“Six Pack Abs” Make You Less Efficient in Weightlifting

Training the abdominal muscles for a purely aesthetic goal is common in athletic training today, but is it actually useful?

Training the abdominal muscles for a purely aesthetic goal is common in athletic training today. Traditionally, core work is often based on developing musculature for a “six-pack” rather than balanced training for strength and stabilization. Overtraining the abdominals by performing excessive sit ups and other abdominal exercises can create an unnatural tightening resulting in an imbalance, where the rectus abdominus muscles are stronger than the transverse abdominus and the spinal erectors.

The rectus abdominis is a muscle running up and down on each side of the abdomen separated by a connective tissue called the linea. The rectus abdominis is a central muscle used to aid in posture, stabilization, and balance. The rectus abdominus is crucial for movements of flexion and extension of the lumbar spine. Balanced musculature of the abdominals and trunk area are necessary when receiving a weighted load in a stable position and support and stabilization of an overhead load.

A balanced program for weightlifters should include movements that develop stability, support, strength, and performance. When an athlete is working with max efforts, successful execution of technique is essential catching the weight and stabilizing the weight overhead. However, if an athlete cannot control and maintain the weight overhead, it will result in a missed lift.

An unbalanced strength and conditioning program can increase injuries as well as missed lift attempts. Overtraining in the abdominal area can create an imbalance that can lead to the development of a pelvis that is tilted in a posterior direction. Researchers note this can be very dangerous to athletes who aspire to lift heavy and do max efforts in training and competition. An overdeveloped rectus abdominis can lead to excessive trunk flexion and dumping of the weighted load in front and missing lifts. Researchers warn that overtime and athletes with this imbalance and repeat misses have the propensity of developing back injuries, back pain, strain, and bulging or ruptured disks.

Research in the Strength and Conditioning Journal explains that overtraining the rectus abdominus is problematic in weightlifting: “Many jerks are properly accelerated and driven straight through the legs and caught in the split position-only to find the weight out too far in front of the athlete because of slight trunk flexion.” This issue is often seen in athletes who have very tight abdominal muscles from improper abdominal training.

Strength and conditioning coaches should have a solid foundation in their programming training all musculature of the trunk, abdominals, and the low back. When designing a program for weightlifters it should include a balanced program that emphasizes strengthening the lower trunk flexors, lower trunk extensors, and trunk stabilizers.