The Case Against Wanting, Having, or Getting Six-Pack Abs

Ab workout routines are a drag and generally pretty unhealthy. Also, surveys suggest women don't care. Maybe just calm down and eat burrito.

Forget everything you’ve read about the perfect abs workout, and abandon your dreams of a chiseled six-pack. You don’t need well-defined abs to be attractive, and the journey from flabby dad to sculpted Adonis is likely to leave you less healthy than when the six-pack was in the freezer.

Six-pack abs are “are not markers of health and wellness,” Sam Leahey, director of sports science at Precision Sport Science, told Men’s Health. “Mortality issues aren’t correlated with how many abs you can see in the mirror or the level of skin fold at the abs.”

Not only are defined abs not signs of good health, they can actively contribute to poor health—especially in the long term. “Maintaining a six-pack isn’t healthy for your body,” author and personal fitness trainer Leena Mogre told Times of India. “It is okay for actors because it is usually for a short period of time and also, they pay constant attention to their strict lifestyle, thanks to the fleet of staff that takes care of them.” In the same article, clinical nutritionist Pooja Makhija weighs in: “Maintaining a six-pack for months means that the essential body-fat percentage is compromised,” she says. “This also affects the lining of the internal organs,” and involves eliminating salt from your diet, which “can have negative repercussions.”

That’s largely because maintaining chiseled abs means having less than 10 percent body fat. Doctors recommend closer to 15 percent for men and 20 percent for women, and lower levels of body fat can reduce bladder control and bowel function, cause hormone imbalances, weaken your immune system, and increase your risk of injury.

Speaking of injuries, ab workout regimens are notoriously dangerous, too. “We’re beginning to see hunchback conditions because of excessive abdominal crunches,” Michael Yessis, an author and biomechanics and kinesiology specialist, told Fitternity. “Overdoing ab exercises can lead to a flattening of the lumbar curve, creating a weakened spinal structure.”

All for what? Studies increasingly show that women aren’t all that interested in men with six-pack abs, and prefer a little flab—or, at least, a flat and undefined belly. And although most people fantasize about movie stars and super heroes who have washboards where their tummies should be, surveys suggest that the average person looks for an average build in a partner.

So lose the belly fat. Work on your cardio. Live a healthy lifestyle, and stay fit. But abandon the abs pipe dream, and focus your workout on realistic, safe, and worthwhile goals.