"The first rule to get abs is: you do not do sit-ups. The second rule to get abs is: you DO NOT do sit-ups." - Tyler Durden, Fight Club.
OK, Tyler didn't really say that. But as women everywhere reminded their dates in the post-movie recap, he did have some serious abs. Or maybe it was the guy who played him—you know, ol' what's-his-obliques. But whomever they belonged to, they were the kind of muscles that weren't just made in the kitchen. They were carved by hard training, and revealed by smart diet choices.
But here's the thing about ab training: What you do is only one half of the equation. What you don't do is the other—and I'm not just talking about the usual pre-photo shoot fitness model tricks like avoiding sodium, carbs, happiness, or air. I'm referring to the piles of abominable abdominal misinformation lurking out there, both on television and in casual conversation. Perhaps more than any other body part, ab training keeps you constantly on guard against making basic mistakes.
Below are 10 of the biggest ab training mistakes I see people make. I could say I "always" see people make them, because that's how people talk about abs, but that's not technically accurate. I mean, everybody has to blink sometimes, and every once in a while I have to go get a drink of water. But aside from that, yeah, it's pretty much constant.
But if you can minimize—or completely eliminate—these mistakes, you might just see your abs pop out sooner than planned.
Ab Flub 1 Forgetting about compound exercises
If you strictly perform isolation ab exercises, you're making a huge mistake. Compound movements like deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses engage every inch of your core. Don't forget to include them in your training program.
Ab Flub 2 Doing ab exercises first
Your abs are part of your core area, which helps stabilize your body. If you fatigue them early in your workout, you will have a hard time doing other ab-intensive exercises like squats.
And just so we're clear, the role that your core plays in squats is to protect your spine, so you want them to have a full tank at that point. Save your ab training for the end.
Ab Flub 3 Thinking you can out-crunch your diet
The secret to visible abs is no secret at all: Lower your body fat percentage. This doesn't happen by doing hundreds of reps of ab exercises—nor thousands, nor millions. You can train your abs all you want, but if your diet isn't in check, you'll never see that six-pack.
Ab Flub 4 Having a full workout just for abs
All you need is 15 minutes. If you're already doing compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, one or two ab exercises for 2-3 sets each at the end of your workout is sufficient.
Ab Flub 5 Training them every day
"But Arnold worked the abs every day!" Save it. Abs are just like any other muscle in your body. That means they need time to recover. When they get worked hard, a couple of days' reprieve is necessary, in my opinion.
If you can crunch yourself into submission one day and then wake up the next morning ready for more, take it as proof that crunches aren't actually working your abs as hard as they should be.
Try a harder movement and tell me if you're up for repeating it tomorrow.
Ab Flub 6 Only doing crunches
I heard the question you just screamed "So what's better than a crunch, maaan?" There are dozens of exercises that are much more effective than the traditional crunch.
In fact, the traditional crunch is one of the least effective ab exercises you can do. And just because you can't perform these other movements for hundreds of reps doesn't mean they're not effective. Trust me, this one is:
Pike Roll-Out on a Fitness Ball
Ab Flub 7: Not focusing on form
Again, abs are just like any other muscle in your body. So why are you writhing around like you're on fire to work them, when you're a stickler for form on your squats and presses? Focus on form and make sure your abs engage in every rep.
When you start doing more advanced and effective ab movements like the pike roll-out, you'll discover that they're pretty much impossible to perform sloppily.
Ab Flub 8 Forgetting about your lower back
The core has a front and a side, but it has a back, too. A lot of people neglect the lower back muscles (erector spinae), so make sure to train them just as you would with every other muscle.
If you want to have a strong core, treat your lower back like your abs. Train it hard and smart, and you'll feel as strong as you look.
Ab Flub 9 Only working in one angle
Your obliques, transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, and erector spinae are all part of your core, but they're different muscles with fibers running in all manner of directions. You must train them in more than just one angle.
Complex, difficult movements like windshield wipers can work the whole team at the same time, but if you're not there yet, don't take it as an excuse to revert back to middle-school-crunch tests.
Seated twists (spinal rotation), hyperextensions (spinal extension), side bends (lateral spinal flexion), and planks (isometric/stabilization) are all movements that target your core in more comprehensive ways than the typical crunch (spinal flexion).
Ab Flub 10 Using infomercial ab gizmos
AB Circle Pro Commercial - As Seen on TV
Seriously? That thing brings you about as close as possible to kicking your own ass. And if you really think that wiggling from side to side is enough to make you lose 10 pounds in two weeks, you've got the kick coming!