Abs Are Not the Core

Rehab and fitness professionals get loads of questions about abs, especially if they have 'em. And of course, there are as many opinions about abs as there are fitness people. Since some are asking, here's my own fitness-person-mandatory-abs-write-up.

I'm going to give it all away, right off the bat. Yes here it is, up front and free of charge! Herein lies THE secret to abs, and you don't even have to read the entire writing!

First and foremost, above everything else, you should know that the secret of definition is you.

All of you. Yes, you must get all holistic about it. That's why the "just" plans are always a lie.

Just seven minutes of exercise per day...
Just two pills before major meals...
Just wear these toning shoes while at home or work...
You're eating the wrong yogurt. It's definitely the yogurt.

Okay already. We see them. Your abs.
The truth is that You are so far beyond PTs and trainers and nutritionists and the ripped guys and gals in Facebook ads. Sure, some of us are able to guide and assist in some areas, but please understand that getting any one area "spot on" will not help if you're lacking in other areas.

I'd like to think that abs are a side effect of a generally healthy person who, with much intention, makes an effort to be atypical.

Don't worry. I'm not going to try to go all fitness guru. "Check out my abs, and you should believe everything I, with abs, say." Yechht. I'm not eager to try and impress anyone; at least not with abs. Ask my wife and close friends.

But what's it like to have abs? Well, when you have a firm midsection you always leap out of bed in the morning feeling awesome and you always feel awesome about yourself. You shoot at least 98% from the field in pick-up basketball and you never envy anyone. Everything you cook on the grill comes out roasted to savory perfection, and you never step in dog poo.

Your wife always wants to have sex, like, whenever, and you're way awesome at it and stuff. Your children always make wise decisions and you never snap at them because they obey you like Rodd and Todd Flanders. You're always patient with stressed out, workaholic desk jockeys who ask how many crunches you should be doing and insists that you're lucky.

I have had fairly defined abs since I was about 15. How is it that I'm almost 34 and still have abs? Some of my condition is [1] genetic and [2] environmental. Just some of it. I'm a male built from relatively lean and athletic parents who raised me in a physically active environment.

I don't think anyone should pull the "poor genetics" card as an excuse to give up. I truly believe that just about everyone can get fairly lean. But please, ladies, don't think "lean," "fit," or "healthy" means fashion model scrawny.

Some of my own condition is due to [3] training and nutrition know-how. Since it's my life's work to know something about this stuff and be able to help folks and answer questions, I should probably practice what I preach. Along those lines, keeping fit and pushing to achieve physical performance goals are sort of a [4] hobby of mine, and the aesthetics are a side effect.

Much of it is related to my [5] general temperament and [6] general activity level, having a serious case of ants in the pants. Like, I enjoy pulling my kids all over the place in their wagons and I'll practice bike tricks until my hands are bleeding where time permits. The key is that I'm truly, naturally doing all this activity for fun, not for exercise. This means lots of burnt calories without my mind registering "hey, you're being good and burning lots of calories."

Some of it is due to me [7] being hardheaded and maybe a little spiteful toward people who gripe about being out of shape and guarantee that a few more years will put me in the same place. More than of few of such folks are younger than me, fueling the fire to prove them wrong.

Lastly, some of it comes from me having an [8]everyday midlife crisis, seeing what years of bad decisions looks like. Even scarier is the fallout of freak accidents and unexplained and unearned disease processes. Each day in a PT clinic is a reminder that any given day is only about four weeks away from not having abs.

Okay already. And [9] selfishness, okay? I honestly feel edgy and generally not mentally right if I go more than 3 or 4 days without doing something strenuous. It's a priority to me. I'm healthier physically and especially mentally. I'm a better husband and dad and PT when I get my fix.

Lastly, I include a few core strengthening exercises because weak abs have repeatedly been implicated in low back, knee, and hip injuries.

Surely there are others, but those are ten primary reasons for abs.

Now, far more importantly, are the things not responsible for having abs.

[1] Dieting hard. I don't really eat that clean. Now don't get me wrong, I may eat very clean by some standards, rarely touching anything deep fried. I do attempt to avoid trans fats. But moderate amounts of scrambled eggs and pizza and burgers are absolutely fair game. Sure, that may change as I get older, but it works for now because I (usually) don't overeat for my size and activity level.

I never was an emotional eater. It's nothing that reflects me. That's the point: I never had to deal with that complex issue. If it's an issue for you, don't be misled into thinking that exercise or B complex vitamins are a solution to that problem.

The primary "active" ingredients in my diet are heavy squats, overhead presses, and chin-ups. No, seriously, carrying muscle on your frame is absolutely the best thing that allows you to stay lean without eating like a frail mouse.

Learning what normal portions sizes look like is definitely beneficial. But if you're chronically measuring out 3/4ths cup of brown rice, 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli, and adding it to 1 plain jane chicken breast and a dash of lemon, you're holding on WAY too tightly. If you feel the need to routinely do this, something is drastically wrong elsewhere. It may be hormonal issues from stress and lack of sleep. It may be weekend food or drink binges. It may be too much sedentary work and leisure. Only you know your situation, but if you follow a hyper anal diet and aren't lean enough, you should seriously think of addressing something other than diet.

[2] Supplements are no reason for abs. Acacia Berry is not the cornerstone of rippedness. Neither is cinnamon or Ripped Fuel or any other temporary stimulant. Are you kidding me? The big picture of abs is a fairly complex, long-term process that you can't buy for $39.99. Caffeine has been proven to help the body burn a higher proportion of fat for fuel during exercise and has some other benefits aside from this. Of course it's going to be bad for you if you overdo it.

[3] Exercise selection. The secret to abs is no specific, cutting edge core exercise. The issue is not muscle recruitment. Your abs are probably contracting just fine when you do most of the zillions of exercises you can easily look up on youtube.

How about 5 minute abs? I do only one or two ab exercises, each for about 25 to 50 reps, per week. But I consistently do lots of big heavy leg exercises and farmer walk and sprint and throw my kids and mountain bike around.

Now it's true that core exercises can be done incorrectly. Like all exercises, some ab exercises are unnecessary or just not worth the risk. Abdominal weakness often greatly contributes to lumbar spine dysfunction. But please don't imagine that there's some particular, proprietary movement that will suddenly sharpen your abs and melt the overlying fat away.

[4] Long drawn out cardio (LDOC). I hate LDOC. I think too much of it ultimately eats away muscle and therefore sets your abs up for failure in the long run. I train hard and play hard. I could probably run 8 miles or bike 100 if I had to. I mean, it wouldn't be fun or super fast, but I could do it if I had to.

Sure - you can and should run or bike or cardio twist the night away if you enjoy LDOC. But it's certainly not an essential part of abs. How many ripped distance runners to you know?

Lastly, if abs are not a priority, good for you. Abs are just part of the covering of who we really are; the shell, effected by who we are nonetheless. A self-absorbed fitness freak is no fun for anyone. While abs are overrated and they don't make people happy, nobody should misprioritize their health and wellness.

I personally don't believe that a person can will themselves into transforming who they are. Sooner or later, the body tells the truth. The well balanced person is the core of what others are attracted to. And it's what we have been after all along.

- - - - -

One of my favorite images of all time. But what can we learn from this? Their bodies told the truth, and they both died early due to drastically different issues.

Live well and don't take it for granted - abs or no abs.

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