Ab Myths Debunked

The idea of fantastic abs has forever been near the top of everyone's fitness goals list, but after countless magic ab transformation routines, crazy-looking ab gadgets, and secret fat-blasting diets it's hard to know what to believe...

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Ab Myths Debunked

When someone says someone's "in shape", the first image that flashes through your mind?  If you said "a rock hard six pack" you're in good company with 99% of the rest of humanity.  (The last 1% said "round is a shape", by the way.)

The idea of fantastic abs has forever been near the top of everyone's fitness goals list, but after countless magic ab transformation routines, crazy-looking ab gadgets, and secret fat-blasting diets it's hard to know what to believe...

The Basics

There are two components to having fantastic abs.  Thats right, two.  Only two things you need to worry about.

ONE:  You need to have the muscles that constitute your midsection.

(Geek's note: these are comprised of the rectus abdominis, tendinous inscriptions, external oblique, internal oblique, and transversus abdominus...because I know you were wondering...) 

Please note that I said you needed to HAVE these muscles.  I did NOT say you needed to build these muscles like you were on the Romanian olympic weightlifting team.

TWO:  You need to reduce your body fat level enough that these muscles are visible.

This I will discuss below, in the section entitled "do cardio, you dummy".

Myths, Really Stupid Ideas, and (Occasional) Truths

Ab Gizmos

One of the basic principles of fitness is variety is the key.  To anthropomorphize your body, when you present your body with a challenging exercise, it says "Oh wow, this is painful/hard.  I should get stronger/fitter/skinnier so that it's less hard next time the brain makes me do this."  Next, the body does change, but once it figures out how to do a certain exercise, it metaphorically lays back and says "Ahhhh, now I don't have to change anymore".  At this point, we either switch things up or stop seeing results EVEN THOUGH WE'RE STILL DOING THE SAME AMOUNT OF EXERCISE WE WERE DOING BACK WHEN WE WERE SEEING RESULTS!

Sorry I had to speak so forcefully with you there, but that was a really important point.  Most people think they're looking for that one special workout or exercise that makes all your problems go away, and the angels sing, and you walk off into the sunset looking like a Greek god(dess).  Nope.  Your body changes as a response to being asked to do things it can't comfortably do, so once it figures out how to do those things it stops changing.  

This is why ab gizmos rarely work.  Most magical ab slider/blaster/hoop/ring/tricycle/flamethrower/thingies are based on doing one exercise or variations of one exercise.  They might even get good results at first, but no matter what exercise it is the same thing happens.  Your body is smart.  It assesses the situation, changes enough to accomodate this crazy new exercise you're making it do, and then plateaus or returns back to normal.

Sit-Ups and Crunches and Lifts (Oh My!)

So, if you're thinking ahead, the next logical step after reading that section is the following:

"Oh golly!  Now I know the secret!  I'll create an ab routine, stick with it for a bit, then change it up and do an entirely new one as soon as my body gets used to it."

You're much closer, but there's still a flaw in your logic.  How many of us can go from lying on our backs to sitting up without assistance?  (Yes, most of you should be raising your hands.)  Good.  Now that's settled.  You all have abs.  The problem is that you want abs you can see.  So, now is when we do the tough love portion of the event.  If you are a member of the Buddha belly club, it doesn't matter how many situps or crunches you do.  You probably already have a set of very well-defined abs, but they're hiding under a layer of fat.  Seeing as situps and crunches burn a negligent amount of calories compared to hopping on a treadmill, going for a walk outside, or doing a few jumping jacks, you would be far better off doing cardio than doing insane quantities of abdominal exercises.

Note:  I did not just tell you not to do ab exercises.  Ab and core exercises are an incredibly important part of any workout routine.  They strengthen your key muscles, improve your balance, give you better form and a more solid base for all your other exercises, and they do more injury prevention than almost any other exercises.  However, if your goal is that six pack, ab exercises alone will not get you there, my friend.  This concludes the "do cardio, you dummy" section.  Carry on.

Ab-Fat-Blasting Fruit From the Magical Shebaobaba Tree in the Amazonian Rainforest

Now that you know you need a variety of exercises to keep your body from plateauing and that you need to lessen abdominal fat stores before you start to see those gorgeous abs of yours, your next thought is probably "DIETS!".   Yes on one hand, a giant steaming pile of no on the other.

Yes:  Diet is a huge part of fitness.  Not only do you need to watch what kind of gas you're putting in the car if you want it to run properly, but you need the right amount of gas to fuel the car without weighing it down with excess fuel (aka weight).  Since you're probably over the automotive metaphor, let me explain.  

The following is Nutrition 101 for absolute morons:

Your body needs energy to, you know, do stuff.  This "stuff" includes things like exercising, doing work, and running to catch the bus, but it also includes things like blinking, swatting flies, and keeping our hearts beating.  So we know we need to eat something.  However, we know that on the other end of the spectrum, if we eat everything we want, all the time, in the greatest quantity we can find (think of the eating habits of a 14-year-old boy whose parents left him alone with their credit card) we will become... what's the delicate way to say this... large.  So we know we have to eat something, but we can't eat too much something.

Finally, we know our body has different reactions to french fries than it does to celery.  This means that we have to focus not only on how much we eat, but also to what kind of things we're eating.  These decisions control our weight, body fat percentage, and (in part) the amount of body fat that covers that future six pack of yours.  

That being said, nutrition is an incredibly complex topic that I have no intention to conquer in this paragraph, but those are the basics.No:  Now is when I introduce a phrase called "common sense".  (And this is actually a pretty good rule to use for a lot of product evaluations, so grab a notepad if you are so inclined.)  If someone offers you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  If there was a magical berry that made people immediately lose weight and keep it off, don't you think EVERYONE would be skinny by now?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  So while some foods might be better for you or help you lose body fat, nothing is going to do it all for you.

The Truth (According to Liz, at Least)

Getting a six pack is a simple, but by no means easy, process that involves doing a variety of abdominal exercises, integrating them into a workout routine that involves enough cardio to reduce your body fat percentage, and having a diet that contributes to this fat loss.  It cannot be done overnight, but is possible for everyone who is willing to make the neccessary changes to get there.

By: Liz

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