Why Your Abs (‘6 Pack’) are Important? Part 1

I’m intrigued by the ‘6 Pack’.  Not the one that sits in the fridge, but rather the one that joins your rib cage to your pelvis.

From my experience, I have the impression that people focus on their ‘6 Pack’ quite a lot in the gym.  As a physio, I have some reservations regarding how much people focus on their rectus abdominus (abs) as well as some of the exercises people engage in to work this muscle, since some of these exercises can actually be detrimental to spinal health (read my post on sit ups and lower back pain).

However, the 6 pack is a part of our body and it is important.  The point is, how important?  What does do your abs do for you?  What happens if you over work your abs, or if your abs are weak or damaged?  In my blog I’m going to explore this muscle in more detail in future posts.

6 Pack, Abs, Rectus Abdominus
Image by Pixabay under Public Domain

Our starting point needs to be where your abs (‘6 Pack’/ Rectus Abdominus) are found in your body and what their basic function is.

Let’s start with where your abs are found.  If you look at the illustration below, you will see that the ‘6 Pack’ extends from the rib cage to the pelvis and is found in the front of the body, in the area commonly known as the ‘trunk’.

Rectus Abdominus, 6 Pack, Abs, Abdominal Anatomy
“Abdominal Wall” by Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body under Public Domain

What are the basic functions of your abs (‘6 Pack’) ?  What does it do for us?

1.  Your abs/ ‘6 Pack’ help to form the front boundary of your trunk, keeping your abdominal contents from falling out.  Quite an important job I would suggest – nobody wants stomach contents gurgling around their waist as they walk.

2.  In addition, when you contract your  abs/ ‘6 Pack’, the force of this muscle increases the internal pressure in your abdominal cavity (the area below your diaphragm and lungs and above your pelvis).  You use this increased pressure when you cough, laugh, empty your bladder and bowels, vomit (nice) and forcefully exhale.  All in all, important activities at specific times in our daily lives .

3.  We also use our abs/ ‘6 Pack’ to help us sit up from a reclined position, especially when our hands are not available to help us push up.  Mothers are very familiar with this particular function, especially when they’re getting up after lying down with a sleeping baby in their arms.

4.  Contracting your abs/ ‘6 pack’ also helps you to perform impressive gymnastic maneuvers such as the headstand ‘pike’ in this video.

Pike Headstand by Carl Paoli.  Used with written permission.  http://www.nakaathletics.com/

5.  Furthermore, on a superficial level, your abs are often used as a tool when looking for a mate.  Nothing shouts fit and healthy quite like lean, muscular abs.  Don’t believe me?  Take a walk along the beach, watch people in the gym, or watch the latest Calvin Klein ad.  That should assuage any doubt.

6.  Lastly, your abs/ ‘6 Pack’ is involved in your core muscle activation and its affect on producing/reducing lower back pain.  Since 80% of us humans are going to suffer from lower back pain in our lives, it might be worthwhile to understand how our stomach strength and exercises are helping or hindering us in this matter.  I will look at this more in a future post.  Want to read more?  Read my post on Why Your Abs are Important Part 2.

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