1. My abs are hard underneath, but I still have a flabby belly that just won't seem to go away. What can I do?
A: Don't keep doing what you're doing – switch it up a bit. But realize yours may never be ironing-board flat, thanks to your genes. "If your body is predisposed to storing fat in your abdominal area, you're just not going to have six-pack abs," says Dale Huff, R.D., a fitness trainer and nutritionist in St. Louis. But you're not doomed to being forever flabby. You can target your midsection better by adding variety and intensity to your workout program, Huff says. Introduce a new cardio-based activities (like salsa dance, kickboxing, or swimming) to challenge your body and help you burn more calories and belly fat.
2. Should I train my abs at the end of my workout?
A: It depends. There's some validity to the claim that training your abs last preserves your core strength for the earlier parts of your workout: "If you're going to do squats or multimuscle exercises like push-ups or lunges that require a lot of balance, you might want to do abs last so your core is fresh and strong," says certified trainer and fitness author Kurt Brungardt. The caveat? "The danger of always putting your ab workout at the end is that people run out of time and end up never training them," notes Auckland, New Zealand-based certified trainer Kathryn M. Clark. So the best time to do ab moves is truly whenever you're most likely to actually do them.
3. If abs are endurance muscles, do I have to do hundreds of reps to get results?
A: No. Abs do have greater endurance than most muscle groups, but you don't need crazy amounts of reps if you know how to do your ab workouts right. "Doing an exercise with proper form, using slow, controlled motions, is an excellent way to maximize results," says Stuart Rugg, Ph.D., chair of the department of kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. If you're using correct form, there should be no reason to exceed two or three sets of 25 reps of any ab exercise you do. This ab workout gets you maximum benefit in a short amount of time.
4. What's the deal with sit-ups -- are they safe and do they work?
A: Yes – but only if they're done correctly. "When done in a controlled manner without the use of momentum, a sit-up can be a very effective ab-training exercise," says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass. So why the bad rap? "People with low-back pain have tight hip flexors and are advised not to do sit-ups. Sit-ups work the hip flexors a good deal and might exacerbate the issue," Westcott says. "But really, sit-ups can be done by the majority of the population." To safely get the most out of a full sit-up, follow instructions for the basic crunch, moving slowly in both directions, lifting up to an almost-seated position. If your neck aches, lightly cup one hand behind it for support.
5. I do crunches religiously, But just can't seem to fatigue my abs. How can I add extra resistance?
A: You need a technique change, not a resistance change. If you're not feeling resistance when you perform crunches, it could be because you're making mistakes in technique. For instance, you may be crunching too quickly instead of taking two full seconds to rise and two to lower, or lifting from your shoulders and neck rather than from your torso, suggests Scott Cole, co-author of Athletic Abs and creator of the Best Abs on Earth video.
Or, you might need a changeup. Cole recommends more challenging exercises that require your abdominals to function as stabilizers for your entire body, such as crunches on a stability ball.
6. I've heard that I should do abdominal exercises every day, but I've also heard that it's best to do them every other day to give my ab muscles a rest. Which is correct?
A: Neither. "Work your abs twice a week, as you would any other muscle group," says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., co-author of Athletic Abs and director of kinesiology at Northeast Texas Community College. The rectus abdominis is the large, thin sheet of muscle that runs the length of your torso, and "this muscle responds best to high-intensity training," Seabourne explains. "If you try to do high-intensity training every day, you're going to break down the muscle."
Seabourne recommends choosing ab exercises that are challenging enough that you can perform just 10 to 12 repetitions per set. Then let these muscles rest at least 48 hours between workouts.