Archive for December, 2012

As a PT, a post like this is obligatory.

How do you get six-pack abs?

Two things: muscular hypertrophy and low bodyfat percentage. It’s as simple as that. How does it work so simply? Think about it – the “abs” are just a muscle, and like every muscle there are only two things you can do to alter its appearance: induce hypertrophy and make it bigger or reduce the layer of fat that rests on top of the muscle.

These same principles apply to the Rectus Abdominus (the abs).

People will tell you all kinds of things like:

  • You need to do┬ásit-ups. Like a lot of them, upwards of 50 reps. Over and over again.
  • You should be eating berries or “X” food, as these foods or magic objects will help “spot reduce” abdominal fat.
  • You need to work your obliques a lot, as these muscles will make your six-pack “pop”
  • “X” thing can be used in “Y” way to “melt” fat off your abdominal muscles/activate abdominal muscles more/push abdominals through

Everything listed above is utter bullshit. I’ll go into the reasons why spot reduction is a myth in another post, but trust me – it is a lie. More important is hypertrophy of the rectus muscles: 50+ reps will not make the muscle grow and it will not spot-reduce fat. All that it’ll due is put stress on your lumbar spine. Any exercises I mention you should do slow enough that the 6-8 reps that you will do burn and are a challenge near the end. We need to stress your muscles to the point that they increase in size. That’s how the most impressive abs are built.

To get a beautiful six-pack, all that is required is a little extra effort, conscientiousness about your habits, and about 7 extra minutes on your routine, explained here:

1. Don’t neglect squats and deadlifts:

The squat and the deadlift are integral to core strength and building your core as a whole. I put this first because there’s really no point in having six-pack abs if you’re just going to hurt yourself by having a weak back or intercostals. Essential to the squat and deadlift both is the concept of a respiratory “block.” You do this by inhaling and contracting your intercostal, oblique, and rectus abdominus muscles to build a stable “block” that keeps the spine in isolation from the rest of the exercise. The abdominals are held in isometric contraction agains the respiratory block you’ve created the whole time you’re even 1% into the squat: thus the squat is an excellent core exercise in addition to being a leg exercise.

2. Do ab rollouts

The ab rollout is an excellent exercise. I do them with my knees on a bench, making sure I focus on the abdominal contraction (they’re also excellent for your serratus muscles). Essentially you just take a barbell or an ab wheel and… roll it out, go out to arms about parallel to your body (no farther, as this can be injurious to your rotator cuff). They’re all I currently do.

3. Leg raises

Self explanatory: do them. they hit the lower abs in a way that the rollouts do not.

4. Eat Paleo

This means eat mainly proteins and fats. The notion that saturated fats are bad for you and unsaturated aren’t is mostly myth. Everything in moderation, and you’ll be fine – in fact, you need saturated fats: too little and you risk decreased testosterone levels. Carbs are your abs’ worst enemies. They cause insulin release and insulin causes fat deposition. Fat covers your abs. You want your abs visible. Solution? Eat more protein, more fats, less carbs. Simple.

5. Don’t skimp on your heavy compounds.

Forget running, forget swimming. There is nothing that burns calories and stokes your metabolic fire like heavy compound lifts. Squats, deadlifts, power cleans, snatches, and heavy presses all are excellent ways to supplement your fat-loss dieting. Without ruining your joints and energy levels like running does, these exercises build (highly metabolically active) muscle and burn fat off.

6. Don’t give up

It sucks, but nothing happens overnight. especially for me, I had to build muscle before I lost fat, and even then, it was hard to keep off. In my experience, you’ll hit a breaking point where you’re finally comfortable or competent enough to really turn your 80% up to 110% and really see results. Keep going and be real with yourself about the level of effort you’re applying and I promise you’ll eventually look the way you want. Determination is insurmountable.

Go for it: there’s really nothing that’s holding you back.

-Matt

Deadlifting 405 lbs without a belt is a terrible idea. Why this had not occurred to me before I’d done it several times is beyond my comprehension, but the important thing is that I know it now.

The failure to think through what I was doing, or, rather, laziness bought me a horrible back injury after my 405 single: I hadn’t warmed up and pulled it with awful form – bar away from my body, back engaged too early, rounded lumbar curve.

After the lift, my back was tight, hurt when I bent forward, and a tingling ran down the back of my glutes to my hamstrings. All classic signs of a slipped disk.

I dodged a massive bullet – now, two weeks after the injury I am 80% sure it’s not a slipped disk. This is what happened, for your learning pleasure.

Day 1 after the injury: tightness starts, hurts a little bit to bend over, pain and tightness localized in the lower left quadrant of my back.

Days 2-10: Like an idiot, I continue to lift. I don’t deadlift, but bent-over-rows and power cleans are especially aggravating to the injury.

Days 11-18: continuing to lift, its starting to occur to me that I may be doing more harm than good. After every lift, the pain is intense, but after a good night’s sleep, it seems to loosen up.

By now I had pretty much narrowed the injury to either a Quadratus Lumborum or Spinal Arrector tear or, far worse, a slipped lumbar disk.

Final days, including today: Looked up stretches for the lower back and such online. Lying on my bad, I did about three thirty second bent left leg crossovers to loosen my glutes and lower back. I then got off the bed and stood feet shoulder width apart in front of the wall and did an assisted hamstring stretch to loosen my hammies and glutes again. The final two things I did were massage my hip flexors and stand perpindicular to the wall and take my palm, raise it over my head, and touch the wall to my right (stretching my obliques, lats, and also hip abductors). I cannot tell you how much these helped.

I didn’t go to the doctor, which could have and probably should have been my demise. But I lucked out.

Point is, be tender with back injuries, and DO NOT LIFT WITH AN INJURED BACK. The back is something that will ruin your life if you really mess it up right.

Also very much of note, and I will end on this: when dealing with injuries (especially the back), look for other areas that may be related to the problem. For me, my excessively tight hamstrings had caused my comparatively weak left side back muscles to eventually give up and go into spasm (a state of constant contraction designed to minimize further injury). Just as referential pain can indicate problems elsewhere in the body, an injury to a certain part is not necessarily indicative of a problem with that specific part. An excellent example is knee pain associated with leg presses. The knee is not necessarily being injured to the extent you feel it, but, rather, the quadriceps muscle is in a state of high activity, while the equally important hamstring muscles are relatively relaxed. As the insertions of these muscles are both on the epiphysis of the tibia, both act on it. The tight quadriceps pulls on its connection to the tibial tuberosity and by the nature of human anatomy the patella (kneecap) as well. Normally these static contractions of the muscle tonus are equally balanced between the pull of the quadriceps and hamstrings, but with the hamstrings relaxed relative to the quadriceps, the condition called “runner’s knee” presents itself.

Thanks for listening as always!

-Matt