Five Myths About Abs Training

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.

Myth #4 “I shouldn’t train heavy with my 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:

References

39 thoughts on “Five Myths About Abs Training

  1. THANKS! The abs are my trouble spot. Losing 100 pounds means some loose skin and cellulite only on my stomach and I was doing all these ab exercises trying to target that area. I realized (with your help) that targeting a specific area isn’t the best way–that I have to do the whole body. Still waiting for my 6-pack but I’m pretty happy with how strong my core is (I notice is while biking).

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    • Yes, a take-home about training abs that I could’ve mentioned is that you can’t spot reduce them. Another myth that the media portrays! Glad your core is strong Lisa, that is worth more than a six pack.

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  2. Suzanne, since you are the goddess of 12-pack abs, I particularly appreciate this scoop. that is one of the weakest areas of my body and I take Pilates in addition to strength training to target it, but I’ve always been under the impression what I eat is just as important for the muscle definition (or lack thereof) in that area. Glad to hear that I don’t have to hold my planks until the end of time too1 🙂

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  3. LOVE as always!!! I never respond to posts about how ya don’t need to do direct core/ab work because so many will just agree & my 30 years at this shows that direct core work AND f\the kitchen work. I am glad you wrote it here!!! I also don’t plank forever & a day but work them in different forms. Sometimes just doing a variety of push-ups, I will end by holding a plank or after a stability ball v-up, I will end by holding the plank with my feet on the ball.

    Also love what you said about weights & obliques Learned that early on that they made me blocky. I see women doing it but sometimes ya just have to let them learn if they don’t want to hear it – we are all different but I always got blocky with weighted obliques.

    I clicked the links too & love! I am like Brad – 4-5 times a week.

    THX Suzanne!

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  4. I’m always saying “Abs are made in the kitchen” when people ask for spot reducing exercise. You’re so right, once you get lean you need to have something to show off. Now to get them to stop doing crunches all the time. 🙂

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  5. My brother can attest to this. He was only able to get those coveted abs when he lost a lot of his weight and after months of training religiously.

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  6. Right on!
    That first set of pics looks like a torture chamber. 🙂 Bring it!…and then I’ll throw up.

    Actually I’ve only thrown up working out twice, and one of those times was on an ab day (from H. E. double hockey sticks).

    I know people who sprinkle in an ab exercise every time they’re at the gym, but they never actually dedicate one day to their core. Seems to me that it’s a bit self-defeating, as they’re never going to really challenge their ab muscles, or allow antiquate recovery.

    Promises of six-pack abs sure seem to sell, but what are they really selling you? I think Mary Poppins would call that a pie crust promise. 😉

    Best wishes!

    -Matt

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    • Haha Matt! Torture chamber indeed! Training abs on their own day is a fabulous idea for the hard “core”, no pun intended. I wish the whole idea of a six pack would just die. Not attainable for most and other ideals are just as good.

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  7. Great article! I hate when people tell me abs are made in the kitchen. All muscular success is a combo of eating right and training hard.

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  8. This is a great article Suzanne! I love the myths you have posted here and I guess those are not that familiar with others..

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  9. Great post !!! And this is very true that eating right foods plays a major role when it comes to abs muscles. Also its not necessary to hit your abdominal muscles every day. Rest is a must between the sessions to make them stronger.

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  10. I used to hate doing core work because the fatty layer on my stomachs was so disheartening. But that’s definitely changed. I work my abs 3X week and have fine-tuned my eating to ensure better results. I did do a plankathon awhile back. It was fun. I pushed and challenged myself to hold as long as possible. It was cool. But since then, I’m all about a variety of abs move to get me all sexy ‘n stuff. No more plankathons for me. Great post, Suzanne! xo

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    • Plankathons are a fun way to be part of a community while you push yourself. Nothing wrong with that! What inspires me about you is that you not only lost the weight, but you educate yourself and stick to what works. That’s why you continue to see progress!

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  11. Hi, i stumbled on this unexpectedly and made me feel a lot better! I had a baby and it really pulled my stomach out of shape and pooled the fat in just the place you don’t want it!! I have been battling with ‘losing body fat to get rid of the baby bulge’ vs ‘keeping some fat to not look super ripped’. I think ill just keep going and see how i look when you can see muscle separation in my shoulders….hmmm….maybe not. Perhaps i should just accept the bulge lol!

    Great post x

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    • Lol! It does take time. I wore maternity clothes for LONG after my daughter was born, and it took like two years to get it all off. Show me a fitness model who’s had a baby and I’ll show you an anomaly! 😉

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  12. lol! In that case i think i should probably accept it….it’s not like I’m overweight and he is going to be six in october! And anyway, a pouch bit of skin at the bottom of a six pack would probably look worse than a bit of fat 😉

    Question: Do you think we aspire to the abs because that’s the male standard of leanness and fitness thrust upon us by an industry not really catered for women or do you think we do it cos we actually think its attractive?

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    • Could be! I don’t think it’s really realistic for most of us. And washboard abs is a relatively new “standard” … used to be that skinny abs were enough (ha!). I think it looks ok but honestly I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a real woman with a six pack ;).

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  13. Great points Suzanne. I’m sure you’ve noticed the same, but the most common questions I get are, “How do I get a six-pack?”. Bottomline…clean eating, INTENSE cardio, compound abdominal exercises combined with targeted abdominal exercises, and good genes are what leads to a stereotypical “six-pack”.

    I love super setting my abs as you mentioned… I personally enjoy heavy weighted ab crunches/100 bicycle crunches/60 second plank alternating a foot in the air throughout…woww that will KILLLL your core.

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