- 9 Things You Should Never Do If You Want Abs Year Round
- Get abs & keep them: 9 things you should NEVER do if you want abs year round
- 1. Crunch your life away
- 2. Train your abs every single day
- 3. Go on a crash diet
- 4. Forget about your diet completely
- 5. Do the same workout routine for longer than 4-6 weeks
- 6. Drink alcohol on a regular basis
- 7. Stress out all the time (about having abs or anything else!)
- 8. ONLY do low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS)
- 9. Forget about recovery
- So, how can you get abs at home?
- Ab Workouts Won’t Give You a Six Pack, Here’s Why
- Ab Workouts WILL…
- Working your abs WON’T…
- Warm up and diet
- How to do ab crunches (correctly)
- How to do sit ups (correctly)
- Ab crunch and sit up variations and alternatives
- Here’s Why Some of Your Favorite Abs Exercises Are Pointless
- Michael Boyle’s Strengthcoach.com Blog
- Top 10 Abs Training Mistakes
- The Truth about Ab Training
9 Things You Should Never Do If You Want Abs Year Round
You might think that you need to crunch your heart out and go on a strict diet if you want your abs to come out of hiding. Is that really how you get abs?
Let’s get one thing straight: everybody has abs, but it’s the layer of fat around your midsection that’s preventing them from being seen.
If you’re wondering how to get abs at home, and more importantly, how to keep them visible all year round — check out these 9 things you should definitely avoid and what to do instead!
Get abs & keep them: 9 things you should NEVER do if you want abs year round
1. Crunch your life away
Ab-focused exercises such as Crunches and Sit-ups have their place. However, most people perform them incorrectly and have other muscular imbalances (weak core, including hips and back) that make this exercise super ineffective and a painful waste of time.
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
If you want to get rid of that layer of fat on your abs, it’s best to engage your entire body in compound movements like Squats, Lunges, or Burpees. Additionally, plank-based bodyweight movements like Push-ups and High Plank Knee-to-Elbow, which can be found in the adidas Training app, are much better fat burners than any isolation exercises for the abs.
2. Train your abs every single day
Just like any other muscle, your abs need a break too! That doesn’t mean you can’t activate your ab muscles during your warm-up with exercises like Planks, Inchworms, and other balance and stabilization exercises, but you shouldn’t train them every day.
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
Instead of training your abs every single day, throw in a high intensity workout here and there to burn more fat and reveal those abs sooner, like this crazy 10-minute full-body home workout or one of these Tabata workouts.
3. Go on a crash diet
When changing your eating habits, don’t do something that you cannot maintain AT LEAST 80% of the time (if not more!). If it promises fast weight loss, you can almost guarantee fast regain.
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
Slow and steady wins the race. Reduce your daily calorie intake (calculated with the total daily energy expenditure calculator) by 300-500 calories a day, not more. Focus on improving your diet slowly and keep it healthy long-term — start by quitting sugar and avoiding what some mistakenly consider “healthy foods”! Don’t worry, with these tips you can eat healthy on a budget, too.
4. Forget about your diet completely
It’s 100% true: abs are made in the kitchen. You need to be mindful of what you are eating. Even if you’re exercising 3-5 times a week, horrible eating habits will make it impossible to get abs. If you can’t lose body fat, it can be due to the fact that you’re eating too much (duh!) but also that you’re not eating enough!
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
Start tracking your food today — you’ll become a pro in no time! Plus, you can learn the benefits and importance of food tracking and practical tips for food tracking. Consistency, not perfection, is the goal!
5. Do the same workout routine for longer than 4-6 weeks
Our bodies are really smart and great at adaptation. If you realize you’ve been doing the same workout routine for months, you need to mix it up!
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
Try new exercises, go to a different workout class…just do something different!
Check out these ideas:
- Interval running
- Fartlek running
- Home workouts
6. Drink alcohol on a regular basis
For some people, excessive calories from alcohol aren’t really the main problem. It’s the food choices made after a night out: greasy burgers, taco truck, hot dog stand, or a big bag of chips. Sound familiar? So not only are you getting more liquid calories than you need, but also overeating in the end.
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
If you’re really serious about getting and maintaining your abs, you might want to think about your regular weekends at the bar.
Don’t forget to drink enough water! For inspiration, check out this testimonial about how quitting alcohol can help you get fitter.
7. Stress out all the time (about having abs or anything else!)
It’s one thing to have a stressful day here and there, but when stressful days are a recurring thing leading to a stressful life, it could be a huge reason why you cannot see your abs. Studies have shown that chronic stress is associated with higher levels of obesity.
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
Take time for you, because you’re the only one that can do that! Don’t forget the benefits of walking, meditation, and writing down and reflecting regularly on the things for which you are grateful.
8. ONLY do low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS)
As mentioned in number 5, you have to mix it up! When it comes to cardio, you don’t only want to go for slow and steady runs.
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
Add some HIIT into your routine as well. HIIT and LISS cardio both play a role in fat burning and helping to get that ab definition. Interval training really helps you burn a lot of calories, so include it in your workouts if you want to get abs!
