There are numerous training and nutrition myths that the general public falls prey to, but bodybuilders and those of us involved in the fitness community are not fooled. We know that you cannot eat any foods that you want and just take that “breakthrough pill” to lose weight. We know that eating cabbage soup for every meal will not give you the body you are looking for.
Lastly, if you have ever stayed up late, no doubt you have seen advertisements for all the latest ab training gizmos. The infomercials claim that with these contraptions all you need is 10 minutes per day and you will have rock hard, shredded abs. Most of us know that these machines will not give us “show ready” abs.
The funny thing is that although most experienced weight trainers and bodybuilders are quick to scoff at these ab machines they still adhere to the principles behind them. These machines always are based upon the idea that abs must be trained everyday with high reps only. This approach to training abs is held by many competitive bodybuilders and figure athletes. Ab training brings about more misconceptions than any other body part. Let’s tackle these myths one at a time shall we?
MYTH #1: “Training abs will allow me to see my abs”
This one is simple. Staying lean through diet and cardio is the ONLY way to get those abs to come out. Performing abdominal exercises will do absolutely nothing to remove that layer of fat that is cover your abs. Many people feel that they can just lose the fat around their midsection and leave the fat in other areas untouched, this is not possible.
I hear too many competitors after shows claim that they need to work on their abs more before the next show. 99% of the time what they actually need is 6 more weeks of dieting. The truth is that even if you did absolutely no work for abs, you could still diet effectively and have a respectable set of abs.
MYTH #2: “Abs should be trained every day”
For some reason people have decided that abdominal muscles are different from every other muscle in the human body. The muscle tissue in the abdominals is the same as the muscle tissue in the rest of your body. All muscles need to have enough time between workouts to allow for recovery. Training your abs everyday will only overtrain your abs and they will not grow and become deeply etched. No one would think of coming to the gym and training legs everyday and it should be no different with abs.
MYTH #3: “Abs should only be trained with high reps”
Once again, the abdominal muscles are just like every other muscle. The abdominals are made up of both slow twitch muscle fibers, which respond best to low weight and high reps, and fast twitch muscle fibers, which respond best to heavy weight and low reps. Although the abs do have a higher ration of slow twitch to fast twitch fibers, this does not mean that lower reps sets should be completely left out.
To maximize results abs should be trained with both high reps and low reps. To get the results from you low rep sets weight will need to be added, which brings us to our next myth.
MYTH #4: “Using weight for ab exercises will make your waist bulky”
This actually ties into the high rep theory of ab training. I often hear people say that you should only do bodyweight exercises for very high reps. When I ask them what their reason is for doing this, the usual response I get is, “It keeps the abs tight.” When I ask them to explain what they mean by tight, they usually can’t give a response.
The only thing that would make the abs not tight would be fat over top of them, and we have already determined that diet is the only way to get rid of abdominal fat. As long as there is no fat around the midsection, no type of ab training will increase or decrease the size of your waist. The width of your waist is genetically predetermined.
Using weight for ab training will cause the abdominal muscles to grow. This is a good thing because a nice set of abs is deeply etched. The larger your abdominal muscles are the deeper the etchings and the more impressive your midsection will look. For those looking to compete, keep in mind that the judges are going to be 30 feet away, from that distance small abs will not show.
Another great thing about increasing the size of your abs is that your abs will look better even compared to someone with the same amount of bodyfat. This is because the fat on your abs will be spread across a larger surface area. For example, let’s say I give you a bucket of sand, which represents how much fat is on your midsection.
I tell you to spread that sand evenly over your kitchen floor, which represents your abs. Now I tell you to take that same bucket of sand and spread it evenly over your entire house. The sand will not cover the ground near as much. It was still the same amount of sand; the only thing that changed was the surface area. This same principle holds true for your abs. Increase the size of your abs and the fat will be spread more thinly across the surface.
MYTH #5: “Abs don’t need to be trained directly because they receive enough stimulation from other exercises”
I know that earlier in this article I said that you could do zero ab training, and as long as you get lean enough, your abs would still look respectable. This is true, but why settle for abs that are just respectable? I have never heard of anyone winning a show because their physique was respectable.
To have a truly amazing midsection you must train all the muscles that make up the abdominals. These include upper and lower abs, obliques, and intercostals. Most lifters are meticulous about hitting every muscle from every conceivable angle but when it comes to abs they will just throw in a few sets of crunches and call it a day.
Nearly every person at every gym you go into will have their own theory about the best way to train abs. Most of these theories that people have are just plain wrong, so be careful who you get your advice from. Whether you are a competitor looking to step on stage or just trying to get in shape for the beach, these common misconceptions about ab training can ruin your progress.
Training your abs intelligently, intensely, and being disciplined with your diet is the only way to get an impressive midsection from top to bottom. Now that you know to stay away from these training flaws you can stop buying gadgets off of those infomercials. This will help make your pockets deep, just like the cuts on your abs.
Great write up. So I'm about 15 lbs over weight. Carry it all in the typical gut area. I hardly work my tire off at all. What's a quick and effective way to get to that 10% mark? And do you think the digital scales are an accurate BF% measurment tool?
