Abs – everyone wants them, very few have them. Well actually, everyone has them. Most people just have stealth abs, undetectable beneath a layer of radar-reflecting abdominal fat. There may be more myths about ab training than anything else in fitness. Today, we line them up before the FitFinity firing squad. Props to Stephanie Caudle for providing many good ideas for this one, as well as some physical therapy knowledge bombs.
Myth 1: Training My Abs Will Make Them Visible
In 95% of people who do not have visible abs, lack of ab training is not the culprit. 95% of the people with visible abs would have them even without doing any direct ab training. Bold? Yes. Blasphemy? Perhaps. True? Almost certainly.
The truth is, visible abs are almost entirely a byproduct of low body fat. Get the body fat down, and the abs will become visible. The lower your body fat, the more cut your abs. No amount of ab training will ever take that fat off your mid-section either (see Killing The Spot Reduction Myth).
Priority number 1 when looking for that six pack: get your body fat low. See Fat Loss Triage to get started.
Myth 2: Side Bends Will “Tighten” My Obliques
And by “tighten my obliques,” you mean “get rid of my muffin top.” And what did I just tell you about the Spot Reduction Myth? No amount of location specific training will ever burn fat off that area.
What side bends will do is make you a really good side-bender. Good skill to have (note heavy sarcasm). Also they might add a little muscle mass to the obliques, which could increase the width of your waist. Not sure I know anyone who wants that. Best to just stay away.
Myth 3: The Rotary Torso Machine Will Do Anything Good
The logic for this one is similar to the above. It ain’t going to burn off that belly fat. At best it will do very little, and in this case, at worst it could seriously injure you. Generally, 45 degrees is about the norm for trunk rotation, and these machines usually go to about 90 degrees, under load no less.
The version of this machine that rotates your lower body while your upper body stays still is even worse – a recipe for spinal disaster. Avoid.
Myth 4: Ab Training Is Only Good For Six-Packs
I’ve already semi-debunked this one in #1 above, since ad training really isn’t even the key to getting a six pack. So what is ab training good for? Lots of things.
Strong abdominals, obliques, and transversus (basically the anterior core) are crucial to:
- Increase strength in many exercises (you can’t squat or deadlift heavy without a strong core)
- Prevent and reduce low back pain
- Improve posture (reduce anterior pelvic tilt), which plays into both the above
- See transversus training for more info
So don’t throw out ab training completely, just change the way you think about it (and probably the way you do it – more on that later)
Myth 5: You Shouldn’t Train Abs Heavy
Like hell you shouldn’t. I’m not sure where anyone came up with the idea that abs should be trained with super-high reps of basically no load. These ab classes where you spend 30 minutes doing crunches are ridiculous. Would you train your chest with 4000 reps with no external load? No. Why your abs? Load them and do a normal rep range.
Myth 6: Crunches Are A Good Ab Exercise
Crunches seem to have become the defacto ab exercise of choice of everyone. People do them on the floor, on a ball, on a half ball, standing up, on a decline, and probably 63 other ways I’m not remembering. I never do crunches or prescribe them for a couple of reasons:
- They are horrible for the lumbar spine, producing unacceptable forces in the lumbar spine (lower back) and repeatedly flexing and extending an area not meant for such activity. It is theorized that the lumbar spine may have a limited number of flexion/extension cycles before serious damage occurs.
- They reinforce the head-forward, slumped shoulder, rounded back posture that already plagues most of western civilization
- They train the rectus abdominis in an unnatural pattern – the RA is meant mainly to stabilize and maintain neutral spinal posture, not repeatedly flex and extend the spine. It is for this purpose that the RA should be trained.
Bonus Myth(!): I Know How To Do Planks/Planks Are Easy
Chances are – no. See this video by Dean Somerset, latest addition to my blogroll:
So, How Should I Train My Abs?
Stay tuned for an upcoming post on effective and well-rounded ab training! I know, I’m such a tease.