The truth about your abs
By Andrew Grayson
The million dollar question everyone wants to know. How do I get abs and can you get flat abs? That’s probably the single biggest question many of us have when it comes to losing body fat. If you’re like me, you love food and eat all the damn time. Many of us have probably done countless abdominal exercises in order to get flat abs but see very little success (myself included)
It’s hard to believe that one body part could cause so much anguish for many of us, but it does—simply because we can’t control how our bodies respond to exercise and diet. We can’t control where fat is stored or how quickly we lose it, and this is especially true of the midsection.
With that in mind, what’s the real answer to getting flat abs? It helps to know just what your body is capable of and how much control you really have over losing body fat and how there is SO much more than just doing a few crunches every couple days.
The Facts About Your Abs
Much of the frustration surrounding the abs is due to misinformation and unrealistic expectations. Despite the hard work of trainers everywhere, people still cling to outdated ideas on the proper way to work their abs and get the much-desired “six-pack.”
Also, remember that having a strong core can help you with almost any sport or physical activity—but your abs are only part of your core. The core also includes your obliques (the muscles at the sides of your abdomen) as well as other muscles in your back and even your glutes (butt).
Examining the facts surrounding your abs is the first step towards setting reasonable goals for yourself.
Doing Ab Exercises Doesn’t Get Rid of Abdominal Fat
Unfortunately, spot reduction doesn’t work, for the abs or any other body part. The fallacy of spot reduction assumes that, if you have fat over your abs, then exercising the ab muscles will make that fat go away.
While exercising the muscle may increase endurance or strength, it won’t burn off the fat in that area.1 The reason for this is because the body draws energy from the entire body when exercising, not just from the part you’re working on.
The only way to burn fat from your belly is to reduce overall body fat by creating a calorie deficit. The healthiest way to do that is with a consistent exercise—cardio, weight training, and flexibility—and a healthy, low-calorie diet.
Keep in mind that doing all of that is no guarantee you’ll lose belly fat. That’s up to your genetics, age, and hormones, among other factors not always in our control.
Ab Muscles Aren’t Different From Other Muscles of the Body
Do you work your abs differently from other muscles in your body, doing tons of reps and working them every day? If so, you’re not alone. Too often, people work their abs every day without rest, hoping to burn the fat off with more exercise.
However, your abdominal muscles are just like every other muscle in your body. So, you should train them the same way you would train your biceps or your chest. That means strength training 2 to 3 times a week with rest in between and a variety of exercises to target different areas of the abs.2
Try dynamic moves that focus on core strength and involve your stabilizer muscles; the muscles you use all day long to hold your body in place. One of these is the plank. To do this move, get into a push-up position and hold it for as long as you can, keeping your belly tight and your body straight. You can do this move on your elbows, which is more challenging, or on your toes.
The vertical crunch is another great ab move that fires all of your abdominal muscle fibers:
- Lie on the floor with your legs up (straight or slightly bent) and aim the soles of your feet at the ceiling.
- Imagine that you’re holding something fragile on your feet, like a tray of glasses filled with water.
- Lift the ‘tray’ straight up toward the ceiling until your hips are off the floor. This is a very small, but very intense movement.
- Do it slowly and complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps.
The trick to training your abs is to realize that strength training is important to keep your core strong, but ab exercises aren’t magic. Incorporating ab exercises into a complete routine is the only way to the wonderful world of six-packs. And if you don’t make it there, don’t worry. Most of us probably don’t have the genetic makeup for completely flat abs, especially women.
Ab Exercises Are About Quality Not Quantity
In the old days of fitness classes and videos, most of us probably did hundreds (or more) crunches and other ab exercises thinking that was the best way to work them. As mentioned already, your abs are like other muscles of your body. You wouldn’t do 100 biceps curls, nor should you do 100 crunches. The real key to strong abs is about quality, not quantity.
To make strength gains with your abs, follow the same principles that apply everywhere else.2 This means you have to overload your muscles. The reason we feel the need to do so many reps is that we’re not working them hard enough, usually because of improper form. If you have to do 50 or more crunches before you feel fatigued, slow down and concentrate on your technique and on having good form.
And don’t forget that doing the same exercise over and over isn’t always the best way to make progress. Your body gets used to exercises and, therefore, becomes more efficient at them. In fact, you don’t have to do a single crunch to get a great ab workout.
Do a variety of exercises to target your rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. Don’t just think of your abs as a way to look great—that their purpose is to support your spine and help you have good posture. If you need more difficult exercises, consider getting an exercise ball or try advanced ab exercises.
Not Everyone Can Get a Flat Stomach
When you watch television, it seems like the models, actors, and stars have fabulous bodies with lovely flat bellies, doesn’t it? And many of them do. But what you may not know is that, for many people, it’s not physiologically possible to achieve a flat stomach.1
Let’s face it: The factors that dictate how our bodies look are too many to keep track of. Age, genetics, sex, hormones, body type, lifestyle, eating habits, stress management, sleep habits…all of these decide what your body and, therefore, your belly looks like.
Women tend to store fat around the lower belly area causing a lower belly pooch. Men tend to store fat around the middle, causing the spare tire effect.2
Yes, you can exercise and reduce your body fat, but you can’t choose where you lose fat.1 To get six-pack abs, you may have to drop your body fat to a level that is either a struggle to maintain or downright unhealthy. Many of us have the goal to get six-pack abs but most will find it difficult to reach that goal.
If this is true for you, trying to reach an impossible goal is only going to make you crazy. Set reachable goals for yourself and make friends with your belly. Remember that we all have flaws and perfection isn’t an option unless you head to your nearest surgeon. Instead of doing that, challenge yourself by taking care of your body and learning how to accept it.
You Don’t Need Special Equipment to Work Your Abs
There’s almost nothing more fascinating than those ab gadget infomercials. By using some kind of chair or wheel or vibrating belt, the belly fat will just melt away, right? The models in those commercials certainly look the part, but they definitely didn’t get those flat abs by using a machine.
The first rule of these infomercials and ab gadgets is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The second rule is that the people selling this equipment don’t care if you get flat abs. They just want your money.
Most importantly, you don’t need any special equipment to work on your abs. You can do a wide variety of ab exercises with just your bodyweight or with an exercise ball, which is often much cheaper than the gadgets you see on infomercials.