A lean, ripped mid-section is without a doubt the most highly pursued and sought after body image. Most fitness and health magazines everywhere have a cover model showing a lean, bare midriff with lean sculpted abs. I have been a personal trainer and coach for many years. Despite the hard work of trainers everywhere, people still cling to outdated ideas on the proper ways to work their abdominals to get the much-desired six-pack. Much of the frustration surrounding the abs is due to misinformation and unrealistic expectations. The best place to start in understanding the process of getting lean abs is by exposing the 5 common myths surrounding them.
Ab Myth #1: You can burn off belly fat by doing ab exercises.
First of all, there’s no such thing as spot reducing for the abs or anywhere else on the body. If you have fat over your abs, then exercising the ab muscles will not make that fat go away. While exercising the ab muscle region may increase endurance or strength, it won’t burn off the fat in that area. It’s never going to happen.
Pure isolation of any muscle is basically near impossible due to stabilization and synergistic muscles assisting with any movement. This myth often leads to people giving up on working their abs completely or just doing core stabilization exercises like planks. Planks are great and advise keeping them in your training plan but they alone will not build a great looking six-pack. I’ve never met anyone in the industry with an eye-catching mid-section who only did planks.
To burn off fat from your abs you need to reduce overall body fat by creating a calorie deficit. The healthiest way to do that is by following a consistent training routine that includes strength training, cardiovascular exercise, flexibility and a healthy, low-calorie diet. You also need to do a variety of ab exercises including weighted exercises in a variety of rep ranges that emphasize the upper, lower and oblique regions of the abs to create a fully visible six-pack.
Ab Myth #2: Ab training should be high repetitions.
Everyday I see some model or actor on television or in a magazine say they do 1000 crunches a day which inevitably means I have clients ask me about it. They suddenly think that doing 1000 crunches a day is the standard for what is necessary to get visible abs. It’s just another sensationalized headline meant to get your attention.
There are literally thousands of people who work their abs every day without rest, hoping to burn the fat off in that area with more exercise. The reason we feel the need to do so many reps is that we’re not working them hard enough, usually because of improper form. Most often doing this insane number of reps leads to poor technique and rushed repetitions without focus on the contraction of the abdominals.
If you have to do 50 or more crunches before your abs feel fatigued, then slow down, concentrate on your technique and focus on having good form. Doing 1000 crunches a day sounds amazing and it gets people’s attention but it’s a waste of time and doesn’t actually produce the extraordinary results you are striving for. People tend to get obsessed with the rep count and don’t focus enough on the actual muscles or the exercise. Would you grab a 3lb dumbbell and do 1000 bicep curls expecting to get bulging biceps? No, so why do it with abs?
Stop wasting your time on massive amounts of reps with horrible form. Instead focus your attention on performing 20-25 very slow, controlled crunches and focus on contracting your abs. Begin by exhaling fully as you begin the movement and squeeze and hold the peak contraction for a good 1-3 seconds. Try doing 1000 crunches this way and see how far you get. No matter which muscle group you are training, the quality of the repetitions performed always trumps the quantity of repetitions performed. It’s quality over quantity, and not vice versa.
Ab Myth #3: Ab muscles should be worked differently than your other muscles.
Your abdominal muscles are just like every other muscle in your body, so you should train them the same way you train your chest, triceps, and biceps and so on. Your four primary abdominal muscles are your rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, external obliques and internal obliques. To make strength gains with your abs or any other area of your body, you have to overload your muscles. To do this you need to add weighted ab training into your ab workout. If you are using weight machines all the time, switch things up and grab some dumbbells, kettle bells or weighted plates to build up your abs. Incorporate a variety of ab exercises in a variety of rep ranges from low (8-10 reps), moderate (12-15 reps) to high (20-25 reps) into a complete training workout 2-3 times per week.
Ab Myth #4: You should do ab exercises at the end of your workout.
It is a fact that if you wait until the end of your workout to train your abs all the time, your ab workouts will suffer and get short-changed. Waiting until the end of your workout after you are already mentally and physically tired and short on time doesn’t give your abs the attention and effort needed. The result is long rest intervals, low intensity and reps with poor technique. Here’s some easy tips to try: 1) Try cutting down your regular workout time by 8-10 minutes on ab training days. If you strength train for 60 minutes, cut that part of the workout to stop at 50 minutes; 2) Train abs for the first 10 minutes of your workout; 3) Set aside a separate training session just for your abs.
Ab Myth #5: You need special exercise equipment to work your abs.
Infamous infomercials continually advertise the latest trend and create bizarre gadgets and sell them to you for hundreds of dollars, guaranteeing weight loss in a very short amount of time. First, don’t believe it. As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Second, you don’t need special equipment to work your abs. You can do a wide variety of ab exercises with just your body weight or with an exercise ball, which is often much cheaper than the gadgets you see on television. You are better off buying equipment that has multiple uses. Ab machines only work the abs, but things like dumbbells, an exercise ball, resistance bands, etc. can be used to train your entire body.
Finding your six-pack. I saved the best surprise for last – you already have a six-pack. The problem is that for most of us the muscle is covered by a layer of body fat. You will never see your six-pack until you decrease your body fat low enough for those fibrous bands to become visible. The formula for decreasing body fat is really quite simple and it takes me about 15 minutes to explain it to my clients. If you really want a great looking mid-section, here is what you need to do:
- Decrease your body fat through a program of sensible eating, cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
- Develop all your abdominal muscles with targeted strength training exercises in a variety of rep ranges as mentioned above.
- Eat well balanced meals composed of complex cars, lean protein and essential fatty acids.
- Avoid sugar, simple carbohydrates, refined carbs and saturated fats.
- Eat the proper portion sizes. Most of us eat portion sizes that are out of control.
- Eat 5-6 small meals per day. Do not skip meals but watch portion sizes.
- Build muscle mass through a consistent strength training program. More metabolically active muscle means you will burn more calories every day.
- Engage in cardiovascular exercises at least 5 days per week. Cardio exercises will burn calories and make your body more efficient at burning fat.
- Get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night.
In summary, if you want to see a defined mid-section, follow these guidelines on a consistent basis and you will decrease your body fat and get healthy and fit. Combine your ab exercises with a healthy balanced diet and cardiovascular workouts and you will find that six-pack that’s been in hiding for a long time.