Ah, the ever-elusive abs. We see them rippling on every fitness magazine, taunting us with a headline like “tone your tummy!” or “abs in 30 days!” The problem is, this is all a load of crap. You know it. I know it. My guess is that picking up that magazine and doing 30 days worth of crunches and cardio hasn’t given you the abs on the cover model, right? Here are a few reasons why not, some science behind it all and what it actually takes to get them.
First, there is no such thing as “spot training.” Spot training is the idea that if you do 3,000 crunches a day you’ll get rock-hard abs. Well, you might have stronger abs, but if you’re carrying extra weight, then no one can see them. And what, exactly is the point of all that?
On the same note, if you train your abs – say by adding resistance exercises at the gym – you will gain muscle in your midsection. This, my friends, is where a lot of people go wrong. I see tons of big meat-head types at the gym doing really heavy ab exercises, but they have a gut. Essentially, what they’re doing is building muscle under all that fat, which just pushes their gut out. The same thing goes for your average gym goer. If you use even moderately heavy resistance for ab exercises, you can actually make your midsection more barrel like, which, I’m guessing, isn’t what you’re going for.
So, what should you be doing instead? Mostly, it comes down to body fat. Like I said, you can build all the abs you want, but if they’re hidden under a layer of pudge, then no one can see them. How much body fat is distributed around your middle is determined by your genetics (sigh, I know), but all body types can lessen their body fat percentage by doing cardio (and there are a variety of ways to do cardio. Don’t think it’s being chained to a treadmill for an hour a day. Topic for another time). There’s the saying that “abs are made in the kitchen,” and this is also true. To lessen your body-fat percentage, in addition to cardio, you’ll need to eat cleaner, likely less and more often (also a blog for another day).
And when you’ve got your body-fat percentage down, it’s important to know the anatomy of the midsection. By doing crunch-type exercises, you’ll build onto your midsection and add girth. However, there are muscles in your midsection called the transversus (more commonly known as the core) that act like a corset. These muscles tighten your midsection and hold it in. You strengthen your transversus muscles with exercises like planks, squats and vacuums
Personally, I think it’s critical to strengthen your transversus muscles regularly. They keep your core tight and lower-back area strong and healthy so it’s ready for those heavy lifts. Then, when you get leaner, you can always add in more typical ab exercises (using bodyweight only) to get that “chunkier” traditional ab look.
What it boils down to is being lean enough to see the abs you’ve worked for. Make sure you’re not self sabotaging by making your mid section thicker and definitely stay away from those ridiculous how-to-get-abs-fast magazine articles. A magazine I currently have at home (below) made this claim on the cover, and guess what was inside? A workout plan you can do for “four-to-twenty-four weeks to lose fat.” What a scam!