Most people think that if they do lots of sit-ups, then they’ll get a six-pack and lose weight. Sadly this is not the case. Then why do sit-ups?
Everyone has a six-pack. If you can’t see it, then the reason is that it’s covered in fat! I know, I know, the truth really hurts. Yet, before you sneak off and slit your wrists, ask yourself this… Is it important for what you want to do? As a wilderness backpacker, probably not. The very nature of wilderness backpacking generally means that you’re likely to be carrying heavy loads over long distances, through extremely difficult terrain and often for extended periods of time. Therefore, a nice six-pack will be pretty low on the list. This being the case and, as it’s no measure of actual core strength, it can be regarded as of little use.
Our body needs fat to function efficiently. While I’m sure we would all love to look like Mr. Universe, the fact is that Mr. Universe wouldn’t last 30 minutes carrying a 30-kg rucksack over rough terrain. Why? Because his body is more at home in dealing with anaerobic (short, large unsustainable bursts of energy) exercise, whereas the backpacker needs to be at home in dealing mainly with aerobic (continuous, sustainable output) exercise. It also needs another important feature: endurance. In the case of the wilderness backpacker, the fat reserves in the body act as a buffer to help with this.
Body Mass Index
Every day we hear of people going on and on about their B.M.I. and being healthy; this is only a general guide that gives an estimation for everyone on the planet. It makes no allowance for the difference in density between fat and muscle, or indeed the body’s hydration levels. This being the case, you could have someone with a B.M.I. on the healthy lower limit being much less healthy than someone with a B.M.I. on the healthy upper limit. Your body measurements, along with your mass and height, give a much better picture. That’s not to say the B.M.I. is useless, it isnt; just treat it as the basic guide it was meant to be.
I’ve always been used to carrying heavy rucksacks. My core strength has always been quite good, with no visible six-pack. However, two years ago I decided to do an experiment. This involved doing 500 sit-ups (various forms and number of reps) every other day, along with other core strength exercises, over a period of three months. This was in addition to mountain biking and cross-country running. The result was surprising and highly beneficial. The amount of sit-ups and other core exercises resulted in extremely good muscle endurance. I packed an expedition rucksack to 30 kg and covered 30 km on steep, rocky unforgiving terrain. The increased stability from the improved core strength was immediately noticeable, resulting in fewer balance problems along with a reduction in leg muscle and joint fatigue. In the end there were no abdominal muscle aches, as is so often the case due to the immense work they have to do in keeping your body upright with the additional weight.
The general consensus is that there is no benefit from doing this amount of core exercise, but I think this is based on getting a six-pack to look good. My own experiment, however, indicates that there’s certainly an enormous benefit from a wilderness backpacking point of view. Of course, this is just a relatively simple, mostly uncontrolled experiment. Even the word ‘experiment’ implies some form of control; perhaps ‘observation’ may be a better description. Nevertheless, anything that makes carrying a heavy rucksack easier must be worthy of consideration.
We have looked at how core strength and muscle endurance can help in carrying heavy loads but what about mental strength? In endurance events a determined strong willed person can often outperform someone who is physically superior. I think I’ll leave this experiment to someone else!