Ab Training myths and the facts
This article deals with a few of the more outrageous beliefs that people are harboring concerning abs, ab training, body fat, and losing it.
When I first started on my own course of ab training, I have to say that I also believed in all of these – it took time and experience on my part for me to realize precisely what was the truth and what was cleverly masked words on the cover of magazines, placed there so that I would be tempted to buy them.
And it worked, I will freely admit that I am a sucker and that I gave in and bought into every promise that those magazines were making to me – that I could lose my belly fat by spot reducing, that there was an exercise I could do to get rid of my love handles, etc., etc.
The truth of the matter, though, was far from what I was reading in these magazines and things. The fact of the matter is that there are some things that even you can’t do no matter how good your intentions are, or how strong you determine to do it.
Read on to find out about a few of the things that you thought was the truth, but which is a myth brought to life by different people at different times and which have stayed alive through the years.
Before we proceed any further, before you can raise your eyes at me and ask me whether I know what I’m talking about, let me just ask you this question: how many years have you been (unsuccessfully) trying to lose only that roll of belly fat? I rest my case.
And if you have yet to begin that cycle of trying to believe everything that isn’t true, then I urge you to ask someone else how long they have been at it. Ask around enough, and you will find your answer quickly enough.
Everyone who has well-defined abs, a six-pack, or firm abs, will tell you that they have had to work for it and that they had to do an all-over routine to get rid of the fat. In contrast, the people who are still struggling to get rid of these will probably tell you that they have been at it for some time now, unsuccessfully I might add. You make the decision.
The myths and the facts
Below are five myths of ab training and their facts. I have gone into more detail over these immediately afterward myth by myth.
- Spot reduction – a myth, it doesn’t really work, it’s all or nothing really
- Sit ups are good to define ab muscles – this isn’t true, they don’t help at all
- You need to do more reps to work your ab muscles – not true, you need to work your abs the same as you would any other muscle
- There are exercises that target only your abs – this is not a possibility, you will need to work your abs in conjunction with the rest of your body
- Your ab muscles are different to your other muscles – not really, they are just the same as any other muscle group in your body.
Spot Reduction (doesn’t work)
The simple truth of the matter is that you cannot spot reduce. It is an impossibility that has been fostered on us by the well-meaning people who have something or other to gain from this wrong impression.
You can try, however much you want, you can struggle for as long as you want, but you will not be able to spot reduce any single part of you, and this is the truth.
To lose weight, or to lose fat, you will need to exercise, and you will need to do it on a fairly regular basis, also taking into account the fact that your diet will most likely need to change as well.
The verdict: There is no such thing as spot reduction, don’t fall for that old line. It might sound like music to your ears, but it’s more like the call of a siren instead of something that will be helpful to you.
Sit-ups are (not) what you need
Contrary to everything that we have heard over the years, you will find that sit-ups are not going to help you get leaner abs. Sit-ups are more or less redundant when you really go to look at things.
What do I mean? After all, aren’t ab crunches the same thing as sit-ups? The answer to that would have to be a resounding, No. Ab crunches although similar to sit-ups are not the same thing.
On the face of it, the principle is the same; it’s only when you go more in-depth that you see the difference. To begin with, sit-ups require you to come fully upwards towards your knees, whereas crunches only require you to lift a few inches off the ground.
The difference lies in this fact; and the redundancy of sit-ups lies in the fact that going beyond a certain point, that is, raising your upper body up off the floor beyond a certain point does nothing for your abdominal muscles, and in some instances if this is not done correctly the sit-up will work your hip muscles or strain your back and shoulder muscles.
So, no, the sit-up is not the same as the crunch, since the crunch relies only on your ab muscles to pull you up, and doesn’t place extra strain on any other part of you. To see how to do a crunch, go to the sections entitled, “The crunch,” and “The crunch with the exercise ball.”
The verdict: Sit-ups are not what you need to help you get better-defined abs. Crunches are the way to go!
More reps are (not) what you need
So you want to get better defined abdominal muscles, and you think that doing more sets of reps will be just the thing that you need. Wrong.
