Stress is a part of modern life, and it’s a double-edged sword: we need some pressure in order to perform at our best, but too much can wear us down and maybe even kill us. But did you know that stress can wreak havoc on your muscle-building efforts and especially on your abs?
Here is why stress the silent killer may be wrecking your six pack, despite your best efforts.
Abs Are Muscle
If you look at some of the exotic ab-training routines in the muscle magazines, you might think that abs are different from the rest of your bodyparts. The truth is, though, that your rectus abdominis is just a muscle, and you need it to grow larger and stronger if you hope to develop a six pack that stands out in a crowd.
One of the main problems with excessive emotional and psychological stress is that it causes a rise in the catabolic hormone cortisol. Studies have shown, and gym experience tells us, that cortisol fights with testosterone to control your muscular growth balance.
When cortisol wins, as when you’re stressed, you can LOSE muscle mass, and that goes for your abs as well as your biceps.
You Need to Be Lean
Even if you think you already have enough mass on your ab muscles, you need to be really lean — 10-12% — in order to sport a great six pack. The cortisol that floods your body during stressful times not only tends to break down muscle tissue, it also “helps” you store fat.
That’s a survival mechanism, because your body perceives stress the silent killer as a threat to your well-being and wants to make sure you have some reserve energy on hand if you need it. That reserve is your stored body fat.
What’s more, stress has also been associated with reduced thyroid function, increased systemic inflammation, an inability to use leptin — a fat-burning hormone — properly, and ramped up the metabolic burden on your vital organs.
All in all, periods of high stress can leave you weaker and fatter, and they can send your abs into hiding.
What to Do?
The good news is that stress is one of the secret keys to building a six pack. Everyone diets and exercises, but you will get a leg up if you can also control your stress levels.
How do you do that?
Well, start with a healthy diet of wholesome, unprocessed foods and make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep per night. You also need to stay hydrated — your urine should be nearly clear throughout the day.
There are also plenty of sources of information about de-stressing available on the internet, and you can pick up some good general suggestions like these at WebMD.
As much as possible, you should avoid situations that you know will cause you undue stress, but there are some stressors — like work — you just cannot avoid. If you find yourself becoming really gripped on a regular basis, it’s probably a good idea to seek help from your doctor. He or she should be able to connect you with other professionals who can help.
However you handle your stress, just remember that some is good, but too much can be disastrous. Keep it under control, and your abs AND health will thank you.