Thanks for the tips,
what is your opinion on protein shakes? started with a lean mass protein shake, and my abs seemed to be better then ever. But recently i switched over to a mass gainer, and the looks on them decreased. I dont know if this is common sense or anything but my dietary habits have not changed, do i have to compensate for the increased amount of protein by working more cardio ?
So what are the best oblique exercises? I have great core strength and I am seeing most results in my upper abs, I do a 4 exercise circuit for a total of 12 sets, 3 times per week. I try to target each middle and side abdominal muscles in an alternating fashion. But the "love handles" and lower belly fat is so hard to get rid of. I play a lot of basketball too as well as do a 5 day split for the rest of my body. I would say I am around 10% BF or so, but I just want to see the bottom part of my abs more. Any tips?
My favorite oblique exercise is doing Russian Twists on an decline bench with my legs locked in it. I use a 6lb-16lb ball and I hold the ball away from my body and I turn until i feel it in my back. Sounds weird but ive never had such a weird sore feeling in between my ribs like i did the day after these.
i am going to gm 1 year but no buran fat no coming mussals i want som halp your i want make may musal an lags
Was reading your article, saw this statement "99% of the time what they actually need is 6 more weeks of dieting. The truth is that even if you did absolutely no work for abs, you could still diet effectively and have a respectable set of abs". What do you mean by that? So would it be true if i were to go on a strict diet for 6 weeks my abs will start showing? Just had to clarify, thanks
You can most definitely get a six pack through diet and cardio only and no ab training at all. The length of the diet will depend on the person's current level of conditioning and whether or not they diet correctly. If you are already in pretty good shape but are lacking a six pack then you could probably get it in about 6-8 weeks or so, but if you have a pretty good sized spare tire then it will probably take a little longer. Hope that clears it up for you.
thank you Cliff
you are the best man
No prob man. Just glad to help.
Hey Cliff, thank you for the very informative article, I really appreciate your effort
you said the most important thing to get abs is DIET !
BUT for me, I want to get muscle bulk in all over my body, and that for sure needs extra feeding, doesn't it ?
I have midsection fat on my abs, although I have ideal weight and 13 % body fat
so what is the best thing to do other than abs exercises ??
Unfortunately you are going to have to make a decision whether you want to add muscle right now or see your abs. Most people will not be able to see there abs until they are under 10% body fat. So if you want to see your abs I would diet to lose fat and get under that 10% mark. Otherwise I would forget about seeing you abs if you decide you want to put on muscle. I know this stinks to hear, but it is the truth.
thanks a lot Cliff
I trust you man
I have Q...
when I make my fat % less than 10% PLUS abs exercises and diet, I should see my abs, right ?
ok can I build muscle bulk after that without losing my abs ???
No problem Naif,
The 10% rule is more like guideline. Most people are able to see their abs at this BF %, but I will say that there are those that can't. If you consistently train your abs then this will help enormously. My advice to you is to keep losing until you can see then the way you want to see them.
Once you have you abs looking like you want them to look you can keep them while adding size but it will be a slow process. Don't start piling on the calories to start bulking. You should start adding kcals very slowly so that you don't put on fat. So you should really go with the slow bulk. If you need an idea of how to add size without adding too much fat here is an article I wrote on the subject. I hope that you find it useful.
Just keep training and dieting hard and you'll get where you want to be.
Hey Cliff, Nice write up. What about doing weighted sided bends? Is it true they will add to much size to the waist?
That may not be a bad thing as it will stretch the fat out a little more. lol
There is really nothing wrong with doing side bends. The amount of size that can really be added to the obliques is really minimal but it will do quite a bit to stretch out the fat. Although I promote natural bodybuilding, I think we have all seen some huge steroided up guys that have quite a bit of fat on their body but you can still see their six pack because their abs are so thick you could lose a finger in there. The same principle applies. Small abs and obliques don't show no matter how flat your stomach is.
Nice, I have no real interest in bodybuilding or competing, but your articles, Cliff, gave me a great ammount of knowledge about what to stay clear off during my excersises. Thank you for that. I will keep on reading your articles and improve my life according to your advice.
Although I work primarily with bodybuilders the info is applicable to everyone. Competing is not for everyone but it is still good to see people trying to build the best physique possible. Thanks for reading.
@ Jeff- Thanks man, I'm really glad you enjoy the articles. I definitely keep it coming. Thanks for reading.
@ Bert- Hey Bert, here is a good example of a good 2 day per week ab routine.
Day 1- Weighted Sit-ups- 3x6
Cable Crunch- 2x10
Day 2- Weighted Decline Sit-up- 2x15
Machine Crunches- 3x25
This program combines both high and low reps. One day is a little heavier the other a little lighter. Come close to failure on all of these. Give this a try and you should really feel the difference. Thanks for reading Bert. Let me know if you have any other questions.
Then what would be a good set of ab workouts that could be added to a weekly routine?
Excellent article - some really useful information in there. I'm loving the info you post up Cliff, please keep it coming!