This is the very last thing that you want to do. To get better-defined abs, you will need to do only a few sets of reps. The minimum amount of reps won’t cut it, but you don’t need the maximum number of reps either.
A certain number of reps for each different routine will do nicely. These will naturally enough vary with the type of exercise routine that you’re doing, but you might want to check out what I’ve said in the beginning of the “Some exercise you can do” section.
As a general guideline that should do finely. Just remember that more doesn’t necessarily translate into ‘better.’
The verdict: More reps are not what you need: they won’t do anything to enhance your goal of getting flatter and firmer abs.
(No) Ab exercises for your belly fat
This is more or less the same thing as thinking that you can spot reduce your belly fat. The plain truth of the matter is that there is no one exercise or one set of exercises that are going to reduce your belly fat, just as there is no way that you can spot reduce your weight from the places that you don’t like.
To lose the weight, and for you to lose the belly fat, you will need to exercise and have a nutritious and healthy diet. And this will mean that you need to change your life around.
It doesn’t matter what any of the magazines that you find yourself helplessly buying tell you; you cannot target one area of your body and hope to lose the fat in that area.
The verdict: There are no exercises that you can do to reduce only your belly fat, meaning that you will need to have an excellent all-over workout if you want to lose the fat.
Ab muscles are (not) different
One of the things that people tend to believe, whether consciously or not, is that ab muscles are somehow different from other muscles in our body. After all, this is why we treat them differently, right?
We try to spot reduce from our belly, we try to apply abdominal oriented exercise and we believe that doing higher reps for our ab muscles will somehow or other help to developing them faster.
Since we now know that none of this is true, the next thing that you need to do is to take a good long hard look at your ab muscles (not literally of course!). If you have managed to burn away the fat, then you know that by training your ab muscles in a normal manner, you will be able to get if not a six-pack, at least firmer abs.
This means that you can train your ab muscles the same as you would your other muscles.
The verdict: No, your ab muscles are not different from your other muscles, and you need to work them in much the same way as you would any other muscle group.
Things you can do
As you might have noticed throughout this article, I have emphasized the fact that you will first need to lose that belly fat before you can even begin to show off your new set of well-defined abs.
Without losing this belly fat, no matter how hard you try to achieve your six-pack, you can be assured that you will not come close to the perfection (take to that to mean flatter abs) that you want.
To that end, I have included in this section a few things that you can do while you’re at home to start the process of losing that belly fat.
These can very easily be done in conjunction with your other exercises and are also a great way for you to get into the spirit of things if you’re not too keen on exercising all that much (despite the fact that you want a firmer, flatter stomach which will be the envy of all!)
Below is the list of things that you can do on an everyday basis to help you lose that roll of belly fat or those love handles, which are a definite detriment to your goal of gaining firmer flatter abs. Read through them and try to incorporate as many as you can into your life.
Most of these will complement your existing ab workout routine, or if you have yet to motivate yourself into starting your routine, you might even find yourself being motivated to start it as soon as possible.
These small things which I have mentioned below can also help you to stay motivated throughout the time when you are trying to define and shape up your abs; the reason for this being the straightforward one of the inherent rewards you will get when you see the outcome of things.
- Get smaller plates and glasses etc.
- Don’t skip meals
- Cut down on the snacks
- Stay healthy – walk whenever you can
- Eat more proteins, fewer carbs
- Do eat foods high in fiber – even if they are carbs
- Exercise whenever you can – even when watching TV
- Try washing the car yourself, or even mow the lawn!
- Work out in spurts
- Avoid foods high in sugars or sugar substitutes
- Eat healthier snacks if you must
- Stick with low-to-no calorie beverages
- Don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach
- And when you do go shopping, stay away from the family-sized packs
- Go brown or whole wheat – stay away from processed foods
- De-stress and get your beauty sleep.
- Eat your fruits and veggies
Get smaller plates and glasses and things
This way you will find that even though you might like to eat a heaping plateful of food, you’re definitely eating less than if you continued with your larger plates.
