5 Reasons Six-Pack Abs Are Overrated

It takes a lot of hard work to achieve six-pack abs—is it really worth it?


Here’s the thing, maintaining strong abdominal muscles is essential to your health.

“Core fitness prevents back injury, it helps rehabilitate back injury and quite simply, it helps you do things. It’s essential to human movement,” says Dr. Stuart McGill, director of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Waterloo and author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.

However, what many everyday exercisers fail to understand is that a strong core is not synonymous with six-pack abs, and that achieving a tight, toned midsection requires a lot more work than simply exercising your core with moves like crunches and planks every day.

In fact, compared to the benefits you’ll reap, the amount of hard work and dedication that it takes to achieve such a trim tummy is so extreme that it’s easy to argue why it’s really just not worth it at all.

We’re not saying that you should ditch all of your core exercises—remember core strength is extremely important not only for maintaining functional mobility, but also as an accessory to your other athletic pursuits—but  if you’ve got your sights set on developing a six-pack like Star Lord, unless you’re ready to get real serious about diet and exercise you may want to reconsider your goals, and take into account a few of these reasons why six-pack abs are actually overrated.

1. It takes way more work to achieve and maintain a six-pack than you think.
Contrary to what many “quick-fix” exercise programs promoted in popular culture would like you to believe, you won’t achieve six-pack abs simply by performing exercises like crunches, sit ups and planks every day. Sure, exercising your midsection will help to build and strengthen your abdominal muscles, but it won’t burn away fat stored around your stomach.

Revealing your “six-pack” requires that you reduce your overall body fat percentage, which for many people means following an intense exercise routine and a very strict diet.

Two summers ago Derek Flanzraich, CEO and founder of Greatist.com, shared a detailed account of what it felt like to follow a six-week plan that eventually led him to achieve six-pack abs. He wrote:

“It’s hard to express how alone you feel when you’re counting every calorie, pre-planning every meal, and working out every single day. The funny stares when walking through the park holding a one-gallon water jug were not a big deal. The late dinners at which I ate nothing (seriously, not a single thing) were bearable. But despite supportive friends and team members, no one really knew what I was feeling, what I was going through, and what kept me going. I felt trapped when asked to go places and do things. I felt embarrassed on weekends when I had to make sure to spend hours in the gym each day. I felt uncomfortable making others awkwardly eat and drink alone. I felt hungry and sad when I went to bed. The final week, I could barely sleep at all (my worst weekly sleep average for the whole #absperiment) – sort of as if even my body wasn’t supporting me anymore. Worse, there were also noticeable side effects for others. I’m usually really positive and happy, but (as everyone in my office now attests to) I was tired and grouchy throughout the #absperiment. That sucks. Ultimately, I’m not entirely sure who the people are who get and maintain six-pack abs for an extended period of time, but I feel for them and hope they have some awesome friends (who maybe ideally have six-pack abs, too?).

2. Six-pack abs serve no real functional purpose.
The truth: you can have strong abs that support your everyday endeavors and athletic pursuits without having them actually be visible. As we mentioned before a strong core is not synonymous with six-pack abs. In fact, as Steve Regis explains in his blog post about why six-pack abs are overrated, short of proving to yourself that you can accomplish a lofty goal you’ve always wanted to achieve, the only functional purpose six-pack abs can serve is earning you money.

In other words, unless you’re a model or celebrity who can earn income off of your public image, six-packs abs are just an aesthetic extravagance that won’t help you obtain any real world benefits. And chances are, they won’t bring you happiness or improve your body image that much either.  

3. Too many crunches could lead to injury.
All too often many exercisers who have their sights set on six-pack abs think that the road to a washboard waistline is paved with endless amounts of crunches. As we mentioned before, not only is this not an effective way to achieve six-pack abs, but repeatedly performing exercises like sit ups and crunches could lead to spinal injury.

“If you take a wire coat hanger and bend it over and over again, eventually the metal will fatigue and break,” McGill explains. “The same theory applies to your spine. Who you are determines how quickly that process will wear it down. If you are slim it might take longer, but for a larger person it’s the opposite.”

4. Your ability to lose fat is partly determined by your genes.
Your body type and your genetics play a role in both how your body chooses to store and lose fat. Marc Perry, founder and CEO of BuiltLean and a top personal trainer and fitness expert in New York City explains, “For example, some women may have very little body fat on their abs, but a lot on their thighs and triceps, while others will have the opposite.” On the same note, everyone’s muscle striations are different. Even if you do achieve a body fat percentage low enough so that your abdominal muscles become defined, your abs might not reveal the aesthetic you were hoping to achieve, like your favorite fit celebrity or pro athlete.

 5. Do you really want to give up good food?
The honest truth: if you want to achieve six-pack abs you will likely have to give up many of the foods that you love. Your diet affects your body composition more than anything else, and maintaining the low body fat percentage needed to show off a six-pack means you’ll likely have to learn how to sustain a diet of mostly lean protein and plain vegetables. (For example, go check out the Instagram profile of a body builder or fitness competitor. You’ll likely find lots of photos of small-portioned meals consisting of plain grilled chicken and steamed veggies.) Props to the people who can follow such a strict diet in pursuit of their fitness goals, but is giving up your favorite foods in exchange for abdominal definition really worth it? Well, it really depends on who you are and why you’re doing it, but for most people it’s probably not.

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