Flaunting a six-pack torso is the epitome of human aesthetics for many. More than often we see people working hard to train the coveted muscle with minimum results. Today, let’s demystify the myths surrounding six-pack abs to avoid certain pitfalls and get into the fast-lane to glory.
Six-pack abs, as it is more commonly known, in anatomical terms is called the Rectus Abdominis (RA). It runs vertically downwards, attaching the ribcage to the pelvis. The term ‘Rectus’ denotes straight and hence is apt to describe the abdominis by virtue of its fibers running straight down. Its function is to flex the trunk, this could be done by either pulling the torso towards the pelvis or by curling the pelvis bucket towards the ribcage. Unlike popular belief, the Rectus Abdominis should be trained similarly to any cross-striated skeletal muscle. Training it with 100’s of crunches or variations every day to target the belly fat is hence futile. This is mainly due to the fact that the RA is not a very dense muscle and training it will not significantly raise the BMR, needed to have any effect on the disposition of the adipose tissue.
Training the RA should be in sync with your training intensity for other skeletal muscles. Adequate rest and nutrition for recovery would be a crucial factor in seeing a tangible hypertrophy of the muscle.
When it comes to RA it is as much about maintaining a decent body fat percentage as much as it is about optimal muscle hypertrophy. A well-developed muscle covered with a layer of subcutaneous fat will be marred by poor visibility and lack of aesthetic appeal. A well-planned diet along with efficient exercise program will aid in achieving the desired body composition.
As we know, the function of Rectus Abdominis is to flex the trunk, hence it could be either trained by forward flexing the torso, getting the torso close to the pelvis or alternatively by reverse curling the pelvis up towards the ribs. Unlike popular belief, the reverse crunches do not target the lower abs, similarly, forward crunches are not for the upper abs. Since a muscle works on the “all or none principle” i.e a muscle fiber will contract in totality and not in parts, the Rectus Abdominis being a vertically straight muscle, it is impossible to train only the lower abs or the upper.
Following is a brief template for an effective Rectus Abdominis workout:
With regards to the other muscles of the abdominal group, namely Transverse Abdominis (TA) and internal/external obliques can be targeted with exercises that address their respective actions. Planks and side planks/reverse trunk twists can be used for the home based beginner to target them respectively.
The TA is a stabiliser (deepest layer, providing thoracic and pelvic stability) and works in heavy compound exercises like the squat (with your internal weight training belt, bracing the core). For the intermediate and advanced level group, loaded exercises like wood choppers, lateral flexion on the cable can be used to train the obliques whereas loaded lifts work the TA.