Alternately you can always get lighter, brighter colored plates, as it has been shown that you tend to eat less with lighter colored plates than with darker colored ones.
Don’t skip meals
This is probably one of the very last things which you should do to yourself. Starvation in any form or manner is not going to help you to lose that roll of belly fat, nor is it going to aid you to get flat firm abs.
You need to eat your meals properly without skipping, and you need to eat them in a balanced manner. The idea behind this being that you will have enough energy, that your body will have enough energy, to see the day through without falling apart at the seams.
So if you want to be able to get flatter firmer abs, which are the envy of everyone, and if you want to continue on your exercise sessions to do so, then I strongly suggest that you get back to eating regular meals.
And the good thing about this, you will find, is that you don’t even need to eat three square meals a day. You can space things out so that you’re eating between five to five to six smaller meals a day instead of three heavy meals.
Just remember not to eat immediately before or after a workout session!
Cut down on the snacks
This is one of the things which you will find can help you to lose quite a significant amount of that belly fat, or even if not help you to lose that belly fat, at least you will have the assurance that you won’t be putting on any extra weight.
To that end, the more you cut out the sugars and the added fats which are found in abundant qualities in most popular snacks and things, you will find that you are cutting out quite a significant source of fat-inducing, weight-gaining foods from your daily diet.
Of course, if it were that easy, you wouldn’t need me to tell you about it, nor for that matter would you have that roll of belly fat on you!
So, since we can freely acknowledge that cutting out the snacks from our diet is not going to be the easiest thing in the world, I think we can also take things one step further and not quit the snacks cold-turkey.
The main reason for this being that you will almost definitely find yourself going right back on to the snacks and forgetting all your good resolutions.
The best thing that you can do would be to take it slowly, remove one snacking temptation one after another, in an orderly fashion.
So if you know that you like to snack at odd times of the day, the first thing that you need to do is to stop that round of denials that you’re going through and admit to yourself that you are snacking. Once you can accept that to yourself, you will then be able to go about the business of trying to reduce your snacking habits.
And the best way to do this is to exorcise the snacking need from your diet one snacking-urge at a time.
So for instance, if you know that you like to have a snack between breakfast and lunch, try and change things around so that you’re not snacking so much, or so that you’re snacking on something that’s healthy, like a fruit.
Although it sounds easy, it’s not going to be all that easy, but speaking as a former voracious snacker, I can say that the liberation I now have from sugar is really entirely…liberating to tell you the truth!
Stay healthy – walk whenever you can
Another good way to shed pounds is walking. Walk wherever you can whenever you can, it’s as simple as that. Without having to add more exercise into your normal routine, walking will give you that much-needed energy boost to help you lose those rolls of fat.
Of course, walking by itself won’t help you to lose the excess fat you might be carrying around. You will also need to bring other factors into the equation to accomplish this task, but it is a good way to start, especially if you have little to no time left over to exercise the fat from your stomach area.
And one of the easiest ways to integrate walking into your life is to force yourself to do it. Most of us these days are so used to taking the car even to go down to the corner shop, that we forget we have the ability to move our limbs freely.
So the next time you automatically reach for the car keys when you have to go down the road to get something or do something, think twice about it – more to the point, think about the exercise you will be getting by leaving the car at home.
Or, if you really want to milk it for all it’s worth, try parking the car a distance away from your destination so that you have to walk in to wherever you have to go, thereby ensuring that you also have a walk back to your car as well.
Eat more proteins, fewer carbs
Now, this is not necessarily something that every nutritionist will agree on, but it can’t be denied that eating more proteins is better for your efforts at building up muscle mass and losing excess fat.
Eating more protein-based foods, and less carb-based foods is better for you in the long run than sticking to your normal carb-laden meals. It might be difficult for you at times to leave off on the pasta and the bread, but you will find that the end result is well worth it.
The other thing that you will want to take into consideration when planning your meals is that you will need carbs in your diet, just not all the time and definitely not in vast quantities.
