Hands down, no other body part gets more attention than the abs. It’s not even close. Unfortunately, there are more myths associated with the best way to trim and tone midsection than any other body part. Falling prey to these myths not only diminishes results, but you also may increase the potential for an injury.
So how do you go about deciphering ab training fact from fiction? Read on…
MYTH #1: Training the abs will give you a flat stomach.
Contrary to popular belief, you cant spot reduce fat. It’s a physiologic impossibility. When you exercise, fat is utilized (i.e. burned) from all areas of the body; you can perform crunches until the cows come home but it will have virtually no effect on losing those love handles or blasting that beer belly. What’s more, the calories expended during ab exercises are very low. There are far better exercises to expedite fat loss than crunches and side bends, particularly those that work multiple muscle groups such as squats, presses, and rows. Now training your abs will develop the underlying muscle, which is essential if you want that coveted “six pack.” But if there is a layer of fat obscuring your muscles, no one will ever see what you’ve worked so hard to develop.
MYTH #2: The lower and upper abs are separate from one another.
The abs are one long sheath of muscle–not two separate entities. Any ab exercise you do is going to involve both the lower and upper abdominal areas. However, studies show you can shift the emphasis more toward the lower or upper regions by performing specific exercises. Specifically, exercises that bring the chest toward the pelvis (crunch-type exercises) target the upper region of the abs, while exercises that bring the pelvis toward the chest (reverse curls) target the lower abdominal region.
MYTH #3: You should perform ab exercises every day for best results.
It has been taken as gospel that the abs are somehow different from other muscles and respond best to daily training. Nonsense, at least if getting a six-pack is your goal. You wouldn’t think of training the biceps or the quadriceps every day, would you? Well, the abs have the almost the same percentage of “fast twitch” to “slow twitch” muscles as the biceps and the quads. This means they are designed just as much for strength as for endurance. Realize that your muscles develop during rest. When you train, you’re actually breaking down muscle tissue. Short change results and you shortchange the recuperative process, thereby impairing results. Approximately 48 hours rest is needed between training sessions for a given muscle group–and that includes the abs.
MYTH #4: During the crunch, you should place your hands behind your head for support.
More times then not, people are taught to support their head with their hands when doing crunches. Bad idea. You see, when you clasp your hands behind your head there is a reflexive tendency to pull on the neck muscles. This greatly increases the risk for straining your neck muscles, especially towards the end of a set when you begin to fatigue and are struggling to perform those last few reps. I cringe watching some people yank their heads up as they crunch; they’re an injury waiting to happen. Ouch! The best advice is to place your hands behind your chest or put your fists at your ears. Your neck will thank you. For more detailed info on this myth, see my post Do Crunches Lead to Neck Pain?.
So there you go. Heed these truisms about ab training and you’re well on your way to a better workout…and a firmer midsection!