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The Truth about Ab Training

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  • Post last modified:September 25, 2023

You’ve presumably heard most of the exaggeration on abdominal toning and strengthening—from how frequently you should train to how many repetitions you must perform. Here, our specialists assist in distinguishing abdominal facts from fiction.

myth Strength-training exercises like crunches will eliminate belly fat.

truth Targeted training (or reduction) isn’t feasible. Although crunches are crucial for firming and strengthening the abs, they won’t eradicate fat from that area. In addition to abdominal exercises, engage in a comprehensive strength workout to enhance your overall lean muscle mass, and burn fat and calories with a consistent cardiovascular routine (at least 30 minutes, five days a week for weight loss). Remember to adhere to a healthy diet as well, and recognize that genetics also contribute to the appearance of your abs.

myth Sit-ups aren’t safe or effective for ab training.

truth “When performed in a controlled manner without the use of momentum, a sit-up is essentially a trunk curl taken further by engaging the hip flexors, and can be a highly effective abdominal training exercise,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., director of fitness research at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass. So why the negative reputation? “Individuals with lower back pain typically have tight hip flexors and are advised against doing sit-ups because they place a significant workload on the hip flexors and may worsen the issue,” Westcott explains. “However, sit-ups can be performed by the majority of the population.”

To safely maximize the benefits of a full sit-up, follow the instructions for the basic crunch, moving slowly in both directions and lifting up to an almost-seated position. If your neck feels uncomfortable, lightly support it with one hand.

myth In order to achieve firmer, more toned abs, you must do abdominal exercises every day.

truth “Although the abs are postural muscles and consist mainly of slow-twitch fibers, which recover quickly from extensive work, they are still similar to other muscles and require 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 conclusion of your workout.

truth There is some truth to the claim that training abs last preserves your core strength for the earlier part of your workout: “If you’re going to perform squats or multimuscle exercises like push-ups or lunges that demand significant balance, it may be beneficial to do ab exercises last so that your core is fresh and strong,” Brungardt suggests. However, experts generally agree that you should perform ab exercises when you are most likely to do them. “The risk of always placing abs at the end is that people may run out of time and end up neglecting to train them,” notes certified trainer Kathryn M. Clark based in Auckland, New Zealand.

myth Because the abs are muscles built for endurance, you need to do hundreds of repetitions to see results.

truth Abs do have greater endurance compared to most muscle groups; however, “performing an exercise with proper form, utilizing slow and controlled movements, is an effective way to maximize results,” says Stuart Rugg, Ph.D., chair of the kinesiology department at Occidental College in Los Angeles. If you are maintaining correct form (see “Ready, Set, Crunch!” on the right), there is no need to exceed two or three sets of 25 repetitions for any ab exercise you perform.

Importance” is a higher priority than “amount,” Brungardt contributes.

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