Think that to get great abs you need to do 100 crunches a day? Think again.
‘Great abs are made in the kitchen’ is the backbone of the Optimised Personal Training flat stomach program. So what does it mean? Some people think you need to get up at 5am and do 100 stomach crunches to get a flat stomach, but we disagree. Here’s why.
Do I just need to cut the fat out of my diet?
At Optimised we know that once you’re in the right frame of mind to succeed, the second most important thing to know is that what you eat has a huge affect on the shape of your abdominal wall – but maybe not for the reasons you’ve heard elsewhere.
It’s a popular misconception that you need to avoid eating fat if you want a flat stomach. Fat is an essential building block for your body, and avoiding good fats and oils will harm your overall health as well your chances of getting the abs you want.
So, if ‘Great abs are made in the kitchen’, what we really need to talk about are the kitchen criminals: food intolerances. If left unaddressed, intolerance to a food or foods will blow your lower abdominals up like a balloon.
Food intolerances can lead to a bloating effect through your body’s response to inflammation, especially around the lower abdominal area, making it much harder to get a flat stomach. When the spinal nerves that are linked with the colon (T9-L3) sense inflammation and pain, lower abdominal function (the muscles these nerves feed) is impaired and they lose their tone giving a ‘pouch belly’ appearance.
Intolerances can easily be spotted and avoided though, by removing foods that you have difficulty digesting: gluten (like that found in wheat), cow’s milk and soy are often the big offenders.
It can be tough cutting so many foods out, but for a short term sacrifice in following a strict nutrition plan, the long term benefits for your new flat stomach and for your all round health are often pretty radical.
And now you’re going to tell me that the way I think can have a direct affect on my not-so-flat abs?
Yes. Stress affects your hormones – and your waistline.
The hormone cortisol is involved in your body’s response to stress, and is often called ‘the stress hormone’. The thickness of your umbilical skin fold (belly) is a reflection of your cortisol output, so for a flat stomach you need to curb the negative stress levels, both mental and physical. Common stresses include relationships, work, poor diet, too much long duration cardio exercise and not enough sleep.
So great abs might be made in the kitchen, but there must be an exercise component?
For sure, and knowing how your abdominal muscles work is a vital ingredient to knowing how to shape them. We don’t want to overwhelm you with anatomy and biomechanics (the study of function), so here’s a brief description of the abdominal complex and the four major abdominal muscles:
Rectus abdominis – the 6 pack (actually an 8 pack) flexes the trunk forwards. Often divided into lower abdominals (lower fibers work more during leg raises) and upper abdominals (upper fibers work more when upper body is flexing stomach crunch, or sit up).
Transverse abdominis – the inner most muscle. It has gained a lot of attention lately for its role in creating core stability, as it’s action is to compress the abdominal contents when contracted, like a girdle.
External oblique – as the name suggests, this is the outer layer of muscles which run diagonally. Used unilaterally (one side only) it flexes the trunk to the same side (ipsi laterally) and rotates the trunk to the opposite side (contra laterally). Used bilaterally (both sides together) they work to flex the trunk (just like the rectus abdominis does) and compress the abdominal contents (same as the transverse abdominis).
Internal oblique – lies beneath the external obliques. Unilaterally it flexes the trunk to the same side and rotates the trunk to the same side. Bilaterally it flexes the trunk (same as the rectus abdominis) and compresses the abdominal contents (just like the transverse abdominis does).
So why is knowing that important again?
Just doing 100 stomach crunches (sit ups) a day is not enough to maintain a functionally balanced abdominal complex, or a symmetrically looking one, on its own. By overworking your upper abdominals (which too many sit ups do) you just create a postural imbalance which can then throw the rest of your body out when you move it, risking injury and muscular stress.
Think about it. Those muscles are designed perfectly to move you in 3 dimensions:
- Flexing and extending (moving you backwards and forwards)
- Side bending (moving you from side to side)
- Rotation (twisting you)
When you just pump away one dimensionally doing sit ups (flexing and extending your body backwards and forwards), you cut out all the muscles that want to get some exercise moving you from side to side, and those that want to rotate (twist) you. That’s not going to get you where you want to go fast. In fact, it might get you where you want to go at all!
Your muscles are also designed to contract in 3 dimensions, not one:
- Concentrically (shortening the muscle during contraction)
- Eccentrically (lengthening the muscle during contraction)
- Isometrically (muscle length remains constant with an increase in tension)
In the same amount of time it takes to perform 100 sit ups, you could do an abdominal workout that challenges all your muscles in the right way, instead of just a few in the wrong way.
And before we go, a quick word about posture…
Did you know that poor posture can give the appearance of a pot belly? The muscles that flex the hips are renowned for being very ‘greedy’ muscles – meaning they always want to be a part of the action and take over. They get short and tight, and tilt the pelvis forward (causing numerous problems including those of the lower back), restricting and inhibiting your bum muscles, which are our main movers. They need to be stretched very regularly!
To your lean, healthy, optimised future,
Matt & Dee
- Muscles: Testing and Function by Florence Kendall and Elizabeth Kendall McCreary (1983)
- Trail Guide to the Body: How to Locate Muscles, Bones, and More (3rd Edition) by Andrew R. Biel (1997) Books of Discovery
- Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Third Edition by Robert M. Sapolsky (2004)
- Gray’s anatomy www.bartleby.com (image of abdominals)