9. Forget about recovery
Working out seven days a week is not the answer. In fact, the magic happens during your rest days and recovery, not during your workout. Working out is stress on your body, but it’s definitely good stress as long as you’re not overdoing it.
What to do instead if you want to get abs:
Here are 6 signs to find out if you need to take a rest day. Listen to your body!
On your rest days you don’t have to be inactive; take a walk or try some of these yoga poses.
So, how can you get abs at home?
Abs can be made at home, but don’t expect a magic bullet! Take a closer look at your workout and nutrition habits. Avoid the 9 biggest mistakes listed above and make sure to include interval training in your workout schedule. This will speed up your results and help you keep your abs all year round.
Ab Workouts Won’t Give You a Six Pack, Here’s Why
She’s been praised by the likes of CBS, NBC, Fox News, and now, us. With her help, we’re here to set the record straight on the least talked about results of all your ab efforts.
Ab Workouts WILL…
Support and strengthen your spine
You may know that ab workouts can simultaneously strengthen the muscles in your back, but were you aware that it goes even further to benefit your spine?
“Strengthening your abs will help support the lumbar or low back spine.” Wu points out. “The core is the entire midsection, from the pelvic floor to the diaphragm (bottom to top) and the abdominals to the low back (front to back). Working the abs— especially the deepest abdominal muscle, the Transversus Abdominis— will help stabilize the low back spine. Keeping this muscle strong will keep the core balanced. It will help maintain stability and help to decompress the spinal column.”
For those of us unaware, the Transversus Abdominis lies beneath those six-pack (or washboard, or whatever!) abs, serving to protect the spine. So, in simple speak, by strengthening your abs (and, therefore, these muscles) you’re also stabilizing the spine—which can also better your balance. If you want to want to activate these muscles before a workout, the PTDC suggests lying on a flat surface and pulling your bellybutton in towards your spine.
Improve posture and self-esteem
It turns out there’s a full-circle connection between a strong core, improved posture, and a little something extra. “Working the core and the abdominal musculature can also help with your posture and your self-esteem.” Making the leap from balance to posture isn’t too hard, but what inclines us here is self-esteem and how that can have a positive impact back.
“When you put time into your abdominal workouts, you will feel more support and ‘stiffness’ (in a good way) of your midsection. That ‘stiffness’ is the underlying muscle tone which helps support the region. Feeling that support, as well as seeing the visible benefits, helps with confidence. In turn, you start carrying yourself better. You stand taller, which reinforces good posture. This upright posture lends you a confident look (whether you feel it or not) and increases blood and air flow (circulation) which further adds to that ‘feel good’ vibe.”
In case you feel in need of a flow chart, think about it like this: You strengthen your abs. You feel confident about it. With more confidence, you stand taller. In carrying yourself correctly, you reinforce good posture. This posture boosts circulation and those positive feelings. Those positive feeling push you to continue getting stronger. Much like how positive thoughts reinforce positive actions, the confidence you gain from working your midsection can influence working towards more progress.
Aid in digestion
Twisting into specific yoga poses isn’t the only active way to help your colon do its thing. “Abdominal exercises involve a lot of shoulder to pelvis motion or the reverse, otherwise known as the crunch and reverse crunch. You do it working the superficial six-pack (rectus abdominis), as well as the sides (external and internal obliques). This particular motion helps with motility in the colon. The ascending and descending colons will get an added ‘push’ when working out the abdominal muscles, thereby aiding movement of their contents. This will keep you regular with your bowel movements. In fact, I just had a patient state that he needed to keep his ab workouts in to help with his constipation!” While your bowels are already directly affected by what you eat and how often you exercise, this is one possible way of “targeting” digestive movement.
Working your abs WON’T…
Give you a six-pack
That’s right, all of those Get a Six-Pack in Six Moves! Pinterest charts can’t go at it alone. A thousand crunches a day won’t do the trick, either. In fact, there are a factors that could be preventing these muscles from making an appearance. Too much subcutaneous fat (the type that’s directly under your skin), for one. As tired as the much recited saying may be, it’s no lie that abs are made in the kitchen. You can’t out-do a bad diet. If you’re consistently training and still not seeing any change, chances are you need to lower your body fat percentage. That means cleaning up your food choices and adding cardio into your gym time.
Another reason you might not be seeing progress is because your workouts aren’t diverse enough. Remember how I said endless crunches weren’t enough? That’s because, as Wu explained, your core consists of several muscles, including the transverse abdominal, internal and external obliques, multifidus muscles (fleshy muscles that stabilize joints), rectus abdominis, spinal erectors, longissimus, pelvic floor, and thoratic diaphragm. Phew. The point being, if you don’t vary your routines to hit each of these, you won’t see improvement in your core overall.
