Regardless of our age, it takes a lot of hard work for most of us to develop a rock hard mid-section. The worst part is that there is so much misinformation available to those seeking guidance, especially courtesy of fellow gym goers and even some misinformed trainers. Steer clear of these 8 myths when developing your ab routine and you'll be well on your way to a six pack.
Myth #1: To get rock-hard, you have to work your abs every day.
Busted: Abs need rest and recovery: It's only during rest that your muscles build. "Three to five days a week of consistent, dedicated abdominal training should get you strong, sleek abs," says Kathy Kaehler, trainer and author of Kathy Kaehler's Celebrity Workouts.
Myth #2: As long you have a great ab routine, you don't have to worry about diet.
Busted: Nothing could be further from the truth. Unless you're a teenager with a hyper metabolism that shreds through all types of foods, there's a good chance that diet will be your #1 obstacle to a defined six pack. You could have the most developed, thick and strong abs in the world, but if you have a layer of fat covering them, they won't be very appealing at the beach. If your goal is aesthetics and reducing body fat levels to show off those beautiful abs you've trained so hard for, you absolutely must steer clear from high fat foods, processed foods, salty foods and high-glycemic foods to optimize your ability to shrink those pesky fat cells.
Myth #3: A good ab workout takes half an hour.
Busted: "If it takes you that long to feel them working, you're doing something wrong," says Kaehler. "I trained Jennifer Aniston about three days a week, and we did no more than five minutes of abs each time." Check your form, don't use momentum and focus on quality rather than quantity.
Myth #4: High-rep counts are the key to great abs
Busted: High rep counts (i.e. 60 or more) will do little or nothing to stimulate strength and thickness in any part of the abs. The abdominal muscles work just like any other muscle and have to be challenged as such. If you want muscular abdominals, you have to challenge them with resistance and good form just like you would your chest, your back or any other muscle for that matter. Targeting the correct energy system is imperative. This means you should never enter into the aerobic phase of this exercise, ideally keeping it under 90 seconds at most. Your ab routine is typically not your cardio routine.
Myth #5: Super-slow crunches make you stronger.
Busted: Taking as much as a minute per crunch doesn't make you stronger than regular crunches do. In fact, ultra-slow ab work is less effective. Ideally, your workout should help you do everything better, from kickboxing to picking up a suitcase — neither of which you do in slo-mo.
Myth #6: The best time to train your abs is at the end of your workout.
Busted:"It makes no physiological difference when you train abs, it only matters that you do it consistently," says abs researcher and physical therapist Gilbert Willett, M.S., associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. So the best time to work them is simply whenever you're most likely to do it. "But if you do abs at the beginning of your workout, make sure you warm up first. Getting blood moving prevents many types of injuries during a workout." Also, keep in mind that leaving your abs as a tag on at the end of every workout once your burnt out from your regular routine is not wise and may not be conducive towards your goals. Focus and concentration is crucial for every muscle group.
Myth #7: You can train your lower abs best by doing hanging or supported straight leg raises (click this image for an example).
Busted: This is a big no-no. There is very little muscle tissue in the lower abdominal area so decreasing levels of body fat (via cardio and a great diet) is the most effective way to bring out the best in this area. Hanging leg raises (with knees bent), v-situps (with knees bent) and reverse crunches (with knees bent) are among some of the best exercises for this region. Always make sure your pelvis curls up to maximize lower abdominal contraction during these exercises. If your pelvis does not curl up and your knees do not bend, your hip flexors (primarily the psoas) will override almost all efforts to contract your lower abdominals, especially during the most critical stages of the movement. More than 80% of gym goers still don't understand this concept and you will see this mistake over and over again.
Myth #8: You can't get a six-pack by doing Yoga or Pilates.
Busted:"Pilates exercises your core, so if you practice it regularly and combine it with diet and cardio, it can give you a six-pack," says Kimberly Lyons, a personal trainer in L.A. Many Yoga techniques are equally challenging and require considerable ab and core strength which effectively builds this area over time.
But Yoga and Pilates are not a six-pack guarantee. "How your abs look has a lot to do with your genes, how lean you are, how long your torso is, and how tall you are."
Remember that abdominal exercises alone will never burn fat from your abdominal area. You must do cardiovascular exercise to accomplish this. Cardio is best in the morning, on an empty stomach at about 65-80% of your maximum heart rate. This combined with a common sense diet, strict time scheduling (i.e. last carb meal 6 hours before bed and last meal 4 hours before bed) will quickly shed body fat so you can actually see those abs you've developed.