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Thursday May 2, 2013

Show me your abs

Washboard abs: A visitor revealing the
best asset of a new wax figure of actor
Taylor Lautner, at Madame Tussauds
Wax Museum in Berlin, Germany. Washboard abs: A visitor revealing the best asset of a new wax figure of actor Taylor Lautner, at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Once upon a time, a six-pack referred to canned beers and not some physical perfection that is nearly impossible to achieve.

BACK in the good old days, getting a six-pack meant driving to the nearest convenience store for canned beer. Now, it means hitting the gym and subjecting your body to months of intense work – and strictly no beer.

Yes, we are talking about the tummy, specifically the rectus abdominis, which is that swathe of muscle starting from the rib cage and ending at the pelvis. This was what made Brad Pitt look delicious in Fight Club, sparking a craze for the “ripped” look in gyms worldwide. Hollywood has continued its obsession with washboard abs as male characters in films such as 300 and Immortals bare more skin than the women, while the Twilight movies lovingly highlight a shirtless Taylor Lautner.

Meanwhile, fashion brand Abercrombie and Fitch prides itself on using beefcakes in its ad campaigns, as well as bare-chested male models for its store openings.

It is said that while a good-looking face may turn heads, the defining moment for a man is when he takes his shirt off.

Selvamuthu Ramasamy, 45, the taekwando star who made headlines in the 1989 and 1991 SEA Games, recalls how he refused to take off his shirt while filming for Garuuda, a local Tamil movie directed by M. Subash. The reason was he didn’t want to outshine the lead actor and hero, M. Suurya, who was not as ripped as he was.

Also setting the precedence for future candidates is model, actor and emcee, Josiah Mizukami, 25, of American and Japanese descent. He won Cleo’s Most Eligible Bachelor contest in 2011.

“One of the judges was Julie Woon, the model and actress (of Blogger Boy fame). She voted for me because of my abs,” says Mizukami.

two asanas
that work out
the core. Lingeshwaran Pillai demonstrating two asanas that work out the core.

Having appeared in television commercials since eight under Premier Models, a Hawaiian agency, Mizukami reveals that muscled torsos have always been an industry standard as far as he could remember. Malaysian talents may have been spared as market demands do not require them to disrobe as often.

Mizukami’s physique has landed him a role in Viral Factor, a Hong Kong action flick (starring Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse) and a stint on MIA, a TV series based on the search for the next action movie star.

For Mizukami who has led a pretty athletic life since 13, the purpose of a well-built torso is not only to look good in photographs but to have core strength.

“You need this strength to do all the flips and somersaults. Nicholas Tse, for example, is very fast and fit and he is known for his jumping back-kicks. He too has great abs,” explains Mizukami who did a fight scene with Tse in Viral Factor.

In Mizukami’s case, a typical day of filming may require him to fall out of a helicopter with nothing more than a pair of wires secured to his waist end anchored to 10 men for support at the end.

“You will need a lot of strength in the waist (not to mention guts of steel) to keep your body straight and not flop over. One example of core strength at work is the scene where Tom Cruise keeps his body in a straight line so that he does not touch the floor of a security vault in Mission Impossible,” says Mizukami.

Giving us a lesson on core issues is Wong Ngai Hong, 42, two-time Mr Asia, reigning Mr Universe and owner of KL Barbell Gym at the Lee Chong Wei Sports Arena in Kuala Lumpur. A well-defined torso is a must in the body-building arena. It is the first thing that judges look at.

“The six pack is primarily a series of core muscles consisting of the upper and lower abdominals and obliques on either side of the waist. It is divided by four tendons, one vertical and three horizontal. These are vital support bands to stabilise the body, enabling us to sit, stand, bend and lift. When you walk, sit upright or tuck in the tummy, you are unconsciously working the core muscles. Ultimately, a well-worked out torso translates to a strong core, and one way of telling is in the posture,” explains Wong.

Wong also assures that toning the torso muscles and making them visible is not hard to do, as long as one has a low percentage of body fat.

Josiah Mizukami was adjudged
Cleo’s Most Eligible Bachelor 2011,
thanks to his abs. Josiah Mizukami was adjudged Cleo’s Most Eligible Bachelor 2011, thanks to his abs.

“Exercises include workouts, like floor crunches and leg raises, to strengthen the lower and upper abdominals. These must be done slowly to maximise contraction. But if there is a thick layer of fat around these muscles, it doesn’t matter if you have done a thousand crunches, you won’t be able to see them. So, diet is crucial,” says Wong.

This does not mean starving oneself but to effect a change in dietary habits to eschew deep-fried foods, fats, sugar and alcohol. Meals should be low in carbohydrates with servings of lean meat like skinless chicken breast and vegetables.

After 24 years in the body-building arena, Wong has seen some amazing torsos. While six is the common number for the ripped look, there are rarities who have eight-packs like Terry Gallyot, Mr Asia 1999.

However, Wong cautions that the work that goes into getting that ripped look is strictly reserved for adults.

“Muscle-building is not advisable for anyone below the age of 16 as the joints have yet to fully form. The concern is that the intensity of the workouts will stunt growth,” he says.

For Lingeshwaran Pillai, 46, the owner of Yoga Centrum in KL, core strength is a crucial component in holistic health as it supports the wellness of one’s perusal aura.

“In yoga, core strength is defined as the manipura chakra, which is located in the solar plexus. This is the psychic point that holds the prana (life force). In yogic science, if the fire dies in the manipura chakra, the person is considered dead, as opposed to Western science whereby a person is only declared dead upon the cessation of all brain activity,” says Lingeshwaran, who has 30 years of experience as a yoga instructor.

A strong core not only supports the wellness of an aura but allows one to radiate a sense of health which can be seen in the sparkle in one’s eye and in one’s speech. Lingeshwaran cites American icon Madonna, British singer Sting (now in his 60s) and Aishwarya Rai (with her post-partum figure) as people who exhibit such healthful traits.

In yoga, there are asanas (yoga postures) that focus solely on the abs. Nowadays, thanks to technology, there is an easier way to gain a flat stomach without having to sweat it out at the gym.

At Men’s Skin Centre, for example, there is a series of tummy-sculpting programmes that uses high mono-polar radio frequency to heat deep tissue to a temperature of 40°C to 42°C to enhance fat combustion. To determine which programme is suitable for an individual, a body mass index test is first performed to gauge the level of fats in a person’s body.

Assistant marketing manager Nicole Tan, 31, recommends thrice-weekly treatments, lasting two hours each, over a span of three months, for those with a prosperous girth.

But such treatments do not come cheap. A single session can easily cost between RM100 and RM400 which is equivalent to a month’s fees for gym sessions or yoga classes. Tan also frankly points out that relying solely on such sessions is not enough for one’s overall health needs.

“It is always better for the client to pair such treatments with exercise which will contribute to the overall effect,” she says.

Still, nothing beats the relaxing effect of having a whole solitary hour to oneself and having a machine do the work while one is checking the latest football scores.

Now, the question of whether the Malaysian male population is at all bothered about the condition of their midriffs comes to the fore. We’ve seen enough “uncles” folding up their Pagoda tees, exposing their rotund bellies for all the world to see.

“Those days are fast coming to an end,” says Tan.

From her observations, the ripped look has certainly taken a very strong hold over Generation Y, thanks to the media’s influence.

“If you don’t believe me, just observe a man when he sees an attractive woman walking into the room. See if he doesn’t tuck in his tummy first before going over to say hello,” concludes Tan.


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