The Truth about Ab Training
You've probably heard most of the hyperbole on ab flattening-from how often you should train to how many reps you have to do. Here, our experts help separate ab facts from fiction.
myth Strength-training exercises like crunches will get rid of ab flab.
truth Spot training (or reducing) isn't possible. While crunches are important for firming and strengthening the abdominals, they won't remove fat from that area. In addition to ab exercises, do a total-body strength workout to boost your overall lean muscle mass, and blast fat and calories with a consistent cardio routine (at least 30 minutes, five days a week for weight loss). Don't forget to follow a healthy diet as well, and also realize that genetics plays a part in whether you have a round or flat belly.
myth Sit-ups aren't safe or effective for training your abs.
truth "When done in a controlled manner without the use of momentum, a sit-up is simply a trunk curl taken that much further by the use of the hip flexors, and 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 because they 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.
myth If you want to get a firmer, flatter belly, you need to do ab exercises every day.
truth "Although the abs are postural muscles and have a predominance of slow-twitch fibers, which recover quickly from an abundance of work, they are still just like other muscles and need time to rest, recover and rebuild," says certified trainer and fitness author Kurt Brungardt. Train your abs no more than four days a week on nonconsecutive days.
myth You should train your abs at the end of your workout.
truth There's some validity to the claim that training your abs last preserves your core strength for the earlier part 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," Brungardt says. On the other hand, experts generally agree that you should do ab moves when you're most likely to do them. "The danger of always putting abs 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.
myth Because the abs are endurance muscles, you have to do hundreds of reps to get results.
truth Abs do have greater endurance than most muscle groups-however, "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 (see "Ready, Set, Crunch!" at right), there should be no reason to exceed two or three sets of 25 reps of any ab exercise you do. "Quality is more important than quantity," Brungardt adds.