Myth 1: Training abs consistently with a perfect, efficient program will eventually give you the six-pack you desire. Not if you have a layer of fat blanketing your midsection. So lay off the six-packs if you want to get a six-pack. If your bodyfat is above 12 percent, your abs will be hidden no matter how developed the rectus abdominis muscle is. You have to diet away bodyfat in order to see your developed abs.
Myth 2: You need to do hundreds of reps to get great abs. Wrong! The rectus abdominis is a muscle like the biceps, pecs, delts and so on. To get a deep, etched midsection, you have to build it. Yes, I said build, but don’t panic. You won’t get a peaked paunch from a belly full of muscle because the rectus abdominis is relatively flat, and it’s held tightly by those tendons mentioned above. Nevertheless, to get those tendons to sit deeper so you have unmistakable delineation, you have to build enough ab muscle that it rises above the tendons. And how do you build muscle? With progressive resistance—adding weight to your ab exercises whenever possible—and getting eight to 20 reps per set.
Myth 3: For best results train your abs every day. Nope. Again, the rectus abdominis is a muscle just like chest, lats and so on. If you train your abs intensely through a full range of motion, they need rest to recover and regenerate. Never train abs more than three nonconsecutive days a week—and two may be better if your intensity is high.
Myth 4: The crunch is the best abdominal exercise. That’s like saying the leg extension is the best quad exercise. Sure, it isolates the target muscle, but most bodybuilders know that isolation exercises aren’t the best movements for adding muscle. In the quads’ case that means squats and leg presses. As for the abs, a recent EMG study showed that even the bicycle exercise, pedaling your legs in the air while you’re on your back, provides more electrical response, or fiber activation, in the rectus abdominis than the flat crunch. Why? Muscles are designed to function best in tandem with other muscles, and with the abs that means bringing in the hip flexors. Other exercises that provide muscle teamwork are hanging kneeups, incline kneeups and incline situps. Of course, if you do those exercises with momentum, throwing your torso or legs through the air on every rep, then they become inferior to the strict crunch. You have to stay in complete control to get the best ab-etching effects.
Myth 5: Training abs with more sets and reps will burn bodyfat to reveal a perfect six-pack. Sorry, spot reduction only occurs in fairy tales—and wishing it were true doesn’t make it so. You don’t burn the fat on your stomach by doing lots of reps on ab exercises, period! To most trainees’ chagrin, they have to diet strictly and/or do cardio work to burn fat from all over the body. Don’t 100 situps count as calorie-burning cardio? Nope. Those 100 reps burn fewer calories than are contained in one small apple.
A better strategy is to gradually lower your calories—cut 100 to 200 from your daily intake every three weeks—and/or add some aerobic activity to your workouts. That’s how you get your midsection fat to eventually melt away. When you get your bodyfat percentage below 10 percent, you’ll see your abs. If you want to see your abs while you’re standing relaxed, you’ll have to get your bodyfat down below six percent. For most that will mean even more small calorie cuts every two to three weeks until daily calories are in the 2,000 range.
If your bodyfat level is still unacceptable once you’re down to the minimal calorie level, you’ll have to add more cardio activity and/or fat-burning supplements to ramp up your metabolism to pare off that last bit of fat. The lower your bodyfat gets, the tougher it is to continue getting leaner. But don’t give up. With persistence, the right training routine and a methodical calorie reduction, midsection perfection can be yours—along with more than your share of admiring stares.