No set of muscles comes with more myth, more lore, than the abs. Maybe that’s because uncovering them seems like a superhuman feat. Or because they hold magical powers over the opposite sex.
Whatever the reason, though, a lot of the so-called knowledge surrounding abs is false—and can actually make achieving a ripped stomach way more difficult. Here, we bust five of the biggest myths standing between you and six-pack status.
Myth #1: You Can Crunch Away Fat
No matter how many crunches you crank out, if you don’t (1) change up your eating plan and (2) perform calorie-torching total-body workouts, your six-pack will remain hidden underneath a layer of terribly unsexy fat, says Los Angeles-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., creator of Extreme Burn workout DVDs. After all, even if you could spot-reduce fat (which you can’t!), ab exercises don’t tend to burn a lot of calories.
Myth #2: Your Ab Reps Should Be as Fast as Possible
You don’t perform core exercises for cardio, so slow it down. Instead, increasing your muscles’ time under tension—working them through a slow and controlled range of motion—is key to bringing on the changes you want to see, he says. Plus, when you move through your reps slowly, you eliminate the likelihood that you’ll “accidentally” cheat and use momentum to carry you through the move.
Myth #3: You Can’t Have Chiseled Abs and Eat Carbs
As long as you’re eating healthy carbs from whole sources, it’s easier to score abs with rather than without carbs. That’s because your body relies on carbs for fuel, especially during the intense, fat-blasting workouts that will help uncover your abs from hiding, he says. Instead of cutting carbs, focus on getting them from whole grains, fruits, and veggies, and you’ll automatically eat fewer calories and allow yourself to burn more of them in the gym.
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Myth #4: You Shouldn't Work Your Abs Every Day
Hit it twice and you’ll risk overtraining. While there’s plenty of truth to that workout rule, abs are more-or-less the exception. “Your abs are working almost 24/7—from the moment you rise in the morning until the moment you lie down to go to sleep at night,” Donavanik says. “So yes, you can and should work your abs everyday. That’s the most functional way to train them.” That said, you still shouldn’t perform the same exercises two days in a row or you could break down particular muscle fibers more than you build them back up. So, one day you might want to focus on crunches and crunch variations, another day planks, then rotational moves ... you get the gist.
Myth #5: You Can Work Just Your Lower Abs
“Technically, there is no such thing as upper or lower abs. I even cringe when I say ‘upper abs’ or ‘lower abs.’ But it's easier than explaining the whole science behind it, especially when you're short on time,” Donavanik says. For clarity’s sake, though, it’s important to note that your rectus abdominis is a long muscle that’s divided into six little sections by connective tissue. From top to bottom, you see an upper, middle, and lower section, but all of those segments are part of one large sheet of muscle. So anytime you work your rectus abdominis, you’re going to work the whole thing. Sure, some exercises, like hanging leg raises, work your lower section to a greater degree, but your middle and upper abs will still be working too.