There are ways and means of integrating carbs into your diet, though in a way that won’t make it difficult for you to gain your six-pack. And although it might seem like a pain to begin with, finding out which carbs are good for you will help you in the long run. Because, yes, that’s right, there are carbs which are considered good for you.
To live a healthy life you need to have a healthy diet, and although you don’t necessarily need to have the recommended ‘well-balanced diet’ to help you stay fighting fit, you will need to make sure that you get the proper nutrients into you at the right time. Otherwise, you might find yourself facing more problems than you need.
So eat more proteins and less of the bad processed carbs, but also remember to eat healthily, and in a way that will give you all the nutrients and energy that you will need.
One of the things which I wanted to address before we finish with this article is that of nutrition supplements. I don’t rightly know how you feel about these things, but I know that there are some things which I wouldn’t do to myself in order to get a better-looking body, and one of them is taking nutrition supplements or protein shakes or anything else along those lines.
To begin with, I wouldn’t take any of these things without first checking things out with a qualified nutritionist or doctor to advise me on whether or not what I was taking was good for my body.
It doesn’t matter what it says on the label, or what the company selling these protein shakes and things will tell you, you need to remember that it is always in their best interest if they can sell as many of these things as possible. In this case, it might even go to stretching the truth a little bit, so that you get entirely the wrong idea of what is right for you, and what’s not.
It’s really as simple as that when you go to look at it. So before you go around changing your entire diet to encompass these nutritional supplements, talk with your doctor beforehand.
Get a good idea about what exactly you’re going to get from taking these, and what the long term effects will be if you continue to use them. Remember to be wise about what you put in your body and you will definitely come out the winner in the long run.
Do eat foods high in fiber – even if they are carbs
And to go along with the section that we just finished, I would also just like to say that you should also eat foods that are high in fiber. These might, you will find, be carbs, but as long as they are all-natural with only the most minimal amount of processing done to them, you will be able to eat them without having to think too hard about things.
Exercise whenever you can – even when watching TV
So you hate exercise, who doesn’t? If you didn’t hate it – or at least have a dislike for doing it continuously – then you wouldn’t be here, right? You would already have your six-pack abs, and already working your way towards an eight pack, or something similar along those lines.
And now that we have that out of the way, perhaps you might like to take a minute to examine the benefits of exercising – even while you’re watching TV.
The thing is, and you should be very familiar with this refrain by now, you do need to work to get your abs, and saying that you missed a workout session (or two or three) simply because you didn’t have the time to get to it today, is not going to cut it.
If you watch TV you have the time; if you spend your time lazing the hours away, you have the time; if you regularly go to a restaurant for lunch, or if you always eat out with your friends, you have the time.
It’s all a matter of perspective, you see. You have the time; you just need to make the most use of what you have. So you can’t say that all you have is five minutes and that you can’t accomplish anything at that time. Learn to use even the five minutes that you have to do something constructive.
If we take the above list off examples where I cited you as having time, you will see what I’m talking about, so here goes.
If you watch TV – this is it, the one invention of the twentieth century which has made a blithering idiot out of even the sanest and sensible person.
Just think about it, how many times do we sit mindlessly in front of the television whiling away the time while we have lunch, or dinner, or even breakfast, or a snack? How much time have we spent in front of the TV because we ‘didn’t have anything else to do’?
Too many, right? Well, this is just it, if you spend at least part of the time that you’re sitting there watching TV, on your feet instead of on your backside, you will find that you are doing something productive, and wouldn’t that be a refreshing change!
If you prefer to while away the hours doing simply nothing – then you most definitely have the time to get off your backside and get it into gear. Let go of your apathy; let go of the notion that you need to have a well-deserved rest after working the entire week.
Your main goal now is to lose weight and get that six-pack of abs if you can manage it, it’s not to reward yourself for getting through another hectic week of work.
Get in as many reps as you can of a low-intensity workout if you want, or do the high-intensity workouts, whatever you want, as long as you are shaking your body and breaking into a sweat.
If you eat out or otherwise use your car to get you places – then try this cool new invention called walking! That’s right, walking (I’ve covered this in the section called, “Stay healthy – walk whenever you can”).
