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3 Ab Exercising Myths Exposed

12/02/2016 06:15 EST | Updated 12/02/2016 06:15 EST
Vico Images/Alin Dragulin via Getty Images
Young woman doing belly crunch in fitness studio

Well-defined abdominal muscles ("abs") are the Holy Grail of a lean, athletic, sculpted body.

Most men and women, alike, can't help but stare with either fascination or lust -- sometimes both -- when they see someone showing off a great set of abs.

However, your midsection can be one of the hardest muscle groups to develop to best effect. To make matters worse, there are all-too-many misconceptions as to how to build an enviable six-pack.

So here's a reality check to help readers get the very most out of their workouts:

Myth #1: Ab Exercises Burn Off Belly Fat

A big fallacy that has become folklore among many fitness enthusiasts is that belly fat can be burned-off simply by just exercising your abs.

Instead, you need to take a multi-dimensional approach to accomplishing this -- especially if you want to eventually earn a head-turning six-pack. So you need to focus on the following:

• a healthy diet

• regular strenuous exercise (such as weight-resistance training or sports)

• plenty of quality sleep

• stress reduction, e.g. meditation or just socializing with friends

• occasional cleansing to detoxify (optional, but highly recommended)

Myth #2: Abs Need Daily Exercising

Fitness coaches and serious bodybuilders insist that you need to rest each muscle group for at least 48 hours after intense exercise. At least that's the case if you want to become stronger and more defined. Abs are no exception.

If you over-train them by not allowing for enough rest time, you can sabotage your rate of muscle growth. That said, it's okay to do light abdominal workouts every day if all you want to do is keep them well-toned.

Myth #3: Abs Benefit Most from High-Repetition Exercises

I used to do 1,000 sit-ups several evenings a week for about a year when I was in my mid 20s. But the results were quite unremarkable.

My abs became extremely lean but disappointingly two-dimensional, without much size or serious definition. In hindsight, that's hardly surprising.

Let's face it: Would you do 100 repetitions ("reps") of bicep curls at a time? Or 100 bench presses per set? Of course not.

Yet many people think that it's a good idea to perform endless reps when exercising their abs. This approach may help burn plenty of calories, but in my experience it's not a very effective way to promote muscle growth.

However, there's some truth to the fact that your abdominals are high endurance muscles -- ones that respond better to higher reps than most other muscles. With this in mind, plenty of fitness experts and bodybuilders, alike, recommend around 20-40 reps per set to achieve superior definition.

If doing so few reps -- rather than dozens of them -- seems far too easy, then you're probably using poor form e.g. going too fast. But it's easy to remedy this bad habit. To ensure greater intensity, just slow down each movement and tense your abs as you complete each rep.

If that's still not difficult enough, then try doing crunches on an incline. Here's how you'll know you're on the way to getting exceptional results: Your last few reps will be an eye-popping challenge and you just won't have the strength to do any more -- at least until your next set.

Doing Crunches the Right Way

When doing crunches, here are some tips on how to get the job done right, whether you're horizontal or on an incline:

• The range of motion is very small when performing crunches. You're just slightly raising your shoulder blades off the surface that you're lying on. Nonetheless, you need to fully contract your abs

• Use a slow, steady motion for each crunch. This will increase its difficulty and will ensure constant tension for each set of 20 to 40 reps

• Exhale forcefully and squeeze your abs at the completion of each rep to increase its intensity. Then hold this elevated position momentarily -- which is known as a peak contraction -- before lowering yourself down. This little extra effort can pay big dividends if you want deep definition

• After peak contraction, don't use gravity to lower yourself back down to the starting position. Instead, slowly lower yourself down in a very controlled manner. This is really hard. And if you do it right, it'll probably make your whole body tremble with machine-revving tension. But it'll give you granite-like abs!

• Unlike many other ab exercises, crunches performed with strict form won't allow you to use momentum to achieve fast, explosive movements. The problem with momentum is that it reduces the tension on your abs

• By keeping your lower back on the ground at all times, you won't risk injuring it -- unlike doing sit-ups. In fact, sit-ups typically generate a potentially unsafe compressive force on the spine of over 700 pounds

• Keep your arms crossed across your chest. Don't put them behind your head because you'll end up unintentionally pulling it forward when the going gets tough. This can lead to painful neck strains

• Don't rest any more than 30-45 seconds in between sets. And the less you rest within this range, the better

• Aim for three to five sets of crunches, each involving anywhere between 20-40 reps

Give Yourself a Helping Hand

Once again, if your goal is to reveal your best abs ever, be sure that you don't sabotage all your hard work by not committing to the following: a healthy diet, getting sufficient sleep (typically 7-9 hours a night), and a reducing your stress load.

If you match this adherence to a healthy lifestyle with the right approach to exercising your abs, you'll be well on your way to a fitter, more chiseled, and ultimately sexier version of yourself.

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