Myths About Your Abs - 5 Common Myths and Facts About Your Abs

Woman doing crunches at the gym
Woman doing crunches at the gym. PeopleImages/Getty Images

Can you get flat abs? That's probably the single biggest question many of us have when it comes to losing body fat. Many of us have probably done countless ab exercises in order to get flat abs but see very little success.

It's hard to believe that one body part could cause so much anguish for many of us, but it does simply because we can't always control how our bodies respond to exercise and diet.

We can't always control where the fat is stored or how quickly we lose it and this is especially true of the midsection.

With that in mind, what's the real answer to getting flat abs? It helps to know just what your body is capable of and how much control you really have over losing body fat.

The Facts About Your Abs

Much of the frustration surrounding the abs is due to misinformation and unrealistic expectations. Despite the hard work of trainers everywhere, people still cling to outdated ideas on the proper way to work their abs and get the much-desired 'six-pack.' Examining the myths surrounding your abs is the first step towards setting reasonable goals for yourself.

Ab Myth No. 1: Doing Ab Exercises Gets Rid of Abdominal Fat

Unfortunately, spot reduction doesn't work, either for the abs or for any other body part. The fallacy of spot reduction assumes that, if you have fat over your abs, then exercising the ab muscles will make that fat go away.

While exercising the muscle may increase endurance or strength, it won't burn off the fat in that area. The reason for this is because the body draws energy from the entire body when exercising, not just from the part you're working.

The only way to burn fat from your belly is to reduce overall body fat by creating a calorie deficit.

The healthiest way to do that is with consistent exercise - Cardio, weight training, and flexibility, and a healthy, low-calorie diet.

Keep in mind that doing all of that is no guarantee you'll lose belly fat. That's up to your genetics, age, and hormones among other factors not always in our control.

Ab Myth No. 2: Ab Muscles are Different From Other Muscles of the Body

Do you work your abs differently from other muscles in your body? Meaning doing tons of reps and working them every day? If so, you're not alone. Too often people work their abs every day without rest, hoping to burn the fat off with more exercise.

However, your abdominal muscles are just like every other muscle in your body, so you should train them the same way you would train, say, your biceps or your chest. That means strength training 2-3 times a week, with rest in between and a variety of exercises to target different areas of the abs.

Try dynamic moves that focus on core strength and that involve your stabilizer muscles; the muscles you use all day long to hold your body in place. One of these is the plank exercise. To do this move, get into pushup position and hold it for as long as you can, keeping your belly tight and your body straight.

You can do this move on your elbows, which is more challenging, or on your toes.

Another great ab move that fires all of your abdominal muscle fibers is the vertical crunch:

Lie on the floor with your legs up (straight or slightly bent) and aim soles of your feet at the ceiling. Imagine that you're holding something fragile on your feet, like a tray of glasses filled with water. Lift the 'tray' straight up towards the ceiling until your hips are off the floor. This is a very small, but very intense movement. Do it slowly and complete 1-3 sets of 12-20 reps.

The trick to training your abs is to realize that strength training is important to keep your core strong, but ab exercises aren't magic.

Incorporating ab exercises into a complete routine is the only way to the wonderful world of six-packs. And, even if you don't make it there, don't worry. Most of us probably don't have the genetic makeup for completely flat abs, especially women.For

Ab Myth No. 3: You Have to Do a Lot of Reps to Work Your Abs

In the old days of fitness classes and videos, most of us probably did hundreds (or more) crunches and other ab exercises thinking that was the best way to work them. As mentioned before, your abs are like other muscles of your body. You wouldn't do 100 biceps curls, nor should you do 100 crunches. The real key to strong abs is about quality, not quantity.

To make strength gains with your abs, you have to follow the same principles that apply everywhere else. That means you have to overload your muscles. The reason we feel the need to do so many reps is that we're not working them hard enough, usually because of improper form. If you have to do 50 or more crunches before you feel fatigued, slow down and concentrate on your technique and having good form.

And don't forget that doing the same exercise over and over isn't always the best way to make progress. Your body gets used to exercises and, therefore, becomes more efficient at them. In fact, you don't have to do a single crunch to get a great ab workout.

Do a variety of exercises to target your rectus abdominisobliques and transverse abdominis. Don't just think of your abs as a way to look great...remember that their purpose is to support your spine and help you have good posture.

If you need more difficult exercises, consider getting an exercise ball or try one of these advanced ab exercises. This Core Strength Workout has more ideas for how to really challenge your abs.

 Ab Myth No. 4: Anyone Can Get a Flat Stomach

When you watch television, it seems like the models, actors, and stars have fabulous bodies with lovely flat bellies, doesn't it? And many of them do, but what you may not know is that for many people it's not physiologically possible to achieve a flat stomach.

Let's face it: The factors that dictate how our bodies look are too many to keep track of. Age, genetics, gender, hormones, body type, lifestyle, eating habits, stress management, sleep habits, planetary alignment...all of these decide what your body and, therefore, your belly, looks like. People become movie starts and models because they have those genetics that allow them to have lean gorgeous bodies.

If we could all achieve that, we would all be models.

Women, in particular, tend to store fat around the lower belly area causing that annoying lower belly pooch. Men tend to store fat around the middle, causing that annoying spare tire effect.

Yes, you can exercise and reduce your body fat, but you can't choose where you lose fat. To get six-pack abs, you may have to drop your body fat to a level that is either a struggle to maintain or downright unhealthy. Many of us have the goal to get six-pack abs but most of us will find it difficult to reach that goal.

If this is true for you, trying to reach an impossible goal is only going to make you crazy. Set reachable goals for yourself and make friends with your belly. Remember that we all have flaws and perfection isn't an option unless you head to your nearest surgeon. Instead of doing that, challenge yourself by taking care of your body and learning how to accept it--good, bad and ugly.

Ab Myth No. 5: You Need Special Equipment to Work Your Abs

There's almost nothing more fascinating than those ab gadget infomercials. By using some kind of chair or wheel or vibrating belt, the belly fat will just melt away, right? The models in those commercials certainly look the part but they definitely didn't get those flat abs by using a machine.

The first rule of these infomercials and ab gadgets is that, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The second rule is that the people selling this equipment don't care if you get flat abs. They just want your money.

Last, and most important, you don't need any special equipment to work your abs.

You can do a wide variety of ab exercises with just your body weight or with an exercise ball, which is often much cheaper than the gadgets you see on infomercials.

Conclusion: you're better off buying equipment that has multiple uses. Ab machines only work the abs, but things like dumbbells, an exercise ballresistance bands, etc. can be used to train your entire body.

The bottom line is, it's best to focus on working your entire body rather than trying to break it down into pieces and parts. Our bodies function as a whole, both as we exercise and as we lose or gain body fat. Work on the things you can control like your diet, exercise, stress levels, and sleep management.

Try to work on these things regularly enough that you can create the calorie deficit you need for fat loss. Once you do that, you'll see how your body responds and you can come to your own conclusions about your abs. Maybe flat abs aren't in the cards, but strong abs are always a good thing.

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