If you’re into fitness and been on Instagram any time in the last five years, you’ve no doubt seen some weird female body trends emerge - the ab crack, the thigh gap and hip cleavage among them.
And while there’s no doubt these bodies look hot, here’s the deal – achieving these looks is often highly dependent on a woman’s genetics, plastic surgery and/or heavy photo editing. They can also be downright unhealthy - physically and mentally.
So here’s what you need to know about these fads before you try to achieve them by working out.
The ab crack
In a way, “ab crack” is funny ‘cause it kind of sounds like “ass crack.” But there’s a not-so-funny side to this body image ideal.
An “ab crack,” for the uninitiated, is a line that runs down the middle of your torso. It’s often seen on very thin models like Bella Hadid, fitness gurus like Jen Setler and celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski. It’s the result of a low body fat level plus muscular abdominal muscles, says gastroenterologist Nitin Jumar – but only if you have a genetic predisposition to forming this line.
“Anatomically speaking, the ab crack—aka your linea alba—is a fibrous structure of connective tissue that runs down the midline of the abdomen,” says Dr. Mary Pritchard, Ph.D., psychology professor at Boise State in this Fitness magazine article “Why Ab Cracks Don’t Mean You’re In Better Shape. “It is formed by the way your body fused the right and left side of your abdominal wall together before birth.”
In other words – you may never get that ab crack you’re after – even if you do ab exercises all day long.
Some fitness experts even take it a step further.
“If the ab muscles are underdeveloped, then the crack becomes much more prominent when the person is lean,” says sports-medicine certified personal trainer Rui Li on Healthyway.com’s post “8 Disturbing Fitness Trends That Keep Gaining Traction.”
“If you look at bodybuilders who are in competition,” she says, “they are extremely lean, often dropping to 4 percent body fat, but they don’t have a bizarre crack in their abdominal midline because they strength train to develop bulk in their abdominal muscles.”
In fact, she says, the “ab crack” can be a sign of a condition called diastasis recti, which often affects people who have lifted heavy items without building up adequate core strength.
The thigh gap
Ah, the beloved thigh gap – when you’re thin enough to have a clear gap between your thighs when you stand up – and its new little sister, #tobleronetunnel (when you have a triangular gap at the top of your thighs about the shape and size of a Toblerone candy bar).
“The biggest factor in determining whether you have a thigh gap,” says Li, “is how your thighs sit in relation to each other. “That’s largely determined by your bone structure—you can burn all the fat you want, but you can’t magically change the positioning of your hips.” If your body doesn’t naturally form a thigh gap when you’re fit, says Li, achieving one requires a dangerously low level of body fat and a decrease in muscle mass.
For those unwilling or unable to take it that far – well, that’s where Photoshop comes in for many on Instagram. Or thigh liposuction or CoolSculpting (freezing the fat cells to death). So if you’re trying to achieve the same results through workouts alone, the odds aren’t exactly in your favor.
You can still make your inner thighs toned without bulking them up, though. Try UpcomingHealth.com’s article “5 Supermodel Exercises to Get that Luscious Thigh Gap,” which include the scissors walk, the dumbbell pile squat and row or dumbbell shoulder raise lunges. And remember – you can’t spot-reduce, so just working on your inner thighs isn’t going to go very far. Instead, go for total body workouts that balance cardio and strength building.
The perfect waist-to-hip ratio
Curvy hips and a small waist have a long history as the feminine ideal, but now it’s 2018’s hottest body trend, with Instagram babes like Amanda Lee, Emily Ratajkowski and Christina Milian sporting super high-cut, “hip cleavage” and the Kardashian girls wearing “waist training” corsets.
Those wanting to achieve this look through exercise are being advised to lose weight all over and pump up the glutes and hip flexors with deadlifts, squats, kettlebells, lunges and other weight-related exercises.
Again, however, that classic hourglass shape is elusive – unless you’re one of the very few born with it. So in addition to the corset wearing (which can cause damage to your organs and hinder bloodflow and breathing) other shortcuts have emerged, like “hourglass” plastic surgery that moves fat from the abdomen and waist to the hips.
“I am all for you wanting to lead a healthy lifestyle,” says Fitness magazine’s Dr. Mary Pritchard. “Weight-bearing activity and cardiovascular activity are both healthy and good for you, if not done to excess. But using a physical measure, like the thigh gap or the ab crack, as a sign that you are athletic enough, pretty enough, [insert desired word] enough concerns me. You don't need to attain someone else's definition of beauty, athleticism, or fitness. By all means eat right and exercise. But more importantly, be healthy—and happy.”