Abgnostics: the secret secrets of ab secrets

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This is for those in pursuit of a solid mid section, wondering what secret knowledge lies hidden behind the ab ads floating all over the place. Or maybe you've considered the numerous benefits of physical training and figure that while you're at it, you may as well do something for your core.

Maybe you could care less, and that's perfectly fine too, so long as you're active and healthy. But I still do receive a lot of questions and see much misinformation pertaining to ab secrets. I've had a fun time doing this before, trying to explain that Abs Are Not The Core, but here's the lean (not skinny) on what all the secrets are trying (or should be trying) to tell you.

                                                     Kung Fu Panda opens the secret scroll.
                                                         "It's you. The secret is you."


It's that simple. You can run, bike, swim, zoomba, scoot, crab walk, shuffleboard, rake, chase puppies, throw children, and so on. You can even do some crunches and leg raises if you like. Whatever you do to huff and puff and burn calories is fine as long as you also do some total body resistance exercise.

You could save a lot of time by simply challenging yourself with progressive resistance training. That would mean fairly high reps and fairly heavy resistance (relative for you) in variations of the big movements like squats and lunges, presses, push-ups and dips, pull-ups and rowing. A few sets of 10 on the seated leg extensions, bicep curls and the shake weight are not going to cut it - your abs. Neither will 1-rep max bench press or 1-rep power cleans.

It's muscle that sticks out - in a good way - in your midsection and other sections. It's the loaded resistance exercises that cause all your trunk muscles to work hard in a functional manner. You don't get that from just running, or swimming, or zoomba, or crab walk, or so on. Plus, muscle is functional, like totally good for doing things, athletics and otherwise; bigger and better, safer and more awesome. But oh, all those injury prevention and functional benefits are mere side effects of being ripped.

Please don't worry about 7 minute abs, 4 minute abs, or any other minute abs. Sure, you should try to include a few "core exercise" variations after or as part of your real training. And yes, Hershel Walker and so-and-so do 15,000 sit-ups each and every night. How dumb! Doing that much of anything does risk developing imbalance and later injury. Far more than that, it's a completely unnecessary waste of time.

On the other hand, gradually, systematically getting to the point where you can dead lift double your body weight for 6 reps and make it look easy...again, the resistance used is relative, but THAT'S what I'm talking about:

                                            Ben C pulling 335 for 6 reps. No wraps or belts. Only
                                            The Hawthorne Effect to prop him up.


This side of the issue is complex because so many factors enter in to what and why we eat. The specifics probably vary and are highly dependent upon your starting point; whether you're already relatively thin or 15 or 100 pounds overweight. Here are a few things to consider no matter where you stand.

No amount of training will make up for a crappy diet. The perfect diet cannot do for your body and mind what intelligent training can.

If you feel like you don't have time to be at the gym 6 days per week and prepare and tolerate broccoli and chicken every day, good because you don't have to. You do not have to eat like a typical bodybuilder. On the other hand, you cannot eat like a "typical" American.

Start with this: give up fried foods, limit sweets to about once per week, and attempt to limit (but don't overly restrict) healthy carbs. Try to find a weekly cycle of a few meals/foods that work well for you and just stick to it, no questions. You WANT to be bored with your food most of the time, but NOT hungry. Nobody said it would always be fun.

These secrets are all general, but I'd be happy to try and address any specific questions or concerns. Just please don't ask about breakthrough supplements or ab machines unless you've tried at least 3 to 6 months of consistent total body resistance training along with boring, non extreme dieting with moderate amounts of mostly non-processed foods ; ) .

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perspective for pushing sports

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The boy, twelve years old, appears about fourteen. Loves baseball. Pitched quite well for the team during the playoffs, which also earned him severe shoulder pain.

In the clinic, the boy rolls his head and drops his shoulders when I ask him to complete a second circuit of light scapula stabilization exercise. But he's willing. Dramatically drags himself back toward the weights. It's not that the exercises cause shoulder pain. He's already tired from swimming poolside horseplay in the heat all day. That, and he's twelve. 

His dad, standing by, rolls his head and drops his shoulders.

"See? He has to understand that if he wants to stay healthy and improve, he's going to have to work at it. I just don't know how much to push a twelve year-old."

Dad is right to say that at some point, a young man absolutely must decide for himself if he wants to be the best player he can or just have fun. Either choice is definitely fine, but one requires enormous sacrifice and effort. For most children, 12 years of age is far too soon to face that decision.

How much should a parent push a twelve year old? In most sports like baseball, not much. People of all ages do benefit greatly from some structure and direction. But there's a fine line between inspiring our children to adapt an active lifestyle and dragging him or her half way across the state for their club team. So long that a boy is not sitting around all the time, there's very little room to push at all.

Dad, you have to make him want it.

Inspiring my daughter on the joys (and pains) of an active lifestyle
Which is impossible, of course. I don't think we can make a child passionately driven to high level athletic (or any type of) success any more than we can make him have a favorite food. On the other hand, the formula for burn-out is pretty simple. One great way to make a kid hate pizza is to start him early on pizza and push pizza every day and always talk about pizza.  

How much should this father challenge this son to excel in athletics? Who am I to say? It probably depends on both the father and the son. It probably changes from month to month. To the fathers credit, he knows his son well. Clearly loves him. Shares loads of time with him.

Later, over some hands-on shoulder work, I told them that they both love baseball, and I think that's a great start. I reminded the boy that as he gets older and the competition improves, he will probably suffer a few more defeats than he's use to right now. That's when he'll learn some things about what he wants to do with his time.

Either choice really is okay. Lord willing, the boy will find passion for something. He'll need a father who challenges him and supports him. He'll need some time to horseplay in the pool. These are all good things.

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