The Truth about Six Pack Abs and Why I've Stopped Worrying about them
I can’t tell you how many years I spent trying to get six pack abs. Actually...I probably can. My six pack quest started in 8th grade when I saw the most amazingly beautiful set of sculpted abdominal muscles on Miss Janet Jackson.
I was honestly blown away that a woman could look this fit and strong. Seriously I didn’t know it was possible that one could have muscles there!
At this stage of my life, I didn’t really do anything about it other than a few crunches in my bedroom here and there. I just thought she looked awesome and hoped that one day I would look like that too.
Then in the 11th grade I started working out and you better believe the ab roller was a staple in my weight room routine. I crunched in every which way hoping to whittle my middle but paid absolutely zero attention to the food that I put into my mouth. I had a staff discount at my McD’s job and I was a fan.
Even when I got into my 20’s and learned a thing or two about nutrition, the six pack was never there. It didn’t matter how hard I trained or how little I ate. Those babies were still hidden under a small layer of fat. My friends would live off a diet of doughnuts, never work out and still be able to rock their sweet six pack at the beach.
I was thoroughly annoyed.
But now as I sit here almost 15 years into a Personal Training career, I have so much more perspective and knowledge on this. First things first, I was doing a lot of the “wrong” things in my younger years. I was also in denial about my own family genetics.
So to save you from all the years of frustration that I went through, I want to go over a few Six Pack Myths AND Truths so you can train the right way AND have realistic expectations based on your own body.
Six Pack Myths #1: A Six pack is the only indication of fitness or health
I trained for my first full marathon in 2008 with a group of around 10 women; none of whom had a six pack (that I know of). Every single one of them crossed that finish line regardless of their waist size.
Case in point: You don’t need to have a six pack to be fit
I would generally agree that someone who has been training really hard and eating a strict diet of chicken and broccoli six times is probably pretty fit. However they may be obsessed with their food intake and worried about their appearance to the point of an unhealthy mental state. They may be able to do a lot of crunches but turning down social invitations and tracking every single morsel of food that touches their lips.
I’ve also seen women (and men) who have six pack abs because they are extremely underweight. Being underweight or obsessed with every morsel you eat is certainly not an indication of health or fitness.
Six Pack TRUTH: Your Sanity is More Important than Your Vanity
Health and fitness is so much more than how we look. I believe it’s about having a healthy body and mind in addition to a body that is physically strong and capable.
I’m not saying that you should give up on fitness or your beach bod goals if that’s what floats your boat. I am however saying that if it’s making you crazy and you can’t go out to dinner with friends from time to time, you may wanna ease up on your expectations and just breathe.
Six Pack Myth #2: You just need to do more core work
I get a lot of messages from clients and Moms in my Fit Mama Club Facebook group about how to get rid of their belly. “I think I just need to do more core work” they say.
And I completely understand why they (or you) may think this is the solution. However you can't spot train your ABS (or anywhere for that matter) I know it breaks my heart too! I remember doing crunches in my bedroom as a teenager a week before a pool party thinking its all I needed to get the much coveted six pack. Did it work??? Nope not so much!
Six Pack Truth: Food Matters...like way more than Core Training If you want to get a strong (and functional) core, then YES you’ve gotta do core work at least 2-3 days a week. But, if you want to look lean and get that ever coveted six pack, it’s ALL about the food!
In order to “reveal” those sweet abdominal muscles you’ve been working on, you need to lose the layer of body fat that covers them...This is where food comes in. And as mentioned earlier, you don’t get to decide where you want your body to lose the fat from. Your body is gonna choose what it wants to do and you’ve gotta roll with it.
If you really do want to lean up your core, focus on eating REAL food with a balance of protein (chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh etc) , low glycemic carbohydrates (think lots of green veggies) AND yes fat (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.)
Aim to eat every 3-4 hours to keep your blood sugar stable... Oh and you need to do it longer than a week. I learned that in the story earlier.
Six Pack Myth #3 You need to do more cardio
Been there, done that. Didn’t work.
Guys I ran a marathon and 6 half marathons over the course of 4 or 5 years. (If you remember my earlier story, you’ll note that I didn’t have a six pack during this time.) I was literally doing the highest amount of cardio training possible and while I was ridic fit...still no abs.
Six Pack Truth #3: Too much cardio can increase your waist size
When you do long sweaty cardio sessions (think 60 minutes and up) your body releases extra cortisol, the hormone responsible for fat being stored right smack dab in your belly. In addition to this, too much cardio can actually break down your muscle mass thus decreasing your metabolism. This literally breaks my heart!
Muscle is metabolically active tissue. We want to increase our muscle mass and do everything we can to preserve it.
To keep that fat burning muscle on your bod I recommend doing cardio 2-3 times a week for any where from 20-45 min. I’m a huge fan of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training Cardio) since it gives you a great workout in a short period of time.
I also recommend Strength Training 2-3 times a week to build and maintain lean muscle mass. This will keep your metabolism firing sky high and you’ll have some sweet muscles to boot.
Genes Matter and Why I’ve stopped worrying about my six pack:
Remember my friend who loves doughnuts and has a six pack?
She still has one and it runs in her family. My family? We didn’t win that lottery but I think we did pretty well on the legs and butt one.
Genetics are a huge factor in the six pack game. Our bodies are all created differently and in my opinion that is awesome. It’s helpful to look at the members of our family and note how their bodies are made up. This doesn’t mean I want you to throw in the towel on fitness. It is however important to have realistic expectations of our very own bodies AND celebrate our differences.
If you’re like me and didn’t win the six pack lottery, please don’t waste any of your precious energy on this. I wasted years. Literally years worrying about this stuff. Do you know how much I would kill to get that time back now as a working Mom of 2?!
So...This is what I am choosing to do to now:
As I write this, I am 37 years old and I’ve had two babies. I work out 5-6 days a week and do ALL the things mentioned above. I can run 10km, hold a plank for a long time and do a ton of squats and lunges.
I’m fit and strong and happy. Do I want a six pack? YES!!! But am I willing to deprive myself of a beautiful dinner out with my husband? Or a piece of birthday cake from time to time? Big fat triple NO!
I want you to know that there is more to fitness (and life for that matter) than your beach bod. I also want you to know that the woman on the cover of your fave fitness magazine is most likely living a pretty crappy life in order to look that way. That she spends 6 months training and refusing wine in order to look awesome in a bathing suit followed by three months of binge eating alone in her car so no one can see her.
You get to choose what fitness looks like to you not what the media tells you it should be.
So for now, I’m choosing to be fit and happy and celebrate the genes that I was blessed with. To be ok with the little bit of fat on my belly while I run my 10km. It’s all about balance right??
It’s my hope that you’ll find your version of balance too.
As a Personal Trainer and Mom of 2, I'm on a mission is to help other Moms take care of their bodies through fitness, food and a whole lotta self compassion. I created my Free Facebook Group, The Fit Mama Club exactly for that reason!
This group is all about how you can stay fit, nourish your body with healthy food (and some indulgences too, cuz you know...fun is important) AND learn how to put yourself back on the to do list. Every month, I'll be running free challenges, posting lots of motivational tips, recipes and general fitness'y stuff designed to help YOU make fitness fit into your busy MAMA life.
Can't wait to see you in the group!
Join HERE today.