein is actually not the easiest substance for your body to absorb and most whey protein only absorbs for a couple of hours after consumption. Therefore, by giving your body a smaller amount of lean protein every 2-3 hours, you are increasing absorption and keeping it consistent throughout the day, leading to better results for muscle recovery and growth. Generally, it is a good idea to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight for best results. So for example, a 180 pound man might consume 6 small meals throughout the day, each of which contains 30 grams of protein. But this is just a guideline - adjust the levels to suit your needs and goals!
5.) Fiction: "If I run to lose weight, I will burn away all my muscle as well!" It doesn't matter if you have the strongest six pack in the world, if it is encased in a layer of flab and love handles, you will never see it. Believe it or not, cardio and weightlifting go hand in hand. If you ever want to see that six pack, you will want to decrease the amount of calories you consume, increase the amount of cardiovascular activity, and keep up a regular strength training program for your abs and whole body. Just imagine that you are a Renaissance sculptor trying to "free" the statue from a block of marble. This is what you want to do for your abs and your whole body!
There are many more facts and myths to deal with, but you can look for that in Part 2!
~ Renaissance Mouse