The rectus abdominus, generally just called six pack abs are universally deemed to indicate whether someone is 'in shape' or not.
Many gym-goers, both men and women will stop at nothing to get their abs popping - from eating 1,000 calories per day to performing 1,000 sit-ups per day - the elusive chase of six pack abs is never-ending.
Below are the biggest abdominal training mistakes I've seen over the year both inside and outside of the gym.
Abdominal Training Mistake #1
Thinking Ab Exercises Will Get You Abs
The cliche saying, 'abs are made in the kitchen' is correct.
Six pack abs are the result of low body fat, for men the abs start popping around 10% body fat and continue to get more defined as you delve down into the single digit body fat range. For women, abs are visible around 15% body fat.
In order to burn fat and get down into this low body fat range we need to subject our body to a calorie deficit (i.e. be consuming less calories per 24 hour basis than our body needs to maintain its current weight). Without a caloric deficit fat loss is literally impossible.
A caloric deficit is induced via a combination of diet and exercise, ab exercises can assist you in burning calories to place you in a deficit to lose fat... but if you're eating too much there's no colossal number of sit-ups, leg raises or planks that'll get you the six pack abs you desire.
Check out my guide here on calculating your calories and placing your body in a calorie deficit.
Abdominal Training Mistake #2
Not Venturing Beyond The Sit-Up
The sit-up is without a doubt the most common ab exercise, chances are when you think of abs you instantly think of sit-ups, and lots of them.
I personally find 2 issues with the sit-up and cannot remember the last time I incorporated sit-ups into my ab workout regime.
The sit-up places the lower back in a compromised position when performed with bad form.
The sit-up does not work the entire abdominal region, i.e. it neglects the lower abdominals.
So what ab exercise should you be performing?
The Hanging Leg Raise
Benefits Of Hanging Leg Raises
- Hanging leg raises don’t require any fancy equipment – just your body and a horizontal bar
- Hanging leg raises target the entire abdominal region (rectus abdominus aka. your six pack along with your obliques and serratus anterior)
- The process of raising your hips translates into increased functional power, useful in your athletic endeavours
- Your rectus adominus (your six pack) gets fully contracted unlike when performing sit-ups or other ground based ab exercises
- Hanging from a horizontal bar dec0mpresses your spine
- Hanging leg raises will not only smash your core, but you’ll also increase and build great grip strength (which translates over to grip strength on deadlifts, rows and the like) as well as stressing your lats and shoulders to an extent due to the isometric hold taking place (you’re locking your body in place for the duration of each set).
- Hanging leg raises will increase your lower back strength
- Mobility and flexibility are increased via full range of motion hanging leg raises
All Other Abdominal Exercises Pale In Comparison To The Hanging Leg Raise Because…
- The hanging leg raise is considered among the top 6 bodyweight exercises by old school calisthenics experts such as Paul Wade and Al Kavado
- No expensive ab rollers, roman chairs or ab swing machines required
- The hanging leg raise is suitable for YOU regardless of your current athletic ability – the leg raise is an extremely scalable exercise with many different progressions to keep yourself challenged
- The core strength, flexibility and mobility gained by performing hanging leg raises is entirely functional as it is essentially a compound movement – isolation exercises such as the traditional sit-up is useless
- Performing the hanging leg raise and progressing with the hanging leg raise will assist in increasing your strength and stability on major compound lifts such as the squat and deadlift
- Other ab exercises such as the sit-up, plank etc. compress your spine – the hanging leg raise (and its variations) are the only ab exercise to do the opposite and decompress your spine
Abdominal Training Mistake #3
Doing Bodyweight Only Exercises
The principle of progressive overload applies to all muscle groups, not just the chest or back.
In order to continue to develop your abdominal muscles and increase your core stability we need to continue to increase the tension on the targeted muscle.
Once you've mastered the hanging leg raise, the cable crunch, the plank or any of the effective, functional ab exercises it's time to add additional resistance.
Hold a medicine ball between your legs while performing hanging leg raises.
Increase the weight on your cable crunches will maintaining correct form.
Place a 45lb plate on your back while holding your plank in position.
The key point here is you must continue to progress, performing the same 10 minute ab routine over and over again without altering the weight, reps or rest period between sets leaves you in a stagnate position.
Abdominal Training Mistake #4
Training Abs Too Frequently
Abdominal training is a lot easier than many make it out to be.
You do not need to train abs every single day, in fact if you're training them hard it's detrimental to progress.
You do not need to dedicate entire workouts to your abs.
Like all other muscle groups, the abs require time to recover after they've been hit hard.
I recommend throwing in a 15 minute ab workout 2 - 3 times per week at the end of your regular workout... do not train abs first before you go into heavy squats or deadlifts as your core will be fatigued and will become the weak link in your exercises.
Leg raises 3 times per week will develop your abs far better than 500 sit-ups a day, every day.
Abdominal Training Mistake #5
Taking Advice From Those Who Don't Practice What They Preach
Personal trainers, supplement company executives and so called industry professionals will all tell you what you should be doing to get six pack abs… however their information is often flawed for a few reasons including…
The truth about how to get six pack abs won’t put money in their pockets
To get six pack abs you don’t need to buy an ab swing pro or swallow multiple fat burner pills 3 times a day. You don’t need a specific supplement or piece of workout equipment to get abs, you don’t need to undergo a 12 week transformation package with a personal trainer to ‘shock’ your abdominal muscles with a variety of different exercises to get them to appear.
The truth is you really don’t need to spend a cent. That’s not what they want you to believe though.
Training your abs hard in the gym will increase your core strength and stability immensely, and will assist in further developing the appearance of the abs... however it's what you do OUTSIDE the gym that will ensure they're on display.
The takeaway point here is those with a shredded midsection know it's all about the body fat and caloric consumption... those without abs spend eternity preaching certain exercises and fat burning supplements.