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 a burrito.

Originally Published: 
A man with six-pack abs standing on a scale.
Mikael Vaisanen/Getty

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-packs require you to a) work out those abs until they’re sculpted, and b) restrict calories and lose body fat until you can actually see the muscle. Doing so can compromise your health, from a higher risk of injuries to mental health issues.

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.

In the same article, clinical nutritionist Pooja Makhija weighed in: “Maintaining a six-pack for months means that the essential body-fat percentage is compromised,” she says. Fat is needed to protect your internal organs, insulate you from the cold, and release metabolism-related hormones. Getting six-pack abs also involves eliminating salt from your diet, and some amount of salt is necessary for nerve and muscle function, a healthy blood pressure, and balance the level of fluids in your body.

Maintaining chiseled abs means having less than 10% body fat. Doctors recommend closer to 15% for cisgender men and 20% for cisgender women. Lower levels of body fat can reduce bladder control and bowel function, cause hormone imbalances, weaken the immune system, and increase your risk of injury.

Speaking of injuries, ab workout regimens are notoriously dangerous. “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.” If you’re doing crunches as part of your usual workout, you’re probably fine. But if you’re trying to blast your abs with them, that’s when it can get dicey.

When it comes to getting abs though, diet is a bigger factor than exercise. To have the low body fat required for a sick-pack, you’ll need to follow a strict diet, which will probably get in the way of your social life and may not be so great for your mental health. After all, athletes are at greater risk for mental health issues, and restrictive eating and overly intense exercise are two major reasons why.

And for some people, achieving visible abs is all but impossible. Genetics determines how deep the muscle in your belly is and the makeup of your muscle fibers. So for some people, a six-pack is just not in the cards, according to Everyday Health.

All that work probably isn’t worth it either. Studies increasingly show that women aren’t all that interested in men with six-pack abs. Many even prefer a little flab — or, at least, a flat and undefined belly. And although most people fantasize about movie stars and superheroes 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 six-pack pipe dream, and focus your workout on realistic, safe, and worthwhile goals.

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