Eliminate a “muffin top”
If you haven’t heard it before, take note of it now: You cannot lose the weight around your midsection by targeting your abs. This has been labeled as spot reduction. For those unfamiliar, spot reduction is the false idea that you can lose fat from specific parts of the body by focusing on them. And, as with any other area of the body, it is pure fallacy. Various studies have shown that, while working out consistently can reduce overall body fat, it won’t reduce the fat in any one area. We have no control over which part of the body loses weight first, since it’s a gradual, total body process.
Work your full range of motion
That is to say, most traditional ab workouts won’t (ahem, crunches). A full range of motion is accomplished when you move a body part as far as possible during a workout. Reaching a full range of motion is important if you want to see a change since, as mentioned earlier, you have to work every muscle involved if you want to see improvement. If you’re doing ab workouts on the floor or a bench, you’re actually doing less than half of that full range. Like with most things, though, there are modifications that can help. Crunches performed on an exercise ball, for example, will have you reaching your core’s full ROM.
Knowing how to do ab crunches and sit ups with the proper technique can mean the difference between getting a six pack fast or getting a neck strain. Bad posture during sit ups is a constant source of grief for a lot of gym goers and if you are just at the beginning of your journey for a flat and muscular stomach, you’d better pay attention to what we are about to discuss here.
Ab crunches and sit ups are one of the many classic calisthenics exercises, much like push ups, that everyone thinks they know how to do properly, yet most people fail to do them right. To confuse matters even more, there are a lot of variations and it can be cumbersome to know which works best for you.
If you want to have a well-sculpted six pack, you’ll need to do two things: 1) do a killer abs workout and 2) lose some weight so your abdominal muscles actually show.
New to resistance training? Check out our other how-tos, like how to do deadlifts, how to do a bench press, or how to do squats. Maybe you would like to know how to do an overhead press correctly to build bigger arms and shoulders or how to do bent over rows for big back gains and strong biceps? We have it all.
- Best running shoes: comfortable footwear in or outside the gym
- Best running watch: good for tracking workouts, too
- Best running headphones: sweat-proof earpieces to keep you going during longer sessions
Warm up and diet
Abdominal muscles are high load-bearing muscles which is equally as good as it is bad, depending on the perspective. It’s good because they don’t need much warm up, which shortens down the time spent with exercising and therefore you can literally spend 5-10 minutes a day working on them.
The downside is, you will need to work them harder for them to take notice. The usual hypertrophy range (the rep range that make muscles grow bigger) of 8-12 reps don’t apply to abs. Bomb them with 15-20 reps in each set and you will feel the burn sooner.
As mentioned above, all the abs workouts won’t do much good if you aren’t paying attention to what you eat. This is especially true to men. The typical dad bod is the result of men building up fat reserves around their waists first. If you want your six pack to show, you will need to lose weight as well as work your abs.
Important: if you had some time off exercising and especially if you are just looking into starting exercising for the first time, you might want to ease yourself into it, starting off with less reps and always checking your body metrics. And if you have any concerns about exercising, please consult a medical professional first.
- Best protein powder
- Best protein bars
- Best ab roller
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Don’t try to pull your head with your hands
(Image credit: Future)
How to do ab crunches (correctly)
Why are ab crunches so popular? This exercise is easier to perform than sit ups and don’t require any external equipment either. To perform ab crunches correctly, you only have to lift your shoulders and head up off the ground just enough to feel your abs flexing. It is very important not to pull with your arms and not to have the arms behind your head either.
Starting position is legs being bent in 90 degrees and upper body on the floor. Arms are either resting next to the body on the floor. Before you move your upper body, engage your core so your back and abs are ready for the movement.
Keep your back straight all the way through the movement when doing sit ups
(Image credit: Future)
How to do sit ups (correctly)
The main reason sit ups have been banished from abs workouts is because they are performed incorrectly 90% of the people. To do sit ups correctly, you should have some abdominal muscle strength already.
Don’t try to do sit ups without leg support either, that’ll put way too much pressure on your back. If you are working out at home, get an under door crunch bar or a sit up bench (maybe a multi-functional weight bench).
With sit ups, keep your back straight throughout the movement. Keep your core engaged all the way through the movement and go as far as your hamstrings let you. Also make sure you don’t slam your back against the floor as you return to the starting position. Best to get a yoga mat and do sit ups (and ab crunches) on a softer surface.
For added resistance, you can try holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands or try resistance band kneeling crunches (detailed below).
One of the HARDEST abs exercise is the hanging leg raise
(Image credit: Future)
Ab crunch and sit up variations and alternatives
Target your abs from all angles for maximum activation.
- Dead bugs: the best abs exercise if you have back problems. Lay on your back, legs bent in the knee and up in the air. Arms are also in the air, pointing up, extended. In the starting position, you should look like a dead bug (hence the name). Lower one leg and arm (opposite side) down to the floor (arm going above your head) in the same time, then return to the starting position. Do the same on the other side.
- Decline crunch: this variation is performed on a sit up bench. Set the incline to your preference so your head is in a lower position than your legs. Keep your back straight and your core engaged. After reaching the highest point, slowly lower your back down and don’t slam your back against the padding.
