Warmer weather has people thinking about shedding the winter layers, both clothing and fat, and hitting the beach. Nothing says beach body more than a well-defined midsection. Men and women alike strive to achieve the coveted six-pack stomach. Unfortunately the beer belly and muffin top are quite a bit more common than washboard abs. For all the attention that abdominals get, there are some surprising facts about abs that may not be common knowledge.
Ab Fact 1: Dangers of Belly Fat
What you see isn’t necessarily all there is. There are two kinds of fat on the body: Subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is the most visible form of fat. It forms right under the skin and is the fat responsible for that tummy bulge or cottage cheese thighs. Visceral fat is invisible from the outside. High tech medical equipment such as MRI and CT scans are required to detect it. This is the fat that forms deep inside the body and surrounds vital organs such as the heart and liver. Visceral fat doesn’t affect the way you look in a swimsuit, however, it can be dangerous to your health.
Because visceral fat surrounds vital organs, including the heart, it can and often does, harm cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that large amounts of subcutaneous belly fat can be an indicator of excess visceral fat. This translates to an increased risk for developing many serious health concerns such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, sleep apnea and even some types of cancer.
Fact 2: Core Strength
Washboard abs do more than just look good. Strong abdominal muscles can prevent injury by keeping the body strong and stable. Abdominal muscles, along with those muscles in the hips and lower back are the center of the body, often referred to as the core. Building strength in these core muscles helps to improve balance and coordination and stabilizes the body.
Ab Fact 3: What is a Six-Pack Made of?
While six-pack abs may look like several distinct muscles it is actually a paired muscle called the rectus abdominus that runs along each side of the abdomen and connected by connective tissue called the linea alba. The distinctive six pack or washboard look of the abs is formed by three more bands of connective tissue. The obliques are also considered part of the abdominals. These are the muscles that run up the sides of the body and help you bend and rotate your torso.
Ab Fact 4: How to Get That Six Pack
The first thing to do to reach the goal of having perfect abs is surprisingly not about abdominal exercises. While exercises targeting the abs will strengthen the muscles, those muscles will not look any different if they are still under a layer of fat. Proper diet and regular cardiovascular exercise is needed to reduce overall body fat and make that six-pack appear. Just like any other muscle in the body, the abdominals do not, and should not be worked every day. Without a break, you risk straining and injuring the abdominals which could lead to the inability to work them for an extended period, effectively undoing any progress. You should wait 24 to 48 hours between intense abdominal workouts to allow the muscles to heal and develop.
Ab Fact 5: The Best Abdominal Exercises to Achieve Sculpted Abs
Not all abdominal exercises are created equal. For example, the most popular ab workout is the basic situp, but contrary to popular belief, situps don’t work. The only part of a situp that works the abdominals is the first part of the exercise. As soon as the shoulders and back are raised, the lower back hip muscles are taking over. Sticking with a crunch will eliminate strain and pain in the back and will isolate the abdominal muscles.
Ab Fact 6: The American Council on Exercise Approved Most Effective Abdominal Exercises
The American Council on Exercise recently performed a study on the top five most effective abdominal exercises and discovered the five top exercises for maximum abdominal workout:
- The Bicycle – Lie on the floor with the knees at a 45-degree angle and slowly make a pedaling motion. With hands beside the head, touch the left elbow to the right knee, then right elbow to the left knee.
- The Captain’s Chair – Prop the body up with the legs dangling below and slowly lift the knees to the chest.
- Exercise Ball Crunch – Performing a basic crunch exercise on an unstable exercise ball helps to build core strength. The lower back should rest on the ball with the feet flat on the floor. This exercise can be made easier by moving the feet further apart or more difficult by bringing them closer together.
- Vertical Leg Crunch – Perform a crunch exercise while the legs are extended straight up in the air and crossed at the ankles.
- Reverse Crunch – While lying flat on the floor, extend legs into the air, crossing them at the ankles. Bend the knees to a 90-degree angle. Contract the abdominal muscles until the hips rotate and the legs reach toward the ceiling.