the spaz of fitness has arrived

The Funny Thing About Abs

In Training, WOD on August 1, 2012 at 8:56 pm

So I have to confess that I’ve never fully understood the world’s fascination with contoured midsections. Everywhere, we see men’s and women’s health magazines advertising the “six-pack workout” or “get your six-pack by eliminating these foods.” Even on the CrossFit forums, I see an abundance of posts about “how do I see my lower abs?” “I just want to see my six-pack.” Individuals justify their fitness levels with “I have visible abs,” as if the ability to visually count their abdominal muscles endows them with more authority to give fitness advice. But I have a difficult time understanding why individuals equate six-pack abs with admirable fitness. For one, having a visible six-pack is largely dependent on genetics– and whether your DNA is coded for you to have that low a body fat percentage in that particular area. For two, having a visible six-pack is largely dependent on low body fat, as opposed to high muscle mass. You can be pathetically out of shape and have visible abs if you starve yourself to a low enough body fat percentage.

My mind is on this topic for several reasons. This morning, I had a conversation with a friend who expressed frustration with his workout routine and concluded “I just want to see my abs!” This is strangely not the first time I’ve heard this phrase from a friend– and actually not the first (or third) time I’ve heard it in the last month. In his defense, this friend is very intelligent, not vain, nor anything close to superficial, but he’s worked hard on his physical fitness and– despite strength gains and cardiovascular improvements– he’s beating himself over the head over his fitness routine because he can’t count count his abs in the mirror.

The second reason this topic is on my mind is because this is the first time in a while that my abs are not visible. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had a ripped, Annie Thorisdottir-looking midsection, but after my supremely unhealthy weight loss, I was hovering around dangerously low body fat levels and you could simply see the shadows of my musculature beneath my skin because… well, there was nothing else there. Now stronger (let’s say, significantly over 2x my starting max Deadlift) and at least equally fast as I was before (gauging by my recent baseline retest), I’m also just a little more rounded. My strength-to-bodyweight ratio, however, remains high. I went from banded pull-ups to none to 8 strict. I can do strict head-to-ground handstand pushups, and the fact that I can even do an L-sit on parallettes now indicates that my core is stronger than it was when I did have visible abs… so I’ve handily concluded that this whole six-pack infatuation is a load of sh*t.

I guess if you find a bumpy midsection more aesthetically appealing than any other variation, that’s your own thing… and I don’t disparage the friend for his goals. If the objective of his training is a body that he’s most comfortable in, and if that body requires a six-pack, that’s entirely his prerogative. But the fact that people align six-pack abs with any measure of health or fitness is a little laughable. I mean, I assume there’s a reason that all the Games athletes do have visible six-packs, and at that level of fitness with that amount of muscle mass, they’re probably bound to show through. But just “six pack abs” are a poorly chosen standard of measurement.

Well now that I’ve finished that rant… I have good news for the day. This is me:

… okay maybe more:

but! I PR’d my back squat and shoulder press today. I managed the same weight for 5 that I failed on Sunday (so Jefe was right– an extra day of rest did me good), and my press seems to be improving with the introduction of my micro-loading plates. Now I’m curious as to whether or not I should continue backing off for one “light” squat day and one “heavy” squat day a week, or if I should resume the linear progression. Either way, the remainder of this week may be a bit off because I plan on participating in 31 Heroes  this Saturday, and may or may not adjust my week depending on how I feel after the workout. Additionally, I’ll be busier in the upcoming six days and am unsure how training will fit into my schedule.

Worse yet, with all the Olympics excitement, I’ve been entirely neglectful of my work. My morning was consumed with catching up on the women’s gymnastics team final, and there’s more gymnastics goodness tonight.

Happy Wednesday!

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  1. Hey, congrats on your PRs! That’s awesome!

    I also share your mystification at the abs obsession. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are pretty cool looking, but the single-minded dedication required to get them eludes me.

  2. Good luck this Saturday; I’ll be suffering through the 31 Heroes as well. Actually, my partner will be suffering while I run with the sandbag, because I’m pretty sure I CANNOT do a 105# thruster yet. And congrats on your PR. 🙂

    Concerning the abs: I cannot explain the obsession; however, I also measure my own fitness based on how flat my stomach is. ?? No idea.

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