Abs training might be one of the most misunderstood of all muscle groups. The myths are rampant, so today I do my best to dispel a few of them. It’s not hard to fall for these myths; popular media reinforces them steadfastly. My experience and education have shown me, however, that you can’t always believe what you hear, even if it’s repeated over and over.
Myth #1 “Abs are made in the kitchen alone.”
When pontificating about the best way to train abs, some will say to ignore abdominal-specific exercises and rely on compound exercises only. You can certainly get a strong core by doing compound exercises (which is good), but those exercises don’t target your abs.
I include specific core exercises for my clients (and do them myself) for two reasons: One, most people have very weak cores that could use extra stimulus; and two, training your abs specifically lends definition once the fat is reduced. Yes, you already know you need a commitment to eating lean to reveal the abdominal muscles. But great-looking abs are really a product of low body fat in the abdominal area, cardio, and training your abs.
If your ab muscles aren’t well developed, they’re still not going to pop much even if you reach ultra-low body fat levels. You have to train them as diligently as any other muscle.” ~ Tom Venuto
Myth #2 “I should work up to holding a plank as long as humanly possible.”
This myth is deeply etched into our beast mentality. It’s truly admirable if you have crazy abs endurance, but to quote Jonathon Ross, author of Abs Revealed, holding a plank for increasing lengths of time is like repeating the first grade over and over.
There’s limited benefit in holding a plank longer than 30 seconds, according to Jonathon. Instead, make your body more unstable. Alternate lifting elbows or feet, do moving planks, planks with elbows or feet on a ball… you get the idea. Instead of increasing the length of the hold, make the plank more difficult. For more ideas, see this.
Myth #3 “I should train my abs more frequently than other muscles.”
This is a common myth, along with utilizing high repetitions for abs training. However, you should train the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominus, and internal and external obliques as often as any other muscle group – not necessarily every day.
Two or three times a week is sufficient in my opinion, and often you can train your abs in as little as 10 minutes (see final tip below). Your abs need to rest just as other muscles do in order to grow. However, read my interview with Brad Gouthro to see how often he trains his ripped abs.
It’s true that you should not use heavy resistance with your obliques. It stands to reason that big muscles at the sides of your waist will make your waist look bigger. You want your obliques to pop but not grow, necessarily, so body weight or low weight is fine. But regarding your rectus abdominis, Tom Venuto says it best:
… Remember that muscle hypertrophy is achieved in the 8-12 rep range and even if abs are a more high-rep responsive muscle, 15-20 reps with some weight ought to do it.
Add some weight, drop the reps, go for a nice squeeze and contraction instead of those sloppy “speed reps” and see for yourself how much more it makes your abs pop.”
Myth #5 “A six pack is the holy grail.”
Your genetics play a large part in how your abs look, once revealed. You may be like me, in that you’d need a disturbingly low body fat percentage to see your lower abs. Every ounce of fat in my body is deposited right above my C-section scar, and I’ve accepted this. I never expect to have a six pack.
Not only that, but everyone’s abs are shaped differently. Some people have only a “four pack” – the third row is under flat sheet of tendinous tissue. The point is that no matter what your genetics, if you develop your abs and get lean, they will look ripped, even if they’re not a perfect six pack.
A Final Tip
And finally, here’s my quick tip for a fast, effective abs workout. I always do two or three abs exercises back to back without rest. This really burns the muscle effectively and saves time. As you build strength in your abs and core you won’t need to rest very long between exercises. One superset I particularly like is the hanging leg raise and a steep incline reverse crunch (pictured above). It’s incline because your head is at the top of the bench, not the bottom.
For more core training tips, see these posts:
- Crunches No More! Effective Core Training
- For Bad Ass Abs, Get Strong and Lean
- My Favorite Exercises for Hot, Muscular Abs
- How to make your abs POP… More Dieting or More Training? by Tom Venuto
- Top Tips and Never-Before Seen Exercises for Training the Abs, by Jonathon Ross