TO DO OR NOT TO DO? … ABS
TWO WEEKS PRIOR TO WRITING ARTICLE:
Jeanne is a client I have worked with for a number of years, and through a couple of births with very quick recoveries. She is naturally tall and thin with wide hips and very flat abs. She has that perfect body for wearing couture as you can see from her Vogue magazine write up in October of 2003. She is the type that doesn't want muscle showing at all, just long sleek 'feminine' lines. We have stepped up her workouts of late because she is getting stronger and we do need to keep up the challenge to maintain that high metabolic burn rate for caloric expenditure, without creating muscle definition. Jeanne doesn't like doing cardio so that's not a solution.
Recently when beginning our workout Jeanne stops, pulls up her t-shirt and shows me her abs. Iam very pleased with what I see, which is the definition of where the lower obliques end and the rectus abdominus (your quadrants, also known as '6 packs') begin. There was strong deliniation indicating the muscles beneath. Jeanne points to it and says "I don't want this." In my shock the only thing I can think to say is "If there were a group of women in hear watching us, they'd all groan at you."
Everyone is different and has different goals. So Jeanne now thinks that she should just not do abdominal exercises and asks "Why do I need to do them, my abs are fine the way they are? Can you write about this in your next newsletter so i better understand why i need to do abs. "
I then launch into an explanation of the importance of core work (abs). About how your abs stabilize you and help prevent injury by bracing and tightening. The brain sends a message to the transverse abdominus (remember that girdle muscle we all spent time on, with the breathing exercises) before it tells any other muscle to move. For example, the mind tells the knee to lift but before the quadricep muscles initiates the lifting response the transverse abdominus receives the message to react by tightening for balance, control and strength. So essentially you brace yourself from your abs and then you initiate the movement, braced and centered. Which is why I constantly repeat "pull your navel in and wrap it around your spine." The more this response is practiced, the more proficient, balanced, coordinated, centered and strong you are plus the flatter your abs are.
There is a highly credentialed school of thought that advocates: "Every exercise, every movement and every activity you do is an abdominal exercise if you draw your belly button in and brace your abdominal muscles. Sit-ups and crunches waste your time and do not produce results. " I personally believe that there is not one formula for all bodies. For those that have no lower back problems, ever, plus perfect balance, coordination and that conditioned response to pull the navel in to the spine, I say yes, you don't need to do abs. But for us mere mortals who at times twist, bend and pull things (or children!) And forget to brace … well you still need to do your abs. Remember practice makes perfect and that bracing response at varying resistances and degrees is not innate but practiced. So based on this article I will let Jeanne be her own judge and in an informed way let her decide whether she needs to do her abs or not.
PS. If she decides to not do them I will monitor carefully her balance, strength, coordination and lower back response and if I do see any signs of weakness I will discuss with her the need to suffuse an ab workout intermittently.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Jeanne has since clarified that she does not want the muscle definition but most of all she does want any roundness of the belly. So, we entirely omitted crunches. By eliminating the crunches and working the abs through whole body movements and engaging the twisting and bending movements her abs have flattened out entirely again. She has not lost balance, strength or coordination and her conditioned response is now to pull navel in and brace her abs. She will not have that 6 pack definition that is so sought after, but that is her personal choice. For myself personally and all clients who choose to do so I will continue to do crunches, coming up and working only to the point where the navel can stay in towards the center of gravity (spine). If the abdominals pop out at all the belly will develop roundness, and that conditioned response to pulling in may be weakened. But isn't it great to know that you can be working your abs all day long, in whatever you are doing, just brace them and pull in! Voila! Flat abs.