Chiselled and defined Abs: we all want them; we covet those that have them; we spend hours in the gym trying to get them. Why?
A defined and muscular torso is an attractive torso (just pop to any of Gibraltar’s beaches to see the many proud six-packs on display!). It is a sign that the person is health-conscious, physically fit and, dare I say it, virile? Human beings are extremely receptive to visual stimulus, and six-pack abs can really... Stimulate!? Yes, it may seem shallow. Yes, it may seem superficial. Yes, it may seem animalistic. But remember, in essence, it’s what we are - a bunch of animals (some more than others!) - and our instinct finds attraction in the tell-tale signs of a suitable, potential mate. Healthy, fit, virile... Yep, it’s all in the abs! Hence our obsession with flat tummies.
Animal attraction aside, having a toned torso also has the added benefit of reducing your risk of heart disease, painful and stressed joints, and, your clothes will fit better! Waist size (as established in our previous article, BMI Demystified) is perhaps the most effective indicator of obesity. Therefore, it stands to reason, that highly defined abs mean a low bodyfat percentage.
In fact, if your abs are popping through your t-shirt it is highly probable that you have a bodyfat percentage of 7% or less (this seems to be the magic number for proper cheese-grating abdominal muscles!). However, having less than 7% bodyfat does come with a health warning. It is unhealthy to maintain such a low bodyfat percentage for extended periods of time as the body naturally needs a small fat repository to prevent it from going into starvation mode.
Models with rippling torsos usually spend two weeks prior to their photo shoot, eating boiled chicken breasts with broccoli and little else, whilst intensifying their weightlifting and ab workouts, and even reducing their water intake so as not to become bloated. As soon, as the photo shoot is over, however, they return to some semblance of a balanced diet as their bodies have effectively been fast-tracked into starvation mode and all this does is break down all that wonderful muscle you have spent so long trying to build.
Building abdominal strength is a major focus for most gym-goers; there’s always time for some abs down the gym. It not only looks and feels good to have strong abs, it also serves the very useful purpose of giving you improved posture. Without going into too much detail, there is a whole spectrum of abdominal exercises ranging from old-school situps and crunches in all their wonderful varieties, to new-age core stability workouts such as the plank, the side bridge with their multitudinous variations, to weighted versions of all of the above and some alternative, lower-ab-focused, leg raises. There really is no shortage of workouts that you can do to develop core strength, stability and muscle definition, and any visit to YouTube will provide you with a whole host of 8-min Ab Workouts and ideas on how to work your core differently and still maintain correct form whilst doing so (just be careful whose advice you subscribe to).
Sadly, with so much focus on what is going on in front of the torso, there is very little attention that gets paid to the sides (the obliques) and the lower back. Thinking back to our Body Balance article, it is important to workout and challenge opposing muscle groups in order to achieve an all-round, balanced physique. It is therefore essential to throw in some regular lower back exercises to counterbalance all the abdominal work. Back raises, leg raises and deadlifts, amongst others, will all help to add strength to the lower back, further improving posture and helping those abs pop out even more! Complete the core work by focusing on your sides with some side crunches, oblique raises, Russian twists and other lateral workouts, and you will be rock solid in no time - chiselled front (popping a nice V-cut) and strong toned back (bye-bye love handles!).
Maintain a healthy, balanced diet of small regular portions of food with plenty of protein, fruit and veg, drink a couple of litres of water a day and rotate your workouts between high intensity cardio and focused strength and weights sessions to appreciate maximum results. It’s not easy, but then nothing worthwhile is! So start chiselling away at that torso and start turning heads around Gibraltar, you animal!