- Hanging leg raise: hands down the most challenging abs exercise out there and the one that works all your abs. It requires a strong core and arms muscular enough to be able to hold you during the sets.
- Resistance band kneeling crunches (as featured in our best resistance band workout article): this is a great exercise to provide some extra resistance to your abs workout. Make sure you hook the band around an object securely so it won’t slap you on your neck as you do the crunches.
- Planks: Planks are notoriously difficult to perform, even for just a short period of time. You won’t know how long a minute really is until you tried to hold a plank for 60 seconds. One of the best core strengthening exercises out there.
- Ab rollout: you can do planks to work your core and your abs but there is a more engaging way to work on your core muscles: ab rollouts. Ab rollers are super fun to use and they are also an inexpensive piece of kit. No reason why not to get them.
- Russian twists (as featured in our best 3-exercise abs workout article): This is a great exercise to work your obliques. Starting position is sitting on the floor, knees bent, feet on the floor, upper body raised (core engaged!) in a 45-degree angle. Extend your arms in front of you and twist your upper body to the right and then to the left, keeping your arms extended in front of you. For added difficulty, try holding a weight plate, a dumbbell or a kettlebell in your hands. You can also try to lift your feet off the ground, for extra lower-abdominal activation.
- V sit ups: Similar to planks, this is a stationary abs exercise that will really challenge your perception of time, meaning you will reevaluate how long a minute really is. V sit ups are performed sitting on the floor, legs being straight and raised in a 45-degree angle, back straight and also raised in a 45-degree angle. Arms are – wait for it – extended in front of you, parallel to the floor, so pointing away and in front of you. All you have to do is to hold this position. Sounds easy? It isn’t. Also, it is advised to stretch your hamstrings before you try doing V sit ups.
Here’s Why Some of Your Favorite Abs Exercises Are Pointless
The days of fitness gurus touting 100 crunches and sit-ups a day are long gone, but for some reason people are still doing them. Here’s what experts have to say about that—and what abs exercises you should be doing instead.
Spot Training is Ineffective
The problem with many abs exercises is that they promote the idea of “spot training.” In other words, focusing on one body part during exercise to change it. No matter how you slice it, spot training your stomach cannot get you ripped abs. “You could do 1,000 crunches and sit-ups a night, but if there is a layer of fat on top you will never see your abs come through,” says Ashanti Johnson, owner of Chicago-based 360 Mind. Body. Soul. As the old saying goes, “abs are made in the kitchen,” but you can also credit genetics for whether you have a six-pack or not (Also: Why Ab Cracks Don’t Mean You’re In Better Shape). Trainers are well aware of this, so exercise classes often diversify which abs moves are included for maximum benefit for all body types. As for what you can do? “Focus on full-body exercises that force you to use your entire core and burn fat and calories overall,” says Tanya Becker, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Physique 57. We like these 11 moves, TBH.
It Doesn’t Matter That You “Feel the Burn”
So what’s the deal with the soreness and burning sensation we feel after doing several sets of crunches? “This comes from fatigue because blood flow to the muscle drops, which means there is less oxygen available to the muscle,” explains Brynn Putnam, founder of Refine Method. “Less oxygen means that your muscle uses a pathway to make energy that doesn’t require oxygen, and this leads to an accumulation of H+ ions that makes your blood more acidic and inhibits the muscle’s ability to contract.” Meaning your muscles end up burning and feeling tired, but there is no connection between this effect and actually burning fat or building muscle.
Sit-Ups Can Lead to Health Problems
Did you know that bending the body in half repeatedly can potentially hurt your back and neck? Sebastian Lagree, owner of Lagree Fitness, hasn’t included crunches in his classes for years and warns, “Repeated spinal flexion can lead to permanent damage to the spine.” Those exercises alone are not enough to give you a strong core either, which is the entire purpose of training your abs. NYC-based HIIT instructor and personal trainer Robert Ramsey also points out that plenty of research has been done on the matter. “Dr. Stuart McGill, who is the spine genius that all strength coaches go to for data, has done studies that prove the spine is not meant to be bent in half,” he says. “However, exercises where the spine is straight while being loaded is a massive core stimulator. These include squats into overhead press, push-ups, and planks.”
It’s also important to understand that the core is made up of more than just a few muscles. “There are over 22 different muscles that connect, cross, and begin in the core area, and to focus on just the abdominals is doing your entire muscular skeletal system a disservice,” explains yoga instructor Alexis Novak. Try our 30-day ab challenge to hit each muscle and get a stronger core by next month.
Any Exercise Can Be a “Core” Exercise If Done Right
You can get stronger abs by engaging your core during your squats, deadlifts, lunges, or overhead presses (just to name a few). “The key to working your core effectively is to maintain a “neutral spine,” or the natural curvature of your back, in every exercise you do,” explains Putnam. “Just be sure to work with enough resistance or intensity that you feel your core muscles reflexively brace or squeeze when you move.” And don’t forget, the core is really your whole body, because everything is connected by fascial tissue, says Ramsey. For example, “if you stand straight and extend your arms out and to the side, that is a core move because you’re using it to stabilize those arms,” he says.
