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One thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three… Oh don’t mind me, I’m just doing my daily crunches so I can get a six-pack that everyone will envy; I’ll have it soon, I tell you! Just one thousand more to go.
It’s common knowledge these days that a set of washboard abs that bulge and stick out through your t-shirt are undoubtedly the most sought after goal of anyone interested in being in shape. They are the ultimate symbol of fitness and automatically grant you “buff” status. But whilst people all over the world put themselves through strenuous ab workouts every day, performing thousands of crunches and using all kinds of funky gadgets like the Ab Wave Pro, the majority of them will ultimately fall victim to the same thought pattern that “to get abs, I need to exercise them A LOT.”
But what if I told you that you already have abs? And that your tiresome ab workouts are a waste of time and energy? Well, unfortunately, it is true. All those crunches and sit ups you are doing are a waste of time. Fortunately, I’m here to show you the light at the end of the ab tunnel and help you on your way to achieving that highly sought after six-pack.
Ab Anatomy 101
Ok, pop quiz. How many muscles does the six-pack have? Six right? Or wait, eight? Wrong! Don’t worry; you’re not alone in thinking that a six-pack has six or more muscles, it’s a common misconception.
The six-pack that you are so familiar with is, in fact, just one muscle – the rectus abdominis. It is a long, flat, paired muscle that runs from the bottom of your sternum into the public crest. The reason people think it has six or eight muscles is solely due to the fact that there are fibrous bands that run across the muscle. These bands give the impression that there is more than one muscle.
The bulging abs look that some people can achieve is due to the increased size of their rectus abdominis. As the muscle increases in size, the fibrous bands become deeper and give the appearance of bulging muscles.
Ok, so now you know the anatomy of your abs, let’s take a look at a few reasons why your ab workouts aren’t working.
The first thing you should do is focus more on your diet. I hate to say it, but nutrition is probably the single most important factor for getting a six-pack. You can do all the ab exercises in the world, but if you aren’t eating for a six-pack, you aren’t going to have one.
The fact is, you already have a six-pack; you just can’t see it. It may not be bulging or washboard level, but it is there, hidden away under a layer of fat. In order to encourage it out, you need to eat healthy food and reduce your body fat by consuming a nutritionally balanced diet. Lean meats such as chicken and turkey, whole grains like oats and wheat, fruits high in antioxidants, and healthy fats like avocado and nuts are all examples of foods that should be a staple in your diet.
Over time, once you are on a healthier diet and actively trying to reduce fat either through exercise or eating slightly less than your body needs, you will start to feel your torso tighten up and your abs should start to peek through.
You should also pay attention to foods that you should avoid at all costs if you are thinking about getting six pack.
You can spend hours battering your abs with crunches and sit ups, but the reality is you will be no closer to having that six-pack you want – you may burn some calories at best.
You see, the abdominis rectus is a muscle just like any other throughout your body. And to what stimuli do muscles respond in order to grow? Overload. You are there curling heaving weights to increase your biceps, but just doing crunches and expecting bigger abs? It’s no wonder your abs aren’t bulging; you aren’t challenging them.
In order to make your abs more prominent, you need to overload them and force them to grow just like any other muscle. You can do this directly or, more preferably, indirectly. To directly target them, you should be using weights with your crunches, leg raises, and any other isolation exercises you can, trying to progress and lift more, as you would with all other body parts. This overload will cause micro-tears in the muscle which leads to repair and growth, aka, gains!
But the best way to stimulate your abs is through indirect training. Rather than isolating the abdominis rectus, opt for the big, heavy exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and other Olympic lifts. These exercises require a solid core, and as you try to press or squat more weight, your abdominals are forced to strengthen up and grow to support the ever increasing load on your body. Just take a look at the professional cross fitters or power lifters: notice how they all have a solid core? All the Olympic lifts they perform, combined with the circuit style training, not only builds an awesome core, but shreds fat at the same time; so throw out your pointless bodyweight crunches and challenge yourself. And if going to the gym is too expensive or too inconvenient, think about building one.
I hate to break it to you, but there is no method of spot reducing fat. All those crunches, whilst they might burn some calories, won’t reduce fat in the midsection. The body just doesn’t work that way.
It is true to say that our DNA can predetermine where we are prone to storing fat, however, the loss of fat happens evenly across the body. This means that our stubborn areas are usually the last areas to get lean, as there is more fat stored there.
A study performed by the Department of Kinesiology & Health Education looked into the effect of abdominal exercises on abdominal fat, and guess what? They concluded that “Six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat and other measures of body composition.”1
With that in mind, it is easy to see that ab workouts without a load are useless for building muscles or burning fat, so stop wasting your time.
Instead, invest a little time at the end of your workouts and do some cardio to reduce your body fat.
And that’s all there is to it! There is no magic formula or workout, just healthy eating, progressive overload on the muscle, and low body fat.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Sep; 25(9):2559-64. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fb4a46. “The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat.” Department of Kinesiology & Health Education, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, Illinois, USA. [email protected]