No Such Exercise To Rip Your Abs

What is the rage of the washboard abs? They’re just abdominal muscles.

The poor souls who spend their waking days working on their abdominal muscles and their nights dreaming of washboard abs.

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The poor souls who believe fitness is spot toning, tight muscles, and possibly a bronze-toned body are missing out on the joy and the magnificent effect that exercise offers. They have been propagandized by two groups of charlatans.

  1. Gym heads - those trainers of all sorts who live in the gym and don't have a sense of benefiting from a good, effective exercise that does not take a lot of time, nor by going outside and enjoying life.

  2. Quacks - those doctors or the like who have never worked out a day in their life who espouse the historic rhetoric of exercise untruths like: no pain, no gain and other such nonsense.

The people who seek to be fit and healthy fall for their advice and counsel. Sad. They get it in their heads that exercise is going to magically change their entire body, health, and life in a few weeks and all it's going to take, and what really happens is that they nearly die in the process.

Or worse, they have a picture of a photo-enhanced, always young and bronze-toned celebrity who also has money to spend on certain tissue-altering surgeries. These poor people dreaming of getting the perfect have no chance of getting results. Instead, they're going to exercise like mad and quit and then go back to their quiet lives.

One exercise apprentice says to their trainer: “I want one exercise to flatten my tummy, another to make bulges in my abs (washboard abs), and another for my core (and what exactly is the core?)."

Another novice says: "I want two exercises; one to reduce my thighs and hips, and one to tone up my flabby arms.” Not going to happen, but that's the rhetoric.

Not to put all the blame on the trainers and quacks, the media is most to blame on the outrageous, incorrect exercise propaganda. And you see it everywhere in "Fitness" magazines (whatever is the fitness flavor of the month), Women's magazines, Muscle and Beach Body websites, and of course all the other kinds of media: videos, audios, and stage shows. Billions and billions of dollars are pushed into this kind of propaganda promoting the fallacy that exercise for a body part will replace the fat on that body part with muscle.

The first correction: There is no such thing as spot reducing!

Yes, you can improve the size and shape of a specific muscle, but any exercise that produces these muscular changes has absolutely no effect on the flab over top of the muscle. You can work the triceps with concentric arm extension but the back-of-the-arm flab is going to stay flabby.

Yes, you can do heavy resistance exercises such as squats and leg presses to build very nice thigh muscles, but these will not do a thing to the flab overlying those muscles (however, resistance exercises are essential for a full body workout but should not be taken out of context).

The building of strong, shapely muscles and the reduction of fat are two processes not directly related. Muscle and fat are two different tissues, two different metabolic systems and they function differently than each other.

The amusing exercises that I see most people do are done for vanity reasons and don't do much for human physiology. Rather, what they get out of their workouts, especially the spot reducing exercise programs, is tired and hungry.

Cute little 5 pound dumbbells are worthless to just about everyone as well as everything else from thigh masters to puny rubber bands tied to doorknobs.

What do they really need for real results in metabolism? Let's look at two important general categories of exercise, muscle building and cardiorespiratory.

Muscle Building

Nothing more than one or two serious intense resistance exercises for the upper body and lower body done two or three times weekly. And that they be concentric and not eccentric, that is, contracting towards the center of the muscle, not away.

The metabolic physiology gained from such powerfully intense exercise is enough to keep people looking and feeling 10 years younger than their chronological age, for a lifetime. Equally important, is the emotional satisfaction of performing an exercise routine that is timely and backed up with results.

Cardiorespiratory

Likely, you have seen people flock to “aerobics” studio. These poor souls are not only tired and hungry as a result of their exercise routines, they are hurting as well. If you want to get the maximum damage from exercise, with as little benefit as possible, for a huge investment of time and energy, then you do the “aerobics” routine.

Rather, like muscle building, for improving cardiorespiratory function, a person should exercise the most muscles, through their complete range of motion, against bi-directional resistance to the point of body fatigue or cardiorespiratory fatigue.

There is no such thing as muscle toning. There are only varying degrees of building that muscle.  Wimpy dumbbells don't do anything differently for a muscle than big dumbbells do; they just do much less of it. And "aerobic" exercise for the cardiorespiratory systems leaves a person metabolically depleted as well as taking a much longer time for a workout with no great results. The answer for cardiorespiratory exercise is high-intensity workouts - a full-body, system approach to muscle building, in this case the cardiac and respiratory muscles.

It is the intense resistance exercises that will very quickly cause the muscle to grow into the shapely contour you are looking for - flinging little dumbbells around will do almost nothing. And here's what you're looking for …  the heavier strength training exercises have the important additional benefit of stimulating your metabolism so that you will lose the fat that you are so anxious to get rid of. But the fat that is reduced is of the body's priority system - your body will chose where best to reduce it, not you.

Stay away from the light weight exercises. They will do absolutely nothing to metabolize fat, but rather will stimulate your appetite for the sugars and starches that will make you put on more fat.

You want washboard abs? You most likely won't get them if you don't have them already. People who display these glossy images have a propensity to have this kind of muscle tone. And big deal. What do washboard abs bring you - a prized mate? Now how does that correlate?

It seems that everyone from Beer Belly Bob to Marathon Maniac Mary believes that abdominal exercises are essential. No, they're not.

But here's where it gets worse. The gurus and charlatans propose that you do sit-ups and crunches. Absolutely no and wrong on all accounts. Why would anyone contract their spine and body into a flexed position? Just what are they trying to accomplish?

Here's what the ab crunchers are doing - exactly the opposite of what they want.                           

If the goal of abdominal exercises is to flatten the abdomen, why then are they contracting against it?  No, sit-ups and crunches will actually make the stomach protrude.

Here's what happens. The rectus abdominus muscle, the long abdominal muscle that is supposedly, but not really being worked during these exercises, is like a flat rope that connects the pubic bone to the xyphoid in the sternum.

No body movement is done in pure muscle isolation. In other words, you cannot ever specifically isolate a muscle unless you're in a lab.

One of the problems with sit-ups and crunches is that they do not exercise the rectus abdominus through a complete range of motion. Rather, the rectus abdominus is held in an isometric contraction while the hip flexors move the torso with respect to the leg. All sit-ups and crunches do is shorten the rectus abdominus.     

If you look at yourself naked in the mirror and imagine a rope connecting your xyphoid to your symphysis, and that rope is quickly shortened, what happens? Your xyphoid is pulled down toward your pubic bone. Your body is slumped forward. Not good for many reasons

But your belly - it will plop out over your symphysis - where else is it going to go? And your chest sags, your shoulders round forward, and your chin protrudes. Nice.

And what about the major muscles in this scheme - the hip flexors? The iliopsoas muscle contraction will causing a hyperlordotic lumbar spine causing more of a beer belly you're trying to avoid.

That's what you're going to get trying to get washboard abs doing sit-ups and crunches. Don't forget the lower back problems that will develop.

To be clearer, your abdominal muscles have other fibers such as the transverse and oblique. These muscles allow for dynamic movement of the trunk. If you want to exercise all these muscles you should exercise all these through almost-complete spinal motion.

When you exercise you must think beyond any one muscle. You must think about the group of muscles, the bones that the muscles are attached to, and the organs and other tissue that the muscle is contracting around.