When speaking on this subject the first thing to do is clarify the fact that the two desired descriptions in the title are not the same thing and are not mutually exclusive! You can have a flat stomach without a six pack and a six pack may well not be flat! The definition of a six pack is that the fat collation upon the belly is low enough for the bulges of the rectus abdominis to show through the skin, while the definition of flat stomach is for the stomach to be…. well, flat! Which ever of these looks is the aim, they both require a low amount of belly flat, unfortunately there are no quick fixes for this and it is down to the standard two factors of exercise and diet. Belly fat has been linked by certain studies to stress, whether this be due to insulin production to curb high cortosil levels or other theories.
The Flat Stomach
As shown in the first picture above, a flat stomach does not necessarily show each ridge of a six pack, neither is the flat stomach a result of hundreds of sit-ups and crunches. The simple truth of the matter is that (putting aside the issue of excess belly fat) the main reason for people not having a flat stomach is laziness! This sounds harsh, and it is, however I am not talking about laziness as in people not working out enough or sitting on their backside all day. Laziness in this context is the lack of effort put into correct posturing ensuring that the abdominals are performing their correct role – supporting the spine. It is no coincidence that those who (regardless of the amount of belly fat they have) display a paunch also complain of lower back pain and have a larger than recommended curvature of their lower spine. One of the first things that I noticed upon taking up Classical Pilates with Michael Bailey (www.michaelbailey.co.uk) was that within the first few sessions not only did I feel taller, my back feel more free and all of my movements feel more solid and controlled, but also I looked like I had lost a stone in weight from my belly! I am not suggesting that everyone needs to take up pilates to achieve a flat stomach (there are plenty of other methods out there), but if you wish to achieve a flat stomach what you do need to do is activate those muscles, tightening them inwards with the feeling of pushing the very bottom section and belly button against your spine. This should be concentrated upon during any form of training, but it is also important that you are aware of it during every day tasks…. when you are walking and specifically when you are sitting at your desk. In my opinion a flat stomach is a habit, not something you have pay out hundreds of pounds for miracle cures for.
The Six Pack
Before getting into how to achieve the Six Pack, it is important to understand both the construction of this body region and the factors effecting its appearance. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard poorly educated fitness instructors wrongly referring to lower and upper abs as if they are separate muscles. The appearance of the six pack is not caused by a bunch of individual muscles that can be individually worked, they are in fact only two long muscles that reach from the top to the bottom. The illusion of the six pack is caused by connective tissue that goes from side to side. Therefore to reveal a six pack you need to do at least 2 of 3 things…. with the constant task being removal of belly fat as previously discussed.
The first item to mention is the tightening of the connective tissue that causes the indentations. This is done by working the sides of the torso, both from stabilizing functions and dynamic. Exercises such as chin ups put the obliques and other abdominal muscles under extreme strain (while performing their stabilizing function) in order to maintain the integrity of the body during the exercise . Dynamic exercises involving twisting, such as the wood chop or rotating sit-ups (bicycle crunch) will also build these muscles, thus tightening the connective tissue and increasing the depth of the indents.
The second item (which will work best if it is attempted following the first) is to actually increase the size of the rectus abdominals. To achieve this you will need to put these muscles under an increased amount of pressure as they are more than sufficient at their natural size to lift, lower and twist your body-weight. Therefore external resistance from a pilates reformer, weights, a medicine ball, etc will be required. Leg raises with an attached weight or a seated medicine ball twist would be good examples of this.
Please feel free to contact me with any queries, questions or suggestions for improvement or indeed to book a session at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Kevin Archibald