But You Should Definitely Be Doing These On the Reg
“Planks with different variations on the arms—resting on your forearms, with palms up, with one hand elevated, etc—are a good way to challenge the core muscles and to stabilize it in different ranges of motion,” says Novak. And while Lagree swears by push-ups, side planks, and the Roman chair to strengthen all parts of your core, Becker’s go-to exercises include the pretzel position (intended to target obliques and side back), the C-Curl hold, and lower back extensions, otherwise known as Supermans. Putnam suggests strengthening the core with exercises that focus on keeping a neutral spine, like planks, roll-outs, bird dogs, and kettlebell carries. In other words, there are plenty of options these days, so don’t put yourself at risk for injury with moves that don’t work.
And Finally, Forget Worrying About A Six-Pack or Ab Crack
It’s easy to get caught up on the aesthetics of our abs, but it’s more important to focus on how strong our core is as a result of the hard work we put in. “Work on perfecting functional movements that challenge your core, like squats and deadlifts, so you are able to enjoy a long and independent life free from aches and pains,” advises Putnam. Lagree adds that a strong core can prevent detrimental back problems, improve posture, and reduce or eliminate the need for back surgery. “Your core equals longevity, which equals a higher quality of living in your later years.” And that’s something that resonates with us—straight to the core.
Michael Boyle’s Strengthcoach.com Blog
I can’t even tell you how often I hear someone at the end of the workout say something like “I need to do more abs, I want to get a six-pack.” The truth is that passing on a six-pack is a better way to get a six-pack than six hundred sit-ups. The key to abdominal definition is the visibility of the abdominal musculature, not the strength of the muscles. You can do one million sit-ups, crunches or whatever exercise you want and it will have no effect on abdominal definition. When people ask me the best exercise for abs I tell them table push-aways. It usually takes a few minutes for them to get it. It’s not a joke, it’s the truth. If you want better abs, eat less and train more but, don’t just train your abs.
The idea of working abs to get abs is one of the oldest misconceptions in training. This goes back to the old idea of spot reduction. Spot reduction has never and will never work. The research has been done over and over and the answer is always the same. You can’t decrease the fat layer on a particular area by working that area. That means that the guys doing sit-ups to lose abdominal fat and the lady sitting on the adductor ( inner thigh) machine are both wasting their time. Good total body work is, was, and always will be the key to fat loss.
Want better abdominal definition? Finish every workout with some hard interval training instead of extra sit-ups or crunches. Interval training or what is currently called High Intensity Interval Training (abbreviated HIIT) is the real key to fat loss and the resulting definition. Interval training burns more calories than steady state aerobic training and because it is s sprint program you get a sprinters body.
Abdominal training may potentially reduce the diameter of the waistline but, will do very little to reduce bodyfat. The truth is there are lots of good reasons to do abdominal work or core training as we now like to call it. A strong core ( strong abs) is one of the keys in the prevention of back pain. A strong core will help you look better and improve performance in a host of sports but, sit-ups or any other abdominal exercise will not reduce bodyfat. The fact of the matter is that crunches will lead to back pain long before they lead to visual abs.
Another good tip. Don’t do crunches. A good abdominal or core program is a lot more than crunches. Most of your core work should be isometric exercises like front planks and side planks or carries like Suitcase carries. . One of the major functions of the core musculature is the prevention of motion. What does that mean? It means that the abdominals are great stabilizers. Work on the stability function, not on flexion and extension.
Yes, but not like you think you do. Core training is as important- not more, not less, than training the rest of your body. Your “core” is really all of the muscles and joints of the torso.
People are obsessed with training their “CORE”. As a trainer, you can train someone until they have nothing left and once the blood starts returning to their lips they’ll say, “Can we do an ab finisher?” You can almost see the training guilt being washed away if they leave a session feeling as though they have duly CRUSHED their abs.
When and if I get curious and ask someone why they want to train abs all of the time, I get 1 of 2 answers: fixing a back problem, chasing a six-pack. And half of the people doing it for their back may be just disguising their secret obsession with a six-pack.
This is why you need a good trainer, because if left to your own devices to train and train and train your “CORE”- which really means your six-pack muscles, you will likely give yourself a back problem or make an old one worse, and not necessarily SEE the six-pack because you are barking up the wrong tree.
The Good News About Core Training
The good news is, if you work out at all, you can’t avoid training your core. The muscles of the torso are there to move the torso but also to stabilize the spine. Every time you move, the muscle of the torso WORK together to make sure that you don’t break in half. Every time you pick something up, throw, pull something down from overhead, rotate, hit a volleyball, lean forward, lean forward with a bar on your back, take your kid out of their car seat, and sneeze… your core is working. It will get stronger right along with you as you train some of these movements like deadlifting, push-upping, pull-upping, back squatting, and crawling.
You can train core stability exercises to make squats, push-ups, and deads easier. You can train and strengthen core mobility (spinal mobility, breathing) to make life and crawling, functional stuff- easier.
