The Key to a Great Six-Pack? Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll
Open up just about any health related magazine and you'll find an article on how to improve the appearance of your abdominal muscles. Lots of exercises - some simple, some elaborate, some useful, some which just get you better at doing the exercise but likely have no particular benefit in the real (or athletic) world. Regardless, the truth is that the appearance of your abs is largely dependent on your body composition. If you're carrying around too much fat, your abs will be obscured and no matter how well developed they are, they won't look like much. Plank, crunch, ab-roll to your heart's content; you still won't look any different.
Ironically enough, a recent issue of
Cosmo for Boys Men's Fitness - a publication known for nearly monthly instruction on how to get a washboard midsection - examined the Best Rock Star Abs. They awarded first prize to none other than James Newell Osterberg, Jr., better known as Iggy Pop.
The fact that he looks so impressive serves to shine a light on how frivolous many of those "Six Weeks to Six Pack Abs" articles are. To be sure, Mr. Pop's appearance is impressive for anyone, and almost implausible for a guy eligible for Social Security next year, but it also helps prove my point since I doubt that Mr. Pop subscribes to Men's Fitness or their methods. On the other hand, he does have a long history of drug abuse and indiscriminate sex with groupies. (In fact Anthony Keidis is listed as Men's Fitness' 3rd best Rock Star Abs, and he too has been known to dabble with dope and loose women, so perhaps we're onto something.) While the article mentions that Mr. Pop swims 200 yards and does Tai-Chi, I doubt that those workouts have a heck of a lot to do with how he looks. Mr. Pop's appearance is likely due to a number of factors (muscle fiber type and body composition among others) - not his extensive exercise regimen.
That's not to say that endurance athletes (and real people) can't benefit from good core strength. But let's not get it twisted. Core training done for a few minutes, a few times a week as a supplement to your endurance training is more than enough. I have repeatedly told anyone who asks (and plenty who didn't ask) that many of the ab exercises you see in magazines, videos, classes etc. are more style than substance. If your goal is to win a planking contest, by all means get out that stopwatch and plank, plank, plank. If your goal is to have an impressive six-pack to show off on the beach, be sure to get your body fat down too. If your goal is to swim, bike and run faster, I'd suggest that you focus your training on swimming, biking and running, and supplement with a little strength work.