For those looking for a quick answer as to whether or not coughing will lead to shredded abs: NO.
You cannot, and should not attempt to, develop your ab muscles from coughing.
In order to shed more light on this subject, I will:
- Provide a basic explanation of how muscles grow and,
- Demonstrate why coughing will not lead to the six-pack of your dreams.
Let’s dive in!
How Muscles Grow
On the cellular level, muscles contract by means of the sliding filament theory. The specifics of this theory are too complex for the purposes of this post. However, suffice it to say that muscle cells contract when two proteins (actin and myosin) slide past one another. When these muscle cells receive enough stimulus to grow, they increase in cross-sectional area, not in number. This is known as hypertrophy.
As we zoom out, from the microscopic level to the processes that we can see with a naked eye and comprehend more easily, muscles essentially need two elements in order to grow:
- Sufficient dietary intake of protein and all other essential nutrients.
- Resistance introduced to the muscles through well-programmed progressive overload.
Conventional wisdom says that a protein intake of 0.8 g per kg of body weight is enough to maintain muscle mass. However, for muscle growth, individuals must consume up to 1.2 g/kg body weight of protein every day.
In terms of progressive overload, there are TONS of different theories on the best way to progress for maximal muscle growth. Some fitness professionals recommend the two for two rule, while others swear by complexity modification. Amazingly, these two methods only scratch the surface of the popular approaches on progressive overload.
However, to progress towards strength gains and muscle definition, SOMETHING within your training regimen has to increase over time. This continuous process of “raising the bar” may be the tempo with which you perform your reps (repetitions), the weight you lift for a given number of reps, or a change in some other variable.
When we progress in our exercise capacity, our muscles often feel sore after workouts. This post-exercise soreness is known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). We don’t know the exact reason for this phenomenon. However, we basically understand that muscles get broken down during a hard workout, and tend to be sore as they are rebuilding themselves.
I apologize if it seems like we’re getting into the weeds here. Still, at this point, we need to distinguish between muscular strength and muscular endurance.
Both endurance and strength are essential for health. However, progress in strength results from very different training strategies than those required to improve muscular endurance.
On the one hand, muscular endurance improves through the gradual increase in the number of repetitions and/or sets using the same amount of resistance.
Muscular strength, on the other hand, improves through increases in resistance/weight moved during an exercise. This type of progress tends to rise proportionally with an increase in muscle hypertrophy as well. Therefore, muscular strength progress is better for improving the appearance of muscles when compared to improvements in muscular endurance.
Keeping the above principles in mind, let’s next take a look at why coughing can’t help us achieve six-pack abs.
Why Coughing Won’t Lead to Six-Pack Abs
When we cough multiple times a day for days or weeks on end, we may feel some soreness in our abdominal muscles. For this reason, it’s only logical to assume that coughing is a good exercise for developing strength and definition in the abs.
However, this logic is faulty for a few reasons:
- Coughing compels the involved muscles (the rectus abdominis, external/internal obliques, and intercostals, to name a few) to work for short bursts (with consistent levels of force) for many reps. This increases only muscular endurance, not muscular strength.
- In order to cough long enough or with enough force to cause a significant increase in muscle size or strength, a person could potentially damage their respiratory pathways. So, you would likely suffer an injury before achieving any increased ab definition.
- Assuming this method of “coughing to get abs” actually worked, we would have to continue to cough progressively more and progressively harder for months or years after the illness had resolved to maintain the strength we’d gained from coughing!
There are a lot of crazy fitness trends out there. Let’s not try to make coughing into the next fitness flop!
Hopefully, this article has demonstrated why it is not possible to increase the definition or strength of the abdominal muscles through coughing. If you have been suffering from a cough, don’t delay treatment because you think you’ll come out of the illness with washboard abs.
There are much better ways to achieve defined abs than through coughing. For example, if you simply go to YouTube and search for an ab workout, millions of hits will come up. But if you’re attempting to change your appearance cause you think that will increase your value in life, remember this:
You are valuable to your family, friends, coworkers, and the world regardless of how you look. Attempting dangerous health feats in order to change your appearance will lead to failure in the long run. Additionally, these pursuits may even cause permanent damage to your body.
So, if you’re looking to get in shape for your health, start exercising a bit more, clean up your diet, and for Pete’s sake: DON’T COUGH TO TRY TO GET ABS!