Very few activities in life require super strong torsos, like gymnasts. They need it and require lots of supplemental core training, but they do it in a balanced way and work mobility along with it.
Where Your Back Pain is Really Coming From
Back problems are most often handed the diagnosis “weak core, do planks”. Yet I feel that this is not usually the cause and solution for back problems, even in regards to people that are pretty out of shape.
This diagnosis bugs me because then said-person with back problem launches themselves into a vigorous core training program and many of you inadvertently make matters worse doing too many sit-ups and crunches. (Spoiler alert: you’re contributing to a system of imbalances that is the problem in the first place).
Back problems are more likely due to sitting all day. Our hamstrings and glutes are shitty due to chronically inhabiting this position. Sitting puts your back in an unnatural position. If you sit long enough, often enough, your body starts a fight to crown the new reigning “normal” position. So you have issues with the pelvis tugging oddly on the spine both from short hamstrings and short hip flexors, combined with a confused spine from sitting too much and not moving like an up-right bi-ped should.
Training your torso and pelvis to enhance stability and mobility will alleviate back pain. IF back pain is in fact due to issues with your core, it is coming from imbalances in mobility and strength. The problem with going off and doing this on your own is that it’s very hard to identify strength and mobility imbalances without the help of a good trainer or therapist. Sure, if you’re paying attention you may be able to figure out what bugs your back and avoid it, but how are you going to make it better so that you just don’t have a shitty back anymore? Maybe some of the exercises you train are making the problem worse without you knowing it, setting the scene for a tweak.
Let’s get back to that Six-Pack!
This is the hardest lesson in fitness to teach because no one wants to accept the truth. Everyone has seen some gimmicky ad on the internet that somehow takes hold of their subconscious, making it impossible to get this point through.
Here’s the truth… are you ready for the truth?
There’s no amount of ab training you can do to make a six pack pop through or melt off the layer of fat that is making them invisible. You already have a six pack. All of the training you are doing to get them, is a waste of your time. You’re barking up the wrong tree.
If you pull up your shirt and flex and see dimples rather than ab cleavage, you need to focus your efforts on your diet if abs are really your goal. If you can’t see them, it’s not because they aren’t there, it’s because most of the population carries body fat there. It’s not a lack of muscle tissue, its the distinct presence of fatty tissue. In order for you to succeed with your goals, you will need to target fat loss, not muscle gain.
You can train your abs day and night for years and if you have really strong abs under a layer of fat, you will just wind up looking like a juice box. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just trying to save you from putting effort into a dead end. So you can stop seeking out a sore tummy to validate that you’re on your way to a six pack.
Here’s another fun fact- body builders, especially females, are very careful about how they train their abs. Too much core training, especially of the side variety (obliques) can produce a big boxy core. It can even go so far as turning your six-pack into a turtle shell. The look is a lean and defined V. Training your lats and other back muscles will create a V, making your waist seem narrower. Feeling boxy? Train your delts and lats.
Stubborn Fat, Full Disclosure
If you are truly committed to having a six pack once and for all, then start figuring out a good fat loss plan. The most important part of this phase is realizing what you are getting into. You have to erase all of the marketing your mind has fallen prey to in your lifetime, telling you that abs are easy and will be yours if you just commit yourself to a 10 minute per day exercise program for a month (which you, of course, pay them for). In reality, we’re talking months of fat loss. We may even be talking about a level of fat loss that you don’t even want to hit, it’s so low. Depends on how stubborn that area is for you.
There are three main body shapes out there in regards to fat gain- the Apple, the Pear, and the All-Over. Both the All-Over and the Apple will have a hard time getting shredded abs, but for apples, it will be really hard. Seeing abs and muscle striations anywhere is a straight up matter of low body fat. We carry fat in some places more than others and unfortunately, you cannot do anything to target the fat over your abs. Your body will lose weight where it wants to. You just have to keep going until the abs pop out.
If you’re an Apple, know that this will be a bitch. Before you launch into this super committed diet regime, make sure you read the fine print. This is an area of stubborn fat retention, and you will have to get down to body fat levels that are ultra low and hard to hit and maintain. It may make you miserable. It’s going to take a good amount of serious commitment and effort. Once you get there, if you want to maintain it, that too will take some serious effort and commitment. And the real bummer is that you may hate the way the rest of you looks. Your friends will probably tell you, “you look too skinny”. Some might even schedule an intervention.
The same is true for pears that want to rid themselves of every last dimple on their butts. Oh you can do it, but the rest of you will get REEEEALLY skinny. You may be able to see your lymphatic system through your skin.
Stop Obsessing Over You Core
Now is the time to reconsider all of the relentless CORE training you’re doing. Train instead what your body really needs to be trained. If all this core training is giving you back problems, you really need to stop. Think long and hard about your options and how important these abs are to you.
Maybe you can take this as an opportunity to relax and stop worrying that you’re not training hard enough or that your trainer’s programming sucks because you don’t have a six-pack. If you really want one, seek out some help with your food.
