Six pack abs have a negative effect on breathing

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(NaturalHealth365) Connecting from the ribs and breastbone all the way down to the pubic bone, the “six pack” muscle or rectus abdominus is worshiped as the icon of fitness in our culture. In reality, this muscle should be toned, but not tight. Flat sexy abs – which are the gold standard of sexiness – are detrimental to breathing, moving and good postural alignment.

Are we being misled by the fitness industry?

People interested in feeling good as well as looking good should focus on their rib cage. This powerful expansive keg of muscle and bone holds our head on top of our spine, and supports good posture and breathing habits.

Have you ever noticed how people with strong and tight six-packs often have their head stuck out front like a chicken? This forward head and shoulder carriage is caused by tight and short abdominal muscles pulling the breastbone towards the pubic bone. Not only does this distort posture, but it also creates a rigid structure at risk for injury, and actually speeds up poor posture syndromes that show up in the aging process.

“Sexy” abs could be causing serious breathing problems

Both tight and weak abdominal muscles can reduce the length of the trunk, leaving little space for our internal organs, while at the same time creating a line of pull in the fascia or connective tissue that draws the head and neck forward. With a dropped breastbone and lifted shoulder blades, breathing is inhibited which leads to an overall reduction of health and vitality.

Having strong rib cage muscles, in contrast, tones our waist because the contractions of the rib cage muscles also engage our oblique muscles in our waist area. When we breathe by deeply expanding our ribs, we stretch our diaphragm from its connection at the inner surface of the ribs. Even deeper muscles in our core engage on the exhalation that help to tone and support our spine.

It’s time to re-think about how we exercise our bodies

Most exercises for the abs use exhalations during the lifting and contracting, causing a chain reaction that shortens the entire front of the body. Exhaling while bending forward or coming up into an abdominal crunch compresses the spine and shortens the front of the body.

The way to get the KEG is to use the movements of inhalation when doing the active contracting part of ab strengthening or crunch exercises. Breathe in while you sit up!

When doing ab work from a reclining bent knee floor position, most people exhale as they contract their stomach to lift their shoulders and head off the floor. The way to get toned fluid abdominals and a lengthened waist is to inhale on the exertion up and exhale slowly as you return to the floor.

Does your exercise routine create too much physical tension?

Many systems of exercise advocate keeping the navel drawn in and tight to create good posture and core strength. Chronic tension in our abdomen from holding your belly in restricts the movement of our ribs and is an aberration of natural function that sabotages our breath, alignment, digestion, elimination, feelings, movements, and moods.

You simply do not need to pull in the navel to gain strength or create upright alignment. The most important function of our core muscles is to stabilize our spine and keep the rib cage over our hips. Through deep breathing and functional movements, you can encode your nervous system to enlist your core muscles as stabilizers, providing you with a built-in, internalized ring of support.

The best exercises are ones that simulate how we use our body in real life. If you cannot take a deep breath while doing an exercise or yoga pose, you are training your six-pack to stay contracted in an unnatural and harmful way.

Make sure you are exercising your breathing muscles and training your abs to stabilize and not flex or flatten the spine. Do deep breathing and get the KEG!

About the author: Michaelle Edwards is a licensed massage therapist, yoga teacher, musician, and postural therapist living on Kauai. She invented a new painless way to do Yoga, fitness, self-massage and stretching called YogAlign that incorporates natural spine alignment and breath work to create good posture from the inside out. She is devoted to giving people the tools to heal themselves. Michaelle has a new book/DVD combo called YogAlign – Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core available at her website –

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  • Jeff

    This is the second article in three weeks that criticized people with six pack abs (the other being a Natural News article written by Mike Adams on Oct. 14 dealing with the coming economic collapse). These are the only two articles in the past four years or so that I’ve disagreed with on Natural Health 365 or Natural News. Having a six pack is awesome. I’ve had perfect abs and virtually no body fat (probably 4% or 5%) since I was 13. I’m 28 now. I’ve always had a lot of energy, rarely get sick, and felt great about the way that I looked because of my ripped abdominal muscles. I’ll be honest, I maintain my six pack for vanity reasons more than total health, and if it means breathing incorrectly or not surviving the coming collapse, so be it. I’d rather die than not be ripped anyway. Don’t be jealous because you can’t get to and maintain this optimum level of fitness I’ve attained. Or better yet, do be jealous, and then strive to get there yourself. It beats the alternative.

  • Michaelle Edwards

    Hi Jeff, thanks for contributing to the discussion on the six pack abs. Please do not assume that I am not strong and toned in my abdominals or that people are envious. You can have tone in all of your abdominals and that includes the six pack abs but what is important is that they are wired to contract in a lengthened way that contributes more to stabilization of the spine than flexion. Flexion in the spine means that the lower back curve is flattened which gives you a flat looking butt and very little shock absorption. ( not very sexy either) You want balance between the flexors on the front of the body like the six pack and the extensors on the back of the body and sometimes people make the flexors on the front of the body dominant in the quest for beauty. Notice how most people get old and go forward? no reason to speed up the process.
    Many exercises to make the six pack tone and pop out shorten the muscle and if you just make a hisss sound as you exhale, you can feel what this contraction does. If you become rigid in that ‘stuck in the exhale ‘position, your head will be pulled forward through the fascia web that connects our whole body. This fascia is like the white cellulose in a grapefruit that keeps the round shape of the fruit even if you take the skin off. I think it is great that you are staying so toned but consider and make sure that your muscle tone is contributing to functional posture. Great posture makes people look very sexy by the way and is healthy too.
    Check out your posture to make sure that you are not robbing Peter to pay Paul. From the side is your ear in line with the middle of your shoulder and do your arms hang evenly or are they forward? You are young now but over the years if your abdominals are strung too tight in the front, your spine and joints will be compressed and you could be at more risk for injury, arthritis and all kinds of things you do not want to have as you get older.. go to my website at and check out my abs too. aloha and keep asking questions and use discernment when exercising to make sure that the moves contribute to the overall function of your structure.

  • Penny T.

    This is great information. I have always had a curved back and I am trying to get my abs stronger and more toned. I am almost 50 yrs. old but exercise almost daily. My question is if I do get my abs stronger (doing it correctly as you state above), will my curved back decrease or is there something else I need to be doing to minimize it? I am concerned that my curved back is not good for my posture.

  • Michaelle Edwards

    HI Penny, Glad you are finding the articles useful. I am not sure what you mean by curved back. If your upper back is excessively rounded or curved pushing your head forward, this needs to be corrected through breathing and therapeutic exercises. If you mean the lower lumbar/sacral curve, you must be cautious of training your abdominals to flatten it out since it is the main shock absorber between your trunk and your legs. If you feel like it is a short deep curve causing you to lock your knees, then the curve needs to be lengthened not flattened. If you go over my article on deep breathing, there is a breath practice that will traction and align your spine and actually lengthen but not flatten your lumbar curve. Any exercises that are built around you pushing your low back into the floor are quite harmful because you wind up programming your abs to shorten and create havoc all over your body. I write about it at length on my website and in my book and DVD. Check it out.

  • Jeff

    Thank you for your helpful response to my comment Michaelle. I will take your advice.