Skinny vs. Showy Abs

A long, long, long, long, LONG time ago when I first started working out, I had numerous goals.

Obviously I wanted a huge bench (like every teenage boy does).

Second, I want to have big arms (again, like every teenage boy does).

And last but not least, I wanted to develop that “6-pack” in my abs.

Ah, the good ‘ol days…

And if we’re being honest, I think we can all admit that a 6-pack looks great.

But here’s the thing – those 6-pack muscles (the rectus abdominus) may look awesome when they’re lean and exposed, but they don’t do a ton for you with regards to improving and optimizing movement.

In this short video, I describe the difference between what I call “skinny” and “showy” abs, and how to get your skinny abs to do more of the work for you!

Now that you’ve watched the video, here are a few extra thoughts to consider:

  • The rectus abdominus isn’t a major player in aligning the ribcage and pelvis. If you look at the rectus abdominus, it doesn’t have a ton of pull on either the ribcage or the pelvis. Therefore if we want to to optimize movement (and stack the ribcage on the pelvis), we should be more focused on our “skinny” abs – our obliques and transverse abdominus.
  • When performing most exercises, don’t allow the core to “shorten” or “crunch.” Instead, think about keeping the spine in a neutral alignment, reaching, and working to stack the ribcage on top of the pelvis.
  • If someone is struggling with the ribs or chest popping up, cue the client/athlete to reach and drive the ribcage back. It might help to place your hand on their upper back to give them a target position to shoot for.
  • If someone is losing position of the pelvis, cue the client/athlete to exhale and lift the belt buckle up. If they’re doing a plank, you can also “rake” their abdominals using their hands. If they’re on their back, consider placing your hand in between the floor and their lower back, while asking them to “crush” your hand by engaging the abdominals.

Proper positioning of the pelvis and ribcage are key, and if you can get your clients and athletes to better utilize their “skinny abs,” I guarantee you’ll see more long-term success in your training programs.

I hope this helps and have a great day!

All the best,

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  1. Hey Mike,

    A quick point of clarification… in your Plank Variation on this video, it doesn’t look like it’s possible to maintain 3 points of contact on the back.

    Is this just because this is a variation and you’d program this accordingly, or does this go for all of your Planks and you find that engaging obliques and TA more important than maintaining 3 points?

    I also noticed your Bear exercise is almost an extreme version of this too.

    Thanks as always!

    • Gary –

      On a plank, I DO want 3 points of contact – but with the way Danny’s spine is currently aligned, I’m just not going to get that.

      Keep in mind it’s important to have a model of what our “ideal” is, but it’s rare that everyone will fit into that.

      On a bear, I do want a bit more flexion (versus a truly neutral spine), so the coaching and cuing there is slightly different.

      Hope that helps!

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