If you have a back problem and have been trying to fix it with planks, it’s time to seek out a qualified trainer or therapist to help you find out what’s loose, tight, or broken so you can go about targeting improvements rather than avoiding the problem.
Train your core to be mobile, strong, capable, and balanced. Train your core to support you in what you love to do in life.
Top 10 Abs Training Mistakes
Want toned abs and a flatter stomach? If all the DVDs, workout gizmos and “belly-fat-burning” pills, books, and diets out there are any indication, we’re obsessed with slimming down our midsections, and for good reason. A flat stomach not only looks great; it’s also a boon to your health—especially when compared to abdominal obesity, which is correlated with several health risks).
But are all these abs-training products really getting us any closer to the abs of our dreams? If not, it’s probably no fault of your own. So much inaccurate information has been circulating for so many years, that there are few muscles more misunderstood than the abs. I’ve seen so many mistakes firsthand that I figured it was time to clear up the confusion.
When it comes to training your abs, there is a right way and wrong way to do it. Are you guilty of any of these top abs-training mistakes? Find out!
If you think of crunches when you think of working your abs, you’re not alone. Crunches are a great way to target the abs, but there are more effective ways to work out! For one, crunches mainly work just one of the muscle groups in your core: the rectus abdominis. And they only work it from one angle. You can train your abs without every doing a single crunch, and if crunches are your go-to abs exercise, it’s probably time that you do! Need some crunch-free workout ideas? Check out my 10-minute Crunchless Core Workout and this No-Crunch Workout with a ball, as well as SparkPeople’s core exercise demos.
#2: Doing Too Many Reps
There is no need to do 50, 100 or thousands of crunches each day. Many people do more, thinking it will help them spot-reduce (lose fat) from the belly, but that is a myth. In fact, if you are doing your exercises correctly, 8-15 repetitions are all that you need to target those muscles and get results. Here’s an easy rule: Train the abs like you would any other muscle, which typically involves 1-3 sets of 8-20 repetitions per exercise.
#3 Having an Abs Routine in the First Place
Do you have an abs routine? Whether it’s a DVD, a piece of equipment, or just a series of exercises, doing the same exercises each time you work your abs will only get you so far. Your abs routine will become, well, routine, and you won’t be challenging your muscles anymore. Change up your workouts and mix up your exercises regularly, including a variety of moves to work your abs in different ways (see mistake #7 below).
#4 Not Focusing on Form
If you’re doing an abdominal exercise and you’re not really feeling it, I’m going to tell you a cold, hard truth: It’s probably not because you’re super strong and fit. More likely, you’re not doing it properly. The key to really working your abs is to focus on your form, by deeply engaging your abs throughout each movement. This is commonly described as “pulling your navel towards your spine,” or “scooping” the abs inward and it will help you engage more muscle fibers (especially the transverse abs), making each repetition more effective. And did you know: Mentally focusing on the muscles you’re trying to engage during any exercise (abs or otherwise) actually does make a difference in how well you execute the move? Try it next time and you’ll notice a difference!
#5 Believing in Belly Fat Burners
Can specific foods, nutrients, diet pills or supplements really target belly fat and help you melt it away? Probably not. There is some research to show that certain nutrients may help people lose more belly fat, but most of this “research” is sketchy at best—poorly controlled, poorly designed, and not well replicated. It’d be nice to think that you could just eat an exotic berry or pepper—or pop a pill that contains them—and melt away the inches from your waist, but don’t fall for this hype. The person telling you that any food or product can burn fat from your belly has one goal in mind: selling you something. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
#6 Neglecting the Rest of Your Core
The rectus abdominis (or abs, for short) run down the front of the torso, from the center of the ribcage to the pubic bone. These are the main muscles that work when you do any sort of “crunching” motion (spinal flexion). But your torso also extends, bends and rotates—and all of those motions should be part of your abs training repertoire. Your obliques (which run diagonally across your middle) active during lateral flexion and rotation; the transverse abdominis (a long muscle that runs horizontally beneath the rectus abdominis) acts like a brace during plank-style exercises and is highly targeted during Pilates; and your back (erector spinae muscles along the spine) is the primary mover during spinal extension, which most people don’t do enough of. A good rule of thumb is that every time you train your abs, you should also target the obliques and lower back as well (more on that below).
#7 Only Working the Abs from One Angle
I touched on this above. Most people only work their abs by doing flexion (crunching movements), but a solid abs training program should include multiple angles and ranges of motion. Here are some examples to help you understand the many ways to move your core. (This 15-minute routine features all of these movements in one workout!):
- Spinal flexion (mostly works the rectus abdominis). Examples include all variations of crunches.
- Spinal rotation (mostly works the obliques). Examples include bicycle crunches (which combine flexion with rotation), seated twists, and standing twists.
- Spinal extension (mostly works the erector spinae). Examples include back extensions, superman, and swimming.
- Lateral spinal flexion (works the erector spinae, rectus abdominis and obliques). Examples include side bends with dumbbells, or without equipment.