You might find that it’s of great benefit to you and that you are actually getting something of a workout.
Take the stairs when you can – avoid the elevators or the escalators; if you’re going out to lunch, try walking there instead of driving, getting a cab, or even using the subway.
Do anything that moves you around more than you normally would, and you will begin to see a difference pretty soon.
Try washing the car yourself, or even mow the lawn!
We all know just how easy it is to go down to the carwash and let the machines do the job for you¸ but have you ever thought that by doing this you’re letting a golden opportunity pass you by?
Have you ever thought of the workout that you could be getting by washing your car? Actually, scratch that thought, you probably have, which is why you end up going to the carwash or paying some eager beaver kid from around the block to do it for you.
Well, since your goals have changed and you now want flatter, firmer abs, or a six-pack if possible, you should take advantage of all the opportunities that are presented to you to get a good workout going, even if it is in the form of washing your car, or maybe even mowing the lawn, or how about washing the windows on the side of your house?
There are many different exercises which you can get from doing those dreaded household chores which you would instead palm off to somebody else, and I have to say that washing the car is one of them!
So get out there, get the bucket and the hose ready and wash down your car. You will have saved some money, ended up with a gleaming car, and a good workout into the bargain. Could it get any better?
Work out in spurts
Another easy way to get a good workout into your schedule and not break too much sweat is to workout in spurts. That’s right, in small bursts of intense energy workouts, interspersed with short rest periods.
This is less strenuous on the mind, more than anything else, as you are not carrying on for long minutes on end. The idea is for you to get a better workout than you can actually benefit from without taxing your will power as well.
So for instance, if you like to walk, or even jog, take it relatively slowly for the first minute or two then go into a high-intensity walk or jog for about one or two minutes, slow down and go slowly again for another minute or two, before speeding up once again.
Try and keep this up for about fifteen minutes or so and you will almost definitely begin to feel the burn. This is also a good way to spice up a dull and boring exercise routine, which will ultimately stop being challenging after you become accustomed to it, and which will lose its impact after a time.
Avoid foods high in sugars or sugar substitutes
Basically, you need to stop snacking and picking on foods that are bad for you such as candy bars, too many chocolates, ice creams, cakes, sugary drinks, etc., and start snacking on things which are good for you, such as those which I have mentioned in the section, “Fight the cravings.”
But you will find that by eating sensibly, you will be able to cut down on the added sugars and foods which contain added sugars. Although, it must be said that sometimes you will need to search for the added sugars as they will be disguised in things such as the words, ‘corn syrup’ fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc.
These products will never tell you that they contain sugars, but you as the person wanting to get flatter abs will need to be on the lookout.
You will also want to keep a weather eye on foods and things which are processed or prepackaged and which tout themselves as being healthy and good for you.
Sometimes, it’s these foods, for which we often pay through the nose, that are bad for you, not their healthy un-processed counterparts, so watch what you eat and make sure that you’re not getting added sugars into your diet which you’re unaware of.
Eat healthier snacks if you must
And if you must eat snacks or that craving for food just gets the better of you try and eat healthier snacks and things. Stay away from unhealthy alternatives, please!
Stick with low-to-no calorie beverages
This is actually going along with what I said earlier, about avoiding sugars as far as possible, and sticking with low to no-calorie drinks and things that can help you to lose weight that much faster.
It will also help your goal of reaching flatter abs since your body now won’t be laden down with sugar-laden drinks and things. The same applies to your normal daily cups of tea and coffee as well.
You know that you love to have more than one cup of tea or coffee a day, and if this is the case, then you are far better off sticking to black tea or coffee or going in for the low-calorie variety – as in less-to-no sugar, and a very little cream or milk if you must.
On the other hand, if you are used to guzzling your tea and coffee in their unadulterated states, then you will find that you have the perfect no-calorie beverage to help keep you going through the day.
Don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach
This is just sensible thinking. If you go food shopping on an empty stomach, you will soon find that your shopping cart is piled high with all the foods that you shouldn’t eat, and which you know will find their way inside you before you even set foot inside your car!
