The Truth About 6-Pack Abs
There’s no denying a current cultural obsession with six-pack abs. For the last two decades, edited magazine pages, lingerie fashion shows, and most recently, the rise of the ultrafit YouTube star and Instagram influencer with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, have associated visible abdominals with peak levels of physical fitness and cultural popularity.
But there are a few underlying truths around the elusive six-pack (or at the very least, their depiction in mainstream media) that we all must understand. And believe it or not, having visible abs doesn’t only come down to rigorous exercise routines or restrictive diets. So the next time you’re scrolling through your social feed and frustration or (worse,) comparison creeps in, try keeping a few of these ideas in mind:
1. We all have (six-pack) abs
You read that right. It’s called rectus abdominis: two parallel muscles separated by a midline of connective tissue, and then separated horizontally into smaller muscle bellies. In some people with low levels of body fat, these muscular separations are visible underneath the skin in sets of four, eight or most commonly, six. But here’s the deal: whether or not your body fat percentage is low enough for visibility, you still have those muscles.
2. Their visibility does not define your level of fitness
Speaking of, low body fat percentage (particularly ones low enough for clear muscle visibility) do not automatically correlate to high levels of physical fitness. Due to genetic predispositions (more on that later) or even just state of health, it is entirely possible for someone with slightly higher levels of body fat to have greater overall stamina, strength and performance ability than a female with a lower body fat percentage.
3. Overall core strength is the name of the game
When it comes to your health, it’s really about core strength which involves much more than just rectus abdominis. The core of the body includes the deepest layers of the abdominal wall, your hips, your pelvic floor, your back, your glutes and many other muscle groups. For posture, balance, bone health and for overall longevity, inclusive core training is what counts.
4. Reminder: Instagram can deceive you
Lighting, infinite effect options, posing, angles and camera type can all affect how someone’s abs look in a picture online. And I’d bet they don’t look like the posed version 24/7. You’re most likely to see a little more definition prior to your first meal of the day than right after lunch or dinner. So please keep this mind the next time you’re scrolling through your feed.
5. Genetics play a big role
Our genes can dictate our muscular makeup, how and where we distribute fat, and even skin thickness (making it easier or more difficult to see muscular definition), among many other physical expressions in the body. Your abs won’t be identical to someone else’s online or even to your friend’s, and that’s OK. Your genetic makeup is beautifully and uniquely your own, so see if you can focus attention on owning and loving what you're already working with.
It’s OK to want visible abs. But it’s equally important to focus your fitness goals on function, and to understand what having a stronger core and stronger body can do for you now, and in the future. Fitness is incredibly individual, and most likely, your journey will not be linear. So be patient, be kind and keep in mind your fitness and wellness does not have to look like Instagram.