- Bracing, balancing, stabilization and isometric exercises (work the entire core to different degrees). These are all different types of exercises, but I’m lumping them into a catch all “other” category here. Examples include plank, bridge-ups, dolphin pose, side plank, and bird dogs (quadruped arm and leg lifts).
#8 Spot Training
You may be surprised to know that most people actually DO have strong, defined abs…they just happen to be covered by a layer of fat. So how do you get rid of that layer of fat? More crunches, right? Wrong. More of the exercises listed above? Also wrong. All the abs-toning exercises in the world won’t burn the fat on top of the muscle. To accomplish this, you need a combination of cardio exercise and a healthy diet to create a caloric deficit necessary to lose weight. Get a free weight loss meal plan at SparkPeople.com.
#9 Ignoring Your Abs When Not Exercising
I don’t want to give you mixed messages. The exercises listed in #7 are great ways to target your abs and strengthen them. Moves like that should be part of your training. But did you know that your abs also play a role in balance, posture and stabilization during all kinds of everyday movements and exercises—everything from walking to your car to coughing to squatting? It’s true. They always engage a little bit during everyday activities, even when you’re not thinking about them. But you CAN (and should) think about them more often. Next time you follow one of my workout videos, notice how many times I remind you to “engage your abs”—even when you’re working your arms, back or legs. This is going to strengthen your form and control during the exercise at hand, and it gives those transverse abdominals a little extra something to work on, too (which also protects you from injury). Try to think about your abs more during the day. You’ll sit taller, help strengthen that deep abdominal muscle, and perform better all around!
#10 Using Abs Training Gizmos
Every year, a new gadget to help you achieve “the abs of your dreams” hits the market and sells millions. Machines that swing, roll, rock, shake, slide, and make abs training look oh so easy! Do some of these machines work your abdominal muscles? Sure. Will using that machine alone help you get washboard abs? Sorry, but no. Think about the mistakes listed above. Using an abs workout machine means you’ll be making a lot of the mistakes above: spot training, neglecting other movements, doing the same routine, doing too many reps, etc. Their commercials may seem impressive and realistic, but I’d advise you to save your money. The real secret to getting the kind of results seen in those commercials isn’t about the gadget at all. It’s about diet, cardio, and proper abs training, which doesn’t require any equipment.
Are you guilty of any of these mistakes? Do you have any others to add to my list? What’s your favorite way to work your abs?
The Truth about Ab Training
You’ve probably heard most of the hyperbole on ab flattening-from how often you should train to how many reps you have to do. Here, our experts help separate ab facts from fiction.
myth Strength-training exercises like crunches will get rid of ab flab.
truth Spot training (or reducing) isn’t possible. While crunches are important for firming and strengthening the abdominals, they won’t remove fat from that area. In addition to ab exercises, do a total-body strength workout to boost your overall lean muscle mass, and blast fat and calories with a consistent cardio routine (at least 30 minutes, five days a week for weight loss). Don’t forget to follow a healthy diet as well, and also realize that genetics plays a part in whether you have a round or flat belly.
myth Sit-ups aren’t safe or effective for training your abs.
truth “When done in a controlled manner without the use of momentum, a sit-up is simply a trunk curl taken that much further by the use of the hip flexors, and can be a very effective ab-training exercise,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass. So why the bad rap? “People with low-back pain have tight hip flexors and are advised not to do sit-ups because they work the hip flexors a good deal and might exacerbate the issue,” Westcott says. “But really, sit-ups can be done by the majority of the population.”
To safely get the most out of a full sit-up, follow instructions for the basic crunch, moving slowly in both directions, lifting up to an almost-seated position. If your neck aches, lightly cup one hand behind it for support.
myth If you want to get a firmer, flatter belly, you need to do ab exercises every day.
truth “Although the abs are postural muscles and have a predominance of slow-twitch fibers, which recover quickly from an abundance of work, they are still just like other muscles and need time to rest, recover and rebuild,” says certified trainer and fitness author Kurt Brungardt. Train your abs no more than four days a week on nonconsecutive days.
myth You should train your abs at the end of your workout.
truth There’s some validity to the claim that training your abs last preserves your core strength for the earlier part of your workout: “If you’re going to do squats or multimuscle exercises like push-ups or lunges that require a lot of balance, you might want to do abs last so your core is fresh and strong,” Brungardt says. On the other hand, experts generally agree that you should do ab moves when you’re most likely to do them. “The danger of always putting abs at the end is that people run out of time and end up never training them,” notes Auckland, New Zealand-based certified trainer Kathryn M. Clark.
myth Because the abs are endurance muscles, you have to do hundreds of reps to get results.
truth Abs do have greater endurance than most muscle groups-however, “doing an exercise with proper form, using slow, controlled motions, is an excellent way to maximize results,” says Stuart Rugg, Ph.D., chair of the department of kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. If you’re using correct form (see “Ready, Set, Crunch!” at right), there should be no reason to exceed two or three sets of 25 reps of any ab exercise you do. “Quality is more important than quantity,” Brungardt adds.