A rock-hard midsection is hard to get, but once you're there you'll think it was worth the effort to get there. It's like gold - it's hard to get your hands on, so you just appreciate it more once you do! And why not? Everybody knows that there's nothing more head-turning today than being able to present a complete package of visible abs, perhaps even putting the good ol' biceps-pose on second place when it comes to showing off your shape.
And being an observant reader, you probably know by now that spot-reduction of fat simply doesn't work, and that in order to get the abs out you have to lose the fat. We're talking overall fat loss, but as I've covered this matter extensively before I'll focus on what you want to bring out in the open. Simply put - How to get buff, powerful abs.
Let's start by discussing what does NOT work. And in order to do this, we have to take a good look at the basic anatomy of your body. Let's begin with determining that the "abs," or Rectus Abdominis, is really only ONE muscle. It stretches from the bottom of your ribcage down to a low/front point on the pelvis. The "sixpack" is just sections of one, and only one, muscle. It's like your biceps, but with partitions. The only action the abs - or any muscle - can take, is to contract. And just as you can't contract HALF your bicep, you'll see that you of course cannot contract HALF your abs as well.
Right here we're dispelling the age-old myth of training "upper abs" and "lower abs." I mean, hey, how could you? And if you can't see your lower abs, that just means you've got fat covering them. Sorry buddy, but you'll just have to face being like 99% of the rest of us - extreme diet is the only way to get'em out!
As the abs can only contract, the function of the muscle is to decrease the distance between your pelvis and your ribcage. And in order to do this, the side-effect is either that your torso bends forward, or that your pelvis gets tilted upwards, or a combination of both. Or to make it simple: Rounding your back, which is the opposite of arching your back. This is idiot-simple, so please bear with me - I DO have a point.
Now, remember an article I wrote about Ilio-psoas, one of the main hip-flexors? It attaches to the back of your pelvis and, most importantly, to your lower lumbar spine. THIS muscle's main function is to raise the leg in front of you, or "flexing the hip-joint." It's attached between your spine and your hip-bone, and when it contracts your leg raises. Imagine a rope tied around your thigh and then pulling it backwards, towards your lower back, the leg is raised.
Ilio-psoas works the same way, except for the the pulling action is done in the middle, not in end which you're holding on to. It contracts, and the pulling action responsible for raising the leg - is found in the other end as well, pulling on your spine! I've got news for you: Your legs are heavy! And from a biomechanic point of view, you end up with quite a weight to pull! We're talking hundreds of pounds here, and I shit you not!
If your lower lumbar spine is pulled forward/downward, we end up with an arch. And an arch with hundreds of pounds of pulling force, well, that could simply break your spine right off! What muscle is the antagonist, thereby keeping your back from breaking? The same muscle that does the opposite action - rounding the back - namely the abs! So when your Ilio-psoas is working, as in flexing your hip-joints, your abs are protecting your spine by working statically and resisting the arching.
The more the Ilio-psoas pull, the more the abs has to work statically. Unfortunately, static work doesn't build muscle. If so, you'd get great results from loading on 400 lbs in the bench press, holding it statically with straight arms for a while and then racking it. You might get a slight increase in strength, but I'm pretty sure no pro bodybuilder built his chest using that method.
What This Means
So what is all this coming down to? Well, by now we know that training the abs is done by decreasing the distance between the ribcage and the pelvis. And we also know that flexing the hip joints, as in raising the legs, is NOT decreasing the distance between the ribcage and the pelvis. There you have the hip-flexor muscles, and Ilio-psoas in particular, doing all the action, and that action just happens to be the very opposite of the abdominal action.
Therefore, the abdominals are not trained in a productive way, but merely exhausted in prolonged statical work in preventing your spine from breaking off. This usually results in a catabolic, lactic-acid buildup, which is misinterpreted as evidence of the ab-training being effective.
Say goodbye to hanging knee-raises, straight-leg raises, knee-raises off the edge of a bench and every other fancy knee/leg-raise action you're getting bombarded by in the magazines advocating the pro's programs. That doesn't necessarily mean they're stupid, but rather underlines the importance of finding out the FACTS, not just going with the crowd and accepting myths without questioning.
In part two we're going down to business on what really WORKS, how to avoid excessive strain on the spine when training abs and why the classic sit-up might not be a very good idea. And how COULD I resist trashing the infomercials' "Ab-Destroyer 3001 Megadeath HyperOverdrive Flab-Remover"-kind of machines while I'm at it? :-)