We see a lot of pictures of men and occasionally women showing off their rock-hard abs, where the abdominal wall is deeply muscled, tense and hard. This is supposed to be attractive and desirable. However, it makes me shutter, and that’s because I know more about the abdominal muscles and their function than they do.

The abdominal muscles have two main functions: to support the abdominal organs and to participate in respiration.

In regard to the first, the abdominal muscles support your organs against gravity and against the effect of various movements that you do. The abdominal muscles hold your organs in place. But, remember that these organs have movements of their own, that they are moving around inside your abdomen. So, although they need support, they also need freedom. You might say they need breathing room. And the conditions within your abdomen change a lot. At times, your stomach is just an empty sack. At other times, it’s a full sack. And when it’s full, there has to be an accommodation. So, you want the muscular wall in front to be well toned, for sure, but you also want it to be flexible and yielding.  Can it be too tight? You’re darn-tooting it can be too tight. You don’t want a 6-pack there; you want a well-toned trampoline. The trampoline is in front rather than below, but it’s still like a trampoline. You don’t want your organs to be encumbered and restricted by it. You don’t want a rigid wall there.

Regarding the second function, pertaining to respiration, the abdominal muscles contract when you expire. They help push the air out.  But then, at the end of expiration, when the next cycle is about to begin, the abdominal muscles have to relax. That’s because the diaphragm has to descend to create more space and a vacuum in the lungs. Remember that air is under pressure, and all it takes to get it to move into your lungs is to create a vacuum. You shouldn’t have to suck the air in. It should go in all by itself.

So, in the process of breathing, the abdominal muscles are alternately contracting and relaxing, contracting and relaxing, contracting and relaxing, over and over again, in an endless cycle until you take your last breath.  So, you want the abdominal muscles to be well toned, but you don’t want them to be overly tense and hard. You want a very easy, fluid, seamless transition between the two. An overly tense, rigid, and contracted abdominal wall is not going to support respiration as well as one that is toned, springy, resilient, with a quality of ease to it. You want support in your abdomen; but you also want ease.

So, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and overly contracted and seemingly spasmodic abdominal muscles is definitely not something you should want or pursue.

So, work at staying in shape, but don’t get your freak on about it. In other words: DON’T BECOME A FREAK.