So don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach, fill up on something healthy before you go, even if it is only fruit and a coffee if you can’t bring yourself to eat a full meal.
Stay away from the family-sized packs
And another thing that you should remember when going food shopping is to avoid those out-sized extra-large family packs. They might be good in your pocketbook, but in the long run, they will be bad on your health.
Why is this, you ask? Well, think of all those times when you did give in to the frugal side of your nature and ended up with family-sized packs of your favorite foods. Isn’t it true that you ate your way through that large pack in next to no time at all, and isn’t also true that you felt guilty about it later?
Unless you have kids and you need the family-sized packs, and you know that you won’t be eating those types of foods, stay away from the family-sized packs.
Instead, and this holds true even if you have kids, go for those individual-sized packs, or the packs which are the smallest you can find of any of your favorite foods.
In other words, if you know that you’re going to be eating it, then get the smaller pack. This will cut down a lot on your diet budget when the time comes!
Go brown or whole wheat
If you can eat brown bread or rice, or whole wheat bread, etc., you will find that you are much better off for it. What more can I say that hasn’t already been said about it?
It’s healthy, it’s tasty, and it’s filling. It will also help you to keep to a healthy diet, which will help you to continue to your goal of getting firmer abs.
De-stress and get your beauty sleep
That’s right, we covered this subject earlier, but here it is again. That just shows you how important it is, right?
You need to get adequate amounts of sleep. Otherwise, you will suffer for it, just as you will find that you are suffering because you are overstressed. And if you find that sleep is elusive, try some of the various methods available to get some of that sleep (like de-stressing!)
Eat your fruits and veggies
There is no better way to get the nutritious diet that you want than by eating your fruits and veggies. I realize this is something that sounds like your mother would tell you, but it is nevertheless the truth.
So eat your fruits and veggies – in the proper quantities of course – and you really will grow big and strong! Or at least, you will be helping yourself to get better-defined abs.
And lastly, considering that sports injuries are very common and because it’s all too easy to get hurt during your endeavors, I have compiled a small list of things which you can do to stay safe, and which will help you get further in your goals without getting hurt in the process.
This is only a small list of the many things which can go wrong when you are undertaking to exercise and get fit, so always be careful when you are working out and if in doubt about something or if you feel that something isn’t right, then stop and make sure that everything is alright.
Remember never to overstrain, or overreach yourself more than you can comfortably go. Think smart, take things with a large dose of common sense thrown in, and you will find that you are the better off for it.
- Always check your gear
- Don’t overdo it
- Always remember to support your spine
- Have a healthy body fat index – don’t lose more than you should
- Consult with a trained physician or fitness coach beforehand
- Always drink water
- Don’t forget to eat to keep your strength up
- Don’t start with the difficult stuff
- Dress appropriately
- Mix and match your exercises
- Remember to warm up beforehand
- Avoid straining your neck when doing crunches
- Take rests where appropriate
- Remember to breathe properly
- Don’t be ashamed to ask for help
Always check your gear
Always check your gear to make sure there isn’t anything wrong with it, and to make sure that everything is in its proper position. This is a good rule of thumb to follow and is something along the lines of the pre-flight check that pilots do to make sure that the planes are in working order.
It’s absolutely no use foregoing this one crucial step just because you performed it the day before. Things do wear out, and over time you will find that not even the toughest is immune to a little wear and tear.
This means that things like loose screws and bolts can pose a severe threat to your safety, and this, in turn, means that checking your gear the day before or the day before that, and not checking it before your new session, is simply not good enough.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
If you feel that something isn’t right with you, take the time out to make sure that you’re still fighting fit.
Don’t push things too far when you feel yourself becoming tired, and don’t overstrain yourself in an effort to reach a goal. By doing this you are not making things better for yourself, but you are in fact, making things a lot worse on yourself.
The very last thing that you want to do is to overstrain your muscles and succumb to injury because besides being annoying and painful, you will also find that it will put back your timetable of getting a flatter stomach since you now have to get better before fully resuming your ab training.