The really toned body these days sports a distinctive V of abdominal muscle.
Anyone who cares about how they look longs for a flatter stomach. But for some years now, those in search of physical perfection have aspired to the sort of midriff known as a "six-pack".
It takes determination, hard graft and willpower to strengthen the muscle concerned - the rectus abdominis - and whittle down body fat sufficiently. Few achieve it, but for those who do the prize is worth it.
Only now the goal posts have moved. No longer is a six-pack enough. Personal trainers are under siege as clients of both sexes clamour for a new look - just like that increasingly sported by sports stars and celebrities. Everyone, it seems, wants a Victory V; the defining muscular lines that run from just above the hip bone at an angle in and down towards the groin, and which are tantalisingly visible above bikini bottoms or low-slung board shorts.
You may be familiar with the Victory V from classical statuary: Michelangelo's David is a perfect example. Or perhaps from the Seventies bodybuilder physique made famous by former US Governor Arnie Schwarzenegger. In 2012 it seems every Olympic athlete worth their medals (Tom Daley, Jessica Ennis, Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps and Christine Ohuruogu among them) sports the V lines, too - an indicator of a superlative muscular core and minimal body fat.
It is small wonder that so many male models and celebrities - anyone with a penchant for skimpy clothing, or likely to be snapped on the beach by the paparazzi - have followed suit.
No self-respecting A-lister, from Nicole Scherzinger and Jennifer Lopez to Heidi Klum, Cameron Diaz, LeAnn Rimes, Gisele Bundchen and Marisa Miller, now slips into a Missoni two-piece without checking that while the tan lines aren't showing, her V lines are. David Beckham's V is worthy of National Treasure status. And when photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on honeymoon appeared in an Australian magazine, more women were said to be OMG-ing over Kate's Victory V than her swimwear. As for Harry Wales's body, of which we have seen rather too much? Yep, he's got them, too.
So what exactly is the Victory V and how does one get it. Well, fitness experts say (encouragingly) that anything is possible. Next month, a boot camp is being launched by London-based Absolute Fitness, where the V lines will be a specific goal. Says personal trainer Kathryn Freeland, who will run the camp: "Anyone can achieve this, there is no reason why not."
V lines are, she says, the edge of toned-to-the-max transversus abdominis (TVA) muscles; deep-lying fibres that run horizontally across the abdomen from the sides of the rib cage to the front (rectus abdominus) muscle, which runs down the abdomen. Part of our core musculature, TVA muscles compress and support the contents of the abdomen like a girdle, help us breathe (by supporting the diaphragm) and take the weight of the ribs and back, when we stretch or bend over. A strong core helps prevent backache, as well as making us supple. In the super-toned body, the V lines are made highly visible because of the way flesh appears to have been sculpted away from behind.
Jim Stubbs, of Phoenix Exercise Professionals and co-author of Fitness and Fat Loss for Busy People, says there are two reasons why V lines are becoming more pronounced. "Partly, it is the popularity of Pilates," he says, "which emphasises core strength." Indeed, Pilates, the Alexander Technique and more active forms of yoga, all of which focus on the need to strengthen internal core muscles as a framework for a stronger body overall, have become widely popular since the Nineties. Where once it was all about cardiovascular workouts, now no good exercise programme is without a strong emphasis on core work.
But the emergence of the V is also due to a fashion for "functional training", says Stubbs, in which exercises mimic the way muscles are used in real life.
"Rather than working isolated muscles with an old-fashioned unnatural move like a bicep curl, we might do a pull-up, which mimics a real-world action. Plus functional training engages more than one muscle group, so you get a better, more normal toned effect."
He points to a change in the intensity of workouts, too. "Long, slow training runs are being ditched in favour of shorter, more intense workouts. We get more benefit from 10 x 100m sprints than a slow 1,000m jog."
There is another factor involved, adds Freeland: age. "You have to be fit and lean, which means low body fat." Youth, gilded or not, is, less likely to be hiding a Victory V under drifts of fat, piled high like autumn jumpers.
Jim Stubbs concurs: "To have prominent V lines, you'd measure low body fat - certainly below 10 per cent. Bear in mind a reasonable body fat - if you do lots of sport - would be 12-15 per cent for men, 15-18 per cent for women." (The World Health Organisation suggests average fat percentages for under 40s in the healthy range are 8-19 per cent for men, 21-33 per cent for women; 41-60 year-olds should be 11-22 per cent for men; 23-35 per cent for women; and men aged 60 plus should aim for 13-25 per cent, women 24-36 per cent.)
"The truth is that abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym," says Stubbs. "If you are training intensively, you need to take in calories, but most of us eat too much carbohydrate [pasta/rice/potatoes/bread] and not enough protein. We need to even that ratio up. And alcohol is out as its sugary content can lead to abdominal weight gain."
He also cautions those who decide the V line is for them: "If you have any kind of back issue, you could pull a muscle. So start slow and build up. Women need to be careful not to lower body fat percentage too much as it can affect fertility."
Both Freeland and Stubbs admit to having V lines. "They are not massive - but pleasing. They are a visible sign that you work hard," says Freeland.
There you have it: Victory Vs are not for slackers.
The Telegraph (London)