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The Six Pack Myth

However, before you go down this road you need to evaluate how realistic the goal of a permanent six pack is, in fact ask yourself if all is as it is portrayed or have you been duped into believing the biggest fitness myth of all time?

Saying great abs is a myth might seem a little extreme but if you take actors as an example, the washboard stomachs they sometimes posses do indeed motivate us but what we some times forget is that their chiselled six packs are usually only a temporary measure achieved to give the results wanted for a particular film role and are not a permanent fixture. This is in important consideration as it means although the actor has undergone the necessary training and diet to achieve this goal he has done so knowing full well that this rigorous lifestyle is not an everlasting arrangement.

To illustrate the point we can use Brad Pitt as an example, we all know what tremendous shape he got into for films such as fight club and snatch and he should be congratulated for his achievement. However, it is a fact even this great role model doesn't walk around with such fantastic definition 52 weeks of the year. What Brad Pitt does do is get in great shape if and when his films require it and then for only a short period of time.

There are many other actors who demonstrate this type of transformation such as Hugh Jackman's fantastic muscular definition for his role as Wolverine in the X-men films and Gerard Butler's for his role in 300. However, what they all have in common is the temporary nature of their great bodies. This is why Butler was reported to have spent 4 months getting into shape for this role which is commendable but at the same this shows that if he was in such fantastic shape all year round he wouldn't have needed to so.

Another point to remember is it is not just actors and celebrities that have temporary abs because so do many athletes particularly the ones who made such great definition popular in the first place namely body builders. It is a misconception to think that the abdominal definition body builders show us at competition time is there throughout the year because this is not the case. The reality is all body builders spend a large part of the year consuming more calories than their bodies need so that they can build muscle tissue. They then begin dieting as early as 3 months before a competition to ensure that their bodies are ripped to sheds on the big day. This was brought to my attention many years ago with the Legendary Tom Platz, I remember watching him in the 1985 Mr Olympia competition and was in awe over his great six pack. However, I watched an interview of Tom Platz filmed sever months after the Olympia competition and to be brutally honest he looked fat. He explained that he was in the muscle building cycle of his training and consumed huge amounts of food for this goal.

Other examples of fantastic abs that are only temporary can be seen with sportsmen such as boxers. As someone who has boxed I can tell you that the great shape a boxer gets in when he steps into the ring for the fight is only the result of a strict 6-12 week exercise and diet routine designed specifically to allow him to box at the lightest weight possible. Once the fight is over the boxer will neither follow a strict diet nor have great abs until he begins training for the next fight.

Although it is true that many sports stars do have great abs throughout the year it has to be remembered that they have two advantages that most people do not. One, is they are profession athletes who spend many hours each day doing intensive exercise which keeps their fat percentage in the single digits even without a restrictive diet. An example would be the famous marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie who is noted for consuming large quantities of ice cream, however, he also says that because of the number of hours he spends running every day the problem he has is getting enough calories to maintain his weight.

Two, these sportsmen have the genetics for building muscle and burning fat which is what makes them exceptional athletes in the first place. However, just because athletes who earn their living doing hours of exercise each day and have the genetics can possess great abs this does not necessarily mean that this is a realistic goal for the rest of us.

To get the six pack look you have to ensure a calorie deficit and there are only two ways to do this. Option one is to do what athletes do and spend many hours exercising each day to burn up the excess calories and so reduce your fat percentage but as mentioned earlier this is not practical for most people as work and family commitments prevent it.

Option two is to consume fewer calories than your body would need to maintain its present weight and combine this with a reasonable amount of exercise. This is the most practical way of getting great abs and it will work for most but it can take a considerable amount of time to achieve if your genetics mean you do not have a low body fat percentage.

However, if this way of developing abs is guaranteed to work and is practical for most people to undertake you might be wondering why I say we have succumbed to a fitness myth? It is because as mentioned earlier the people who inspire us to take up this challenge only do so themselves for a limited period of time and for a specific purpose. This is significant because any sacrifice is easier to bare if you know in advance that it is only for a short period of time and for a worthwhile goal.

The problem is that when the six pack look is presented as a life style option the goal presents a very different challenge because the sacrifices will need to be indefinite and therefore go against all our natural instincts. It is a scientific fact that once you have your abs you have to keep your calorie intake to no more than maintenance level and combine this with regular exercise permanently or your abs will slowly but surely disappear. Whilst participating in regular exercise is not a problem for most people and is very beneficial anyway, limiting yourself to a certain number of calories indefinitely and denying yourself all the foods you want is both mentally exhausting and unnatural.

I say unnatural because no other animal would deliberately try to lose weight or stop eating if it was still hungry and there was more food available. This is an important point because it is only over the last few decades that we as a species have had the need to do so. Up until that point we would either walk many miles per day hunting for what food we could get or we would toil all day in the fields to get enough food to survive. However, we now live in a world were most of us can eat as much food as we want for very little physical effort and so are faced with the prospect of going against are basic instinct of eating when and were we want to an alternative lifestyle were we constantly abstain from eating when our survival instinct is telling us the opposite.

