How Focusing on Abdominal Exercises Can Keep You from Getting a Six Pack Abs
Ask most people what to do to get six-pack abs and they’ll tell you to do more ab crunches. Are they giving you good advice? In many people’s minds, ab crunches are synonymous with six-pack abs. Unfortunately, that way of thinking gets in the way of carving out a set of strong, defined abs. It might sound counter-intuitive, but to get abs that pop, you should do fewer exercises that specifically target the abdominal muscles.
Of course, you shouldn’t completely banish crunches from your ab routine, because according to ACE they are still the best ab exercises that target the entire abdomen, but don’t count on them alone to give you six-pack abs. Crunches are an isolation exercise that only works the muscles in your abdominal region. You don’t burn a lot of calories when you crunch, and that’s one of the drawbacks to doing them.
The real reason most people don’t develop six-pack abs is that they have too much fat covering their ab muscles. All ab crunches do is strengthen and define the underlying muscle They aren’t effective at removing the layer of fat that covers them and that’s the limiting factor for most people! So what’s a girl to do?
Focus on Exercise that Burns More Body Fat
Since most guys and gals who yearn for a six-pack have too much ab fat, fat-burning exercise helps those abs come out of hiding. High-intensity interval training where you do short periods of intense exercise followed by recovery intervals is effective for burning ab fat, and studies suggest it may be more beneficial than moderate-intensity cardio exercise for burning fat.
Keep the active intervals short but intense, 20 to 30 seconds of an exercise that boosts your heart rate, followed by a recovery interval where you keep moving but at a lower intensity. By alternating periods of intense exercise with low-intensity recovery intervals, you create an after-burn that helps with fat loss. After-burn is where your body burns more calories after a workout is over. High-intensity intervals place more stress on the body, as it must work harder to recover. But that stress is what primes your body for burning tummy fat.
How about Strength Training?
Strength training is a must for developing strong, defined abs, but that doesn’t mean you should spend hours each week doing crunches. Instead, focus on strength training that works the most muscle groups, including the muscles in your abs and core. Believe it or not, squats, deadlifts, and push-ups will help you build abs. These exercises work multiple muscle groups, including your abs and core muscles, but they burn lots of calories and body fat. That’s because you’re working multiple muscle groups at the same time and you’re hitting the muscles in your lower body. The big muscles are the calorie burners! In contrast, your abs are small muscles and don’t burn many calories, no matter how many crunches you do. Lifting heavy weights also boosts fat burning more than going light. Choose a resistance that thoroughly fatigues your muscles after 6-10 reps.
Challenge Your Core Too
The muscles that make up your abs are only a small part of a bigger muscle group called the core. The core includes all the muscles in the middle of your body, the muscles in your back, abs, spine, and the floor of your pelvis. In total, you have more than 20 core muscles. If you only focus on your ab muscles in the front, you’re not training your core in a balanced manner.
Strong abs must be balanced by strong back muscles to avoid muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances in the core can alter your posture in a way that makes your mid-section look less lean and defined. Not to mention, core exercises strengthen a deep abdominal muscle called the transverse abdominis that helps hold in your abs like a girdle. Most abdominal exercises neglect this muscle.
What exercises are best? Substitute plank exercises for a portion of the ab crunches you’re currently doing. Once you can hold a basic plank for 30 seconds, add more advanced plank variations. There are close to 50 different variations on a plank. Some, like the side plank, works your oblique muscles and also add a balance challenge. Others, like plank jacks, burn calories while you target your core. Explore the many plank variations and start challenging your abs and core in a new way!
Don’t Neglect Your Diet
The trite phrase about abs being made in the kitchen is true, and the 80/20 rule holds as well. Getting six-pack is 80% kitchen work, meaning good nutrition, and 20% exercise. And when they say exercise, they aren’t referring exclusively to crunches. Cut back on ultra-processed food, junk food, and sugar-sweetened stuff, even fruit juice. Add more fiber and high-quality protein to your diet. You can do the right exercises for six-pack abs and still blow it in the kitchen.
The Bottom Line
Look beyond ab crunches if you want to carve a six-pack. Do some ab crunches, but make sure they’re part of a balanced workout and sound nutrition.
Men’s Health. “Six-Pack Science”
Exercise Physiology. Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. Howley and Powers. 2009.