Forget those hundreds of repetitive crunches. In the quest for reducing abdominal fat, many have been fed false information. Having to perform high repetitions is only one of the many myths dealing with those illusive abs.
What is true is that the abdominal muscles are a very important group of six muscles that provide support and movement to the torso and assist in the breathing process. They help to maintain good posture and, along with strong back muscles, help to prevent lower back discomfort.
What is fiction, though, are all the myths telling us how to train those abdominals. Here are five common myths.
Myth 1: Abdominal exercises will reduce abdominal fat.
The Reality: While it is important to exercise the abdominal muscles to develop strength and endurance, no amount of targeted exercise will reduce or eliminate the fatty deposits lying on top of the muscle.
The only way to lose fat is to eat less (no on and off dieting) and exercise more, particularly cardiovascular exercise. And even then, you have no control over where you lose fat, but you will lose it.
Myth 2: Perform many repetitions to see results.
The Reality: The abdominals respond to resistance training just as any other muscle group in the body, preferring variety over multiple repetitions.
Because muscles are quick to adapt, introducing new exercises becomes much more challenging and effective than the same old, same old. Generally, you should strive for 10 to 15 reps of each exercise for two to three sets. If you want to increase intensity, you could perform the exercises on a slant board or exercise ball.
Myth 3: You need to work your abs every day.
The Reality: Overtraining abs can lead to neck and lower back problems. Just as when working other muscle groups, you want to allow time for recovery. Your abs get an indirect workout when they act as stabilizers for many other exercises you perform.
"Our abs can get strong and stay strong when you work them twice a week, but you have to train them hard enough," says Ken Allen, a Los Angeles-based instructor of personal trainers and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise.
Myth 4: Situps are better than crunches.
The Reality: Situps, the way we used to do them, required lifting shoulders all the way up to the knees. For crunches, you only lift head, neck and shoulder blades off the floor.
Abdominals are only involved in the first part of the lift as in the crunch. After your shoulder blades lift off the floor, the hip flexors and lower back take over and assist the movement, lessening the involvement of the abs. Crunches also place less stress on lower backs.
Myth 5: Upper and lower abs are separate muscles.
The Reality: They work together, simply because they are the same muscle. You cannot contract one section without contracting the other.
During any abdominal exercise, you will be activating both lower and upper abs. But by varying your exercises, you can emphasize different sections.
If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.