It is this contradiction that causes most of us to feel anxious, depressed and suffer cravings which is why the vast majority of people can not stick to such a regime in defiantly.

Genetics - Another important consideration that promoters of the six pack myth don't often mention is that success is largely dependent on the genetics of the person involved. The contrast in the physical make up of individuals can be massive and we all know this but for some reason ignore this fact when it comes to the acquisition of great abs. For example, the contrast in the physiques of athletic stars is varied to say the least and because of this we wouldn't expect a marathon runner to be able to throw an object as far as a discus thrower and conversely we wouldn't we expect a discus thrower to be able to run long distance in anywhere near the time of a marathon runner. Although both athletes are dedicated, and undoubtedly possess the will to win we immediately accept that because of their genetic blue prints they could not possibly compete successfully in each others sports.

This is also why we accept that a high jumper and gymnast would both struggle if they swapped sports. The point is we know that because of the genetics athletes possess they are only suited for certain sports. We should also accept that because abdominal definition requires a fat level percentage of lower than 10% there are only a minority of people who have the genetic blue print to obtain and particularly maintain such a low fat percentage and still be able to follow a healthy long term lifestyle.

The next question to answer is, if the acquisition of a permanent six pack is an unrealistic goal for the majority of people why is it promoted so predominately by the fitness, media and entertainment industries?

The answer could be that all these industries are after all businesses that require a profit to be made to exist. Therefore, creating and promoting the holly grail of great abs will ensure that there are always clients looking for the secrets that will give them this allusive goal. For example, fitness magazines require a never ending supply of new articles and training methods to ensure their survival. Without new programs and methods to feature there would be no reason for people to buy the magazine on a monthly basis as they would soon have the information they want. To combat this dilemma fitness magazines offer new ideas every month and for abdominal definition this means the latest exercise and diet plans. If it was accepted that getting great abs and maintaining them is predominantly a matter of following the correct diet for long enough and sticking to an easily put together program of cardio and abs exercises the need to buy magazines for information declines.

However, the classic promoters of the six pack myth are the companies that sell the home abs machines that promise to give you rock hard abs with only 5 minutes of training per day and all for a very reasonable price of 199.00 or something similar. These companies do sometimes recommend that you should follow the correct diet to ensure success but what they don't tell you is that if you followed the correct diet and did some basic abs exercises the results would be exactly the same as with the machines because it is the diet you follow which is the most important thing in obtaining abs and without it no exercise will work. However, with the right diet plan pretty much any abs exercise will do the job.

Finally before you succumb to the six pack myth you should ask yourself if this is even a healthy goal in the first place. The answer for most people is it isn't because unless you are genetically gifted and have a low body fat level naturally you would be condemning yourself to adhere to a strict diet permanently which is unrealistic and can cause depression, anxiety and weight gain once you quit the diet as most people inevitably do. It is also true that the majority of people who undertake abs training neglect lower back exercises and this imbalance can cause a flattening of the lumbar curve and or lower back pain "We're even beginning to see hunchback conditions because of excessive abdominal crunches," claims biomechanics and kinesiology specialist Michael Yessis, Ph.D., author of Kinesiology of Exercise (Masters Press, 1992).

So is the "six pack" the big fitness myth of all time?

Yes is the short answer, why? Because the idea that a six pack is a goal that is obtainable by everyone and for an indefinite period is an allusion that is well promoted but impossible. The fact is that most actors, sports stars and bodybuilders who have a fat level percentage of less than 10% which is what great abs demands have it sporadically with a certain goal in mind weather that be to win a bodybuilding competition, display a certain look for a film or be able to compete in a certain weight category. The rest of us should concede that although with the right diet, exercise plan and dedication we might very well be able to achieve the same success for a short period of time, the likely hood of us managing to sustain such a lifestyle is practically non existent; the 95% failure rate of all diets confirms this. It is also true that the more restrictive the diet is the less likely hood there is of adhering to it.

It therefore seems that the six pack can only be maintained by either professional athletes who spend many hours everyday participating in intense exercise and therefore keep their calorie intake at body maintenance level without dieting or those people who are lucky enough to have a genetic blue print that ensures their fat levels are naturally low (usually young men between the ages of 16-25). Perhaps we should do as actors do and only undertake the task of washboard abs only if we have a specific reason to do so such as a holiday and then accept that they might disappear as fast as they arrived. However, what is possible and what we should always strive for is an acceptable body fat percentage that can be maintained with a fulfilling healthy diet and a reasonable amount of exercise. If we do that we are pursuing a goal that will keep us active, happy and healthy and be sustainable at the same time.



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