Last updated on February 14th, 2023 at 11:20 am
Have you ever noticed how tight your abs feel whenever you flex them?
Feels good, right?
I’m sure this has led you to ponder whether you should constantly flex your abs to produce a beautifully sculpted midsection.
Here’s what you need to know.
Flexing your abs and performing an isometric contraction has many benefits, but it is not advisable to do this constantly. You can strengthen your core, increase endurance, improve posture, and even help to eliminate lower back pain by regularly flexing your abs. However, it also increases intra-abdominal pressure, which causes your internal organs to push up against your diaphragm and down against your pelvic floor muscles.
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What Does Flexing Your Abs Do?
Flexing your abs is a way to perform an isometric contraction, which is one of the fundamental exercises to train your abs and core.
In fact, isometric ab contractions have many benefits including:
- Strengthening Your Core
- Increasing Ab and Core Endurance
- Improving Posture
- Helping to Eliminate Lower Back Pain
So, as you can see, it certainly makes sense to flex your abs on a regular basis.
With that being said, you should never constantly flex your abs.
In fact, this can actually be quite harmful to your health, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
Additionally, performing isometric ab contractions constantly won’t provide the benefits that you’re hoping for.
More is Not Always Better
I guess it’s human nature to find something that works well (or that we like) and then believe that doing it even more will produce better results.
You know what I mean – you’ve hit a great leg workout, so you decide to extend it by an hour.
The result is you can hardly walk, your legs haven’t got any bigger, and you won’t be able to train them again for another week at least.
Then again, you eat one slice of cake, it makes you feel great, so you eat the entire cake in one sitting.
The result is you don’t feel so good anymore.
So, just because flexing your abs makes them feel tighter, and perhaps your waist even feels a little smaller, doesn’t mean that constantly doing it every minute of the day is going to produce rock-hard, six-pack abs.
Another way to look at the potential results is to compare flexing your abs to planks.
When performing a plank you will flex your abs, but you also engage your entire core, while supporting a high percentage of your body weight, as well as “fighting” against the forces of gravity.
This will build core strength and will stress the muscles enough to build them up.
However, flexing your abs doesn’t do this, so you can’t expect the same results.
I think it’s also important to stress that you’ll never produce visible abs if you’re carrying excess body fat.
So, you can flex your abs all you like, but you won’t be burning sufficient body fat, which typically comes down to calories consumed and your activity levels.
This is why achieving a six-pack is more about eating at a calorie deficit, full-body resistance-based workouts, and some specific ab work too.
The Dangers of Constantly Flexing Your Abs
Okay, so I’m definitely not saying that flexing your abs isn’t a good thing, but it’s just not something you should do constantly.
In truth, when looking to work your abs and core you should take them through a variety of movements, rather than focusing on just one.
So, this would involve spinal flexion, spinal extension, rotation, pelvic tilting, abdominal bracing, etc.
Plus, you have to remember that the abs are a muscle just like any other muscle group in the body.
This means that in order for them to grow and become more visible they also need rest and recovery.
And any muscle group that doesn’t get adequate rest and recovery is unlikely to grow (or become more prominent in the case of abs).
In effect, by constantly flexing your abs you may actually be ruining your chances of producing visible abs.
With that being said, there are certain potential health risks to constantly flexing your abs.
Whenever you contract your abs you increase intra-abdominal pressure.
This is actually something that you also experience when you’re laughing really hard and can really feel your abs, and as though you may pee yourself.
The same phenomenon occurs to a lesser extent whenever you cough.
Basically, when you contract your abs and increase intra-abdominal pressure, you’re actually pushing the internal organs both up and down.
So, your internal organs will get pushed up against your diaphragm and down against your pelvic floor muscles (hence the feeling of almost peeing yourself).
Therefore, if you constantly flex your abs, you will constantly be squashing your internal organs.
Plus, have you ever noticed that when you are laughing extremely hard that sometimes it’s hard to breathe?
This once again is due to intra-abdominal pressure (internal organs pushing against your diaphragm).
In fact, you may even have noticed this diffilculty breathing during an ab exercise, such as planks.
There are various studies which prove that an increase in intra-abdominal pressure can affect breathing and cardiovascular health.
Okay, I’m not saying that this will occur if you constantly flex your abs, but you certainly don’t want to purposely increase intra-abdominal pressure on a permanent basis.
What About the Stomach Vacuum Exercise?
The stomach vacuum exercise involves performing an isometric contraction of the abs.
In fact, vacuums were one of the most popular ab and core exercises during the Golden Era of Bodybuilding.
Legends such as Reg Park, Frank Zane, and Arnold Schwarzenegger regularly performed stomach vacuums.
The aim was to strengthen the core muscles, while also reducing the size of the waistline.
However, even the bodybuilding greats adhered to the basic principles of building muscle.
Skeletal muscle can only grow through prolonged stress and increased intensity.
This is just another way of saying to build muscle you require adequate time-under-tension and to progressively overload the muscle.
So, in the case of stomach vacuums, and flexing your abs in general, you’ll need to follow these same principles.
In effect, this could mean that you perform stomach vacuums 3 times a day for 20 seconds, 3 days a week, for the first week.
Then in your second week you increase the time-under-tension to 30 seconds, and then to 40 seconds the following week.
Eventually, you may be holding a stomach vacuum for 2 minutes, 3 times a day, 4 days a week.
But, you will still ensure that your core muscles have adequate time to rest and recover.
Once more, performing stomach vacuums constantly will typically blunt their effect.
Key Learning Points
- Flexing your abs puts your core through isometric contraction.
- Flexing your abs can increase strength and endurance. Plus, it helps to improve posture and reduce lower back pain.
- You will increase intra-abdominal pressure, which literally squashes the internal organs against the diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles.
- “Squashing” your internal organs won’t actually do any harm when done through normal activities. However, this is defintely not something you should be doing every second of the day.
- A better option would be to perform regular stomach vacuums, which was actually a favoured ab “exercise” among the greats from the Golden Era of Bodybuilding.
- Performing stomach vacuums constantly will reduce their effectiveness. Therefore, it isn’t advisable to to be flexing and contracting your abs all the time.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.