No other body part gets more attention than the abs. Unfortunately, there are more myths associated with the best way to trim and tone your midsection than any other body part.
By falling prey to these myths you not only diminish your results, but you also may increase the potential for an injury.
So get ready to separate ab training fact from fiction.
Contrary to popular belief, you cant spot reduce fat. It's a physiologic impossibility. When you exercise, fat is utilized (i.e. burned) from all areas of the body. This means you can perform crunches until the cows come home but it will have virtually no effect on losing those love handles or blasting that beer belly.
Also, the number of calories expended during ab exercises is very low. There are far better exercises to expedite fat loss, particularly those that work multiple muscle groups such as squats, presses and rows.
Training your abs will develop the underlying muscle, which is essential if you want that coveted "six pack" look. But if there is a layer of fat obscuring your muscles, no one will ever see what you've worked so hard to develop.
The abs are one long sheath of muscle, not two separate entities. Any ab exercise you do is going to involve both the lower and upper abdominal areas. However, studies show you can shift the emphasis more toward the lower or upper regions by performing specific exercises. Specifically, exercises that bring the chest toward the pelvis (crunch-type exercises) target the upper region of the abs, while exercises that bring the pelvis toward the chest (reverse curls) target the lower abdominal region.
It has been taken as gospel that the abs are somehow different from other muscles and respond best to daily training. Nonsense. You wouldn't think of training the biceps or the quadriceps every day, would you? Well, the abs have the almost the same percentage of "fast twitch" to "slow twitch" muscles as the biceps and the quads. This means your ab muscles are designed just as much for strength as for endurance.
You need to realize that your muscles develop during rest. When you train, you're actually breaking down muscle tissue. Short-change results and you short-change the recuperative process, thereby impairing results. Approximately 48 hours rest is needed between training sessions for a given muscle group – and that includes the abs.
More often than not, people are taught to support their head with their hands when doing crunches. Bad suggestion. You see, when you clasp your hands behind your head there is a reflexive tendency to pull on the neck muscles. This greatly increases the risk for straining your neck muscles, especially towards the end of a set when you begin to fatigue and are struggling to perform those last few reps.
I cringe watching some people yank their heads up as they crunch. It's an injury just waiting to happen. Ouch! The best advice is to place your hands on your chest or put your fists at your ears. Your neck will thank you.
So there you go. Steer clear of these myths about ab training and you're well on your way to a better workout... and a firmer midsection!
Brad Schoenfeld is one of America's leading fitness experts. He’s the best-selling author of Sculpting Her Body Perfect, 28-Day Body Shapeover and his newest book, Women's Home Workout Bible. Schoenfeld is certified as a strength and conditioning specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and as a personal trainer by both the American Council on Exercise and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. He’s also been named "master trainer" by the International Association of Fitness Professionals. Check out his